Girl Travels World – Top Five Long Haul Destinations You Must Visit in 2018

If, like me, you like to pack for a month when you travel then THIS is for you my soul mates! Following on from Girl Travels World Top Five Places to Visit in 2018 where I rounded up must see short-haul destinations here is my long haul list to make your 2018 unforgettable. These treasured places made the cut because they offer travellers more than the average. A winning combination of freshness, culture and cuisine makes these places precious. There’s an elegance about them, which in my opinion, makes them worth packing your bags for.

Thank you all for joining my adventures in 2017. Here’s to happy long hauling in 2018!

1. QatarIMG_3793

Qatar started my love affair with the Middle East. It was the first place where I experienced a desert and the commanding beauty of the arid landscape captivated me. The Qatari desert boasts Khor al Adaid which is an inland sea in the desert. This rare natural wonder adds an undisputed uniqueness to desert travel.

An illustrious fine art scene in the capital Doha, multi cultural cuisine ranging from Qatar International Food Festival to Alan Ducasse’s first restaurant in the Middle East (Idam) at Muesum of Islamic Art makes for a fascinating place.

When the evenings draw in take a trip down to the market Souq Waqif and cross Doha on a Dhow (a traditional sailing boat) as you admire the skyline from a fresh perspective. Qatar is a rare jewel waiting to be discovered in 2018.

2. Abu Dhabi

4. Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo Courtesy Mohamed Somji
Source: Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre has arrived in Abu Dhabi! Could any travel news headline top this in 2017? I don’t think so. This year, approximately 300 artworks on long-term loans from 13 key French institutions will be displayed here as well as the museum’s permanent collection. In addition, Sheikh Zayed Mosque was voted second place in the Travellers’ Choice Awards (2016) only beaten to the top spot by 16th century Inca citadel Machu Picchu in Peru.

If that is not enough, Abu Dhabi is home to six oases which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites; Al Ain, Al Mutaredh, Al Muwaiji, Al Jimi, Al Qattara and Hilli. Al Ain is the city that they belong to and is one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements in the world.

Such a gilded combination is difficult to beat and makes for the most enriching travel experience. Place Abu Dhabi on your 2018 bucket list ASAP!

3. Bahrain bh3

Yes, this is the third Middle Eastern destination on a list of five. For me, the region’s freshness is its allure and each country offers a vastly different experience.

Bahrain is a group of entrancing islands in the Arabian Gulf. The country’s unique relationship with the sea and its tradition of pearl diving and trading is celebrated at the Sea Festival at the end of October and it promises to be as informative as it is entertaining. The festival is aimed at preserving and honouring the crafts which are integral to Bahrain’s culture.

Furthermore, Sheikh Salman Bin Ahmed Al Fateh Fort is a cultural landmark which is important in Bahrain’s history. It chronicles the life and times of the country’s ruling family offering a fascinating insight for travellers and tourists.

One of the most popular places with tourists is Al Dar Islands which are a beach lover’s dream offering a secluded resort of diving, chalets, beach huts and entertainment. With such rich and varied experiences Bahrain caters to the most ardent travellers which is the reason it made it to my list.

4. Iran

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Source: Architectural Digest

Iran has been trending amongst bloggers for a couple of years and it is easy to see why. The country’s architecture in particular, has played a pivotal role in promoting it in the era of Instagram and social media.

Iranian architects began the trend of designing buildings that would be easily recognised by the global media and they succeeded. Leila Araghian’s Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge in Tehran (pictured) won the prestigious 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture award. Of course, the country has a lengthy history of fascinating architecture. An example is Arg-e Bam, a city in southern Iran which is home to the world’s largest brick structure and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Iran offers discerning travellers a fascinating journey to a world that has been cloaked in mystery for many years. During this time when Iran’s doors are open I for one cannot wait to walk through them in 2018.

5. Fort Worth, Texas

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Source: Fortworth.com

The curve ball on my list is Fort Worth, Texas. It came up on my radar after a meeting at The World Travel Market held in London. The culture of cowboys has fascinated me for many years but I’d never done anything about it. So 2018 will be my year to change that.

Fort Worth offers a range of experiences from fine dining to cowboy cuisine and rodeos. The Fort Worth Herd is a cowboy cattle drive through the historic Fort Worth Stockyards on E. Exchange Avenue. It can be viewed along the route in any restaurant with outdoor seating.

Near Southside is an area of historic architecture, restaurants, music venues and galleries. Self-proclaimed Restaurant Row on Magnolia Avenue offers farm-to-table cuisine, working breweries and speciality wine shops. With a chance to sample award-winning Texan barbecues, burgers, vegan food, craft ice cream and locally roasted coffee Fort Worth offers an all-encompassing travel experience.

To wind down those long days there is also Fort Worth’s local hero Leon Bridges who is said to frequent local haunts Lola’s Saloon, The Grotto, and Magnolia Motor Lounge. Now where do I sign up?!

 

Girl Travels World – Top Five Places to Visit in 2018

 

It’s that inevitable time of the year when we are collectively encouraged to reminisce on the last 12 months of our lives. Personally, I’ve always preferred to look ahead. I must however, take a moment to be grateful for an incredible year of growth for Girl Travels World. Visitor numbers to the blog increased 345% (year to date) and number of views increased by almost 300% for the same period. I was fortunate to travel to fascinating destinations and bring forth captivating stories and images which hopefully played a small part in inspiring you all to travel more. Girl Travels World social media channels (namely Instagram and Facebook) also reflected the immense growth of the blog and now have a collective following of almost 25,000. For all of this I am grateful.

Furthermore, I’ve had the opportunity to form inspiring partnerships with worldwide destinations, luxury brands and work alongside exceptional PR companies, travel writers, bloggers and journalists. 2017 also brought me the good fortune of becoming a contributing writer for award-winning TikiChris.com and Seen in the City magazines. (Thank you to my editors Chris Osburn and Natasha Colyer for taking a chance on an inexperienced writer with a gigantic dream). All of this drove me to work as hard as I could to create the best content for my audience and brands I work with. As a result my rewards were plentiful and I am grateful.

2018 promises to be even bigger and better for Girl Travels World. With several key collaborations, travel documentaries and food related ventures all in the pipeline it is exciting to look ahead. To show my gratitude for the support I’ve received in the past year I’ve rounded up my top five (short-haul) destinations which I think you will all love. I’ve been to all of these places. They made the list because they are currently vastly underrated and I believe they will trend in 2018.

Happy travelling wanderlusters! Thank you for everything.

1. Lake District, UK

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Image – Conde Naste Traveller

2017 was the year that England’s largest national park was at long last declared a World Heritage Site. Located in the county of Cumbria it is home to Scafell Pike – the highest peak in England (YES, I’ve climbed it) and you guessed it…lakes. It’s the epitome of the picturesque green and pleasant land. Long hikes  through the park are highly recommended as is summiting Scafell Pike. You will need the help of a local guide to appreciate its wilderness and enjoy the astounding beauty of its caves, caverns and waterfalls.

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Image – Evening Standard

There are luxury cottages, local inns, log cabins, hostels and  bunk houses to stay in which are dotted around the surrounding area of the park. It’s a five-hour drive to The Lakes from London which means you can make it a road trip to remember.

2. Madrid, Spain

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This year I realised that Spain as a country needs a revisit. It’s a destination that Brits in particular take for granted. The number one city which needs an urgent revisit is Madrid. It is the home of Spain’s bloodiest battle during the civil war and is bursting at the seams with history. Landmarks and monuments for victorious heroes as well as fallen ones are dotted throughout the city and makes for remarkable walking tours.

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It must also be said that Madrid’s food resurgence is nothing short of incredible. It’s no easy feat to cling to your roots while moving forward in the name of change and modernity. But this city appears to have done it. From traditional tapas restaurants which have seen little change since the 19th century to Michelin starred gourmet restaurants the city now boasts it all. In under just 3 hours’ flight time from London you could be sipping a traditional chicken broth at the world’s oldest restaurant while picking on black label ham. Stay in five-star hotels or cool private rentals but remember to look at Madrid with new eyes.

3. Tallinn, Estonia

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This Baltic capital which is home to a Unesco World Heritage Site (The Old City) is beginning to make a name for its cuisine. Tallinn is seeing a generation of young chefs reviving its restaurants by adding new twists to traditional food. With a focus on local, seasonal produce delivered directly from farms there is a quiet food revolution in Tallinn. The city hosts Restaurants Week, twice a year, to promote the variety of food available. It’s a great time to visit if you want to sample the best of what’s on offer.

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The plot twist here is that this harbour town held the sailing event of  the Summer Olympic Games hosted in Moscow in 1980. V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport was purpose-built with facilities in preparation for the Olympics. The brutal grey structure, now eerie, abandoned and covered in graffiti stands as a cold reminder of a not so distant past. The building was renamed Linnahall and is currently under the city council’s authority awaiting renovation and construction. Go see this part of human history before it’s changed forever.

4. Tel Aviv, Israel

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Travel broadens our horizons and bring our focus back to the things which unite humanity rather than divide us. This is the lesson I learnt in Tel Aviv. I was grounded here for two days due to bad weather in London which gave me the perfect opportunity to do what I do best – explore. Tel Aviv’s promenade runs along the Mediterranean seashore and is a place for walking, jogging and generally showing off your physical prowess/perfection. All through the day joggers, yogis and sporty types practice their craft in full view of passers-by. At night, parts of the beach are floodlit for beach volleyball games.

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In the heart of the city approximately 15 minutes’ walk from the promenade is Carmel Market which caters to all your street food needs and funny slogan tees. Running parallel is Nahalat Binyamin Craft Market where you can browse for ceramics, jewellery and fascinating pieces of art along a long leafy street. Under six hours’ flying time from London and all of this awaits you.

5. Nimes, France

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Nimes is possibly the most underrated of all the cities on this list. It sits along the Cote d’Azure and enjoys hot summers and mild winters. It was an important city in the Roman Empire and the evidence is everywhere. A magnificent amphitheatre, Arena of Nimes, which dates back to AD 70 dominates the centre of  town. Maison-Carrée, a 2000 year old temple, is one of the best preserved Roman buildings in the world and sits alongside modern museums, coffee shops and galleries.

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Pradier Fountain (pictured above) greets visitors arriving by train and has been the centre-piece of the  urban garden Esplanade since 1845. What is baffling about this little town is that with such perfectly preserved Roman buildings it’s yet to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An application is due to be presented in the summer of 2018 and in my humble opinion I see no reason why it would be unsuccessful. Also, did I mention…Musée du Vieux Nîmes (free entrance) has a room devoted to Nime’s most famous export – it’s where denim was born. Go see this marvel of a town before the crowds get there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Worst Travel Myths Unmasked

There are many handy tips, bits of helpful advice and invaluable ”insider knowledge” that we all seek before we embark on a journey. Nonetheless, how much of it is actually helpful? Do they really make a difference to our experience? To help you decide here are a few of my most frequently heard travel myths – unmasked.

1. Travel is a  luxury.

How do I travel so much? As a blogger and freelance writer my life (thankfully) is not fixed around a 9-5 schedule. I’m the girl working remotely on a plane, in the restaurant, at the beach, in the desert or in my hotel.

A significant consideration is to know that ”travelling” is not the same as ”holidaying”. “Holidaying” implies a break from you regular life – a short indulgent time of leisure or recreation. “Travelling” is not a short lived time of excess. There’s no requirement for special clothes, special diets or “bikini bodies”. It’s being fully present wherever you are, doing regular things as you would at home. Master ”travelling” and you’ll never need another ”holiday” from your life.

2. Duty free “bargains”.

It’s of course tempting to browse in “duty free” shops at airports while you wait. That is after all, why they were created. However, you’re not necessarily paying less for anything. It only means that you’re paying no tax. I often find skin care, perfume, confectionary and wine at much lower prices at home in London.

One thing I do to match cost in various countries is to use one of my daily skin care products (250ml facial cleanser) as a measure. In some countries I find it better value in terms of cost per size but in many places the ”saving” is negligible.

3. Long transits are a waste of “vacation” time.

If you have a transit in excess of 5 hours at Changi Airport (Singapore), Narita Airport (Tokyo, Japan), Incheon Airport (Seoul, Korea), Taoyuan Airport (Taipei, Taiwan), Ataturk Airport (Istanbul, Turkey), Salt Lake City Airport (Utah, USA) or Hamad International Airport (Doha, Qatar) you’ll be in for a treat.

They offer visa free heritage tours in their respective cities for transit passengers. If you have less than the required time it’s still possible to enjoy in-airport tropical gardens, cinemas, spas, swimming pools and even museums. While there are conditions attached to city tours other facilities can be enjoyed even on a brief lay over.

I enjoyed the 25 meter, temperature controlled indoor pool at Hamad International, Doha during a long transit. After a relaxing swim, I sipped orange juice and fell asleep on one of the cosy loungers. It was absolutely worth the £40 entrance fee. When your airport offers a gym, hydrotherapy tub and squash courts which stay open 24 hours a day, every day, you can turn even the most merciless lay over in to a mini vacation.

4. Jet lag.

Jet lag does not need to be a part of travelling. It’s caused by sleeping at the wrong time rather than a lack of sleep. Short naps are fine on short haul flights. However, if you want to avoid jet lag, only sleep if it aligns with the slumber time at your destination.

When I’m on long haul flights I adjust my sleep accordingly. Being in sync with my destination when I arrive lets me get the best out of the day as I often have to go straight into ”work mode”. Try it on your next trip to escape the groggy, detached feeling of jet lag.

5.  Cash is best when you travel.

I almost never carry wads of cash when I travel. This is to avert the risk of losing it, misplacing it or having it stolen –  ALL of which have happened to friends or relatives (sometimes within hours of arriving at a new destination) which doesn’t make for a good start.

Using my debit card allows me to keep track of my spending via mobile banking. Major banks helpfully offer the choice of paying in your own currency OR the local currency when using cards abroad. This means I know EXACTLY how much something costs in £Sterling BEFORE I pay. It’s a great deal more convenient than working out the exchange rate every time. Banks further offer preferential rates to loyal customers thus reducing the fee per transaction. Many credit cards have perks such as no foreign transaction fees and % back on purchases. Add to all of this the convenience of 24 hour helplines and I am sold.

 

This post was inspired by Gilbert Ott’s 8 Travel Myths, Debunked.

 

Seven invaluable lessons for conquering solo travel

After several journeys of travelling alone, with friends, family or colleagues I categorically conclude that nothing beats travelling alone. It is the only path to genuine adventure and the only way to make a natural connection to a place. If you’re considering a solo trip here are seven useful tips to consider:

1. Create yourself an alternative identity

When travelling alone create yourself an identity that has nothing to do with your personal life. Many people can only exist in social circles of their own design. They are accustomed to comfort zones with no risks attached and find it difficult to understand why anyone would choose to travel alone. Add to the mix  female solo traveller and you become an object of envy, intrigue, fascination, admiration and even bravery (I have experienced all of this).

When I travel solo I become Girl Travels World. Her story is interesting and adventurous enough to keep curious folk on all inclusive holidays intrigued for hours. It’s perfect if, like me, you loathe intrusive personal questions.

2. Talk to locals

Local people who live in a place know a great deal more about it than you, your guide book and travel agent all put together. Talk to locals. They will offer the best advice, give you insider tips and negotiate a better deal than you ever could.

This was how I discovered motorcycle taxis in Bangkok over 10 years ago. I made friends with a girl in the local beauty shop (we are still friends) while getting a head massage. During our conversation about all things Thai I mentioned that I’d love to watch a Muay Thai fight. She sprung in to action and organised a motorcycle taxi (it belonged to her cousin) to race me through rush hour traffic in Bangkok to Lumpinee Boxing Stadium. A fight was scheduled to start in just 40 minutes. My bike taxi got me there in time to watch the spectacular traditional Thai ceremony that precedes a fight. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric and it turned out to be one of the most memorable travel moments of my life. There was no way that I could have been so spontaneous if I’d been travelling with a companion.

You must however, exercise good judgement in these situations and not risk your safety. This is something you will get better at the more you travel.

3. You do not need to be an expert navigator

Maps, apps and satellite navigators are great tools for helping us find our way around. I regularly use one or all of these. However, don’t forget to use your natural instincts. I often find myself with absolutely no idea where I am. It is not necessary to always know exactly where you are. Travellers live for these moments. They are pivotal to any story-teller. This is when (in my experience at least) something remarkable happens.

I was once lost on the cliffs of Dubrovnik, Croatia and found a tiny opening in a rock with steps leading down to a small beach. It turned out that this is where locals went to during the summer months. There was a make shift bar, a place to park bikes and a secluded beach which couldn’t be accessed any other way. The best part of this story? Drinks cost a fraction of what they did in my five star hotel. And no, it’s not in any guide book on Dubrovnik.

4. Notice the beauty in small things

It’s easy to admire a historic fountain, a majestic waterfall or an iconic sculpture. But when I’m on my own, I notice smaller things – brightly coloured petals strewn all over the pavement in Colombo, children in a class room as I walk past a building in Madrid, a charred kettle on an open fire in the desert in Doha. When you don’t have to share your time, accommodate different schedules, visit attractions or search for souvenirs you make a more authentic connection with a place. Give the next place you travel to your wholehearted attention and it will captivate you.

5. Don’t go to places where your experience is created for profit

Experiences such as shopping malls, party places with never ending revelling or theme parks  do not cater for solo travellers. If you go to these places on your own you will feel isolated because they are geared towards group travel. There is also little in the way of authenticity because the experience is contrived and run for profit. As a solo traveller, you’re likely to be bored and a great deal out of pocket.

6. Do go to distant places which are well explored

Begin your journey in places with well established travel communities. Many parts of Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos) and also parts of Europe remain popular and you are likely to meet others on a similar journey. I travelled from Monaco down the coast to Cannes, Marseille and all the way to the border of Italy on a solo trip a few years ago. I met hundreds of solo travellers on that trip – a Canadian yoga teacher, a Texan school teacher, a Taiwanese musician and many other interesting travellers. We ate, socialised and partied together. I am still friends with most of them all these years later. So even though I was alone I had the assurance of others around who were doing the same.

Moreover, these established routes have been welcoming lone travellers for generations and cater well to their needs. Eating alone, drinking alone, walking around on your own are unlikely to warrant a second glance. Once you master well trodden paths you will build confidence for exploring more remote places.

7. Enjoy it while it lasts

Everything is temporary. It is not always that I will be able to throw a few clothes into a suitcase and hail a taxi to the airport. The same applies to you. Relish the time you’re able to book a flight on a whim and go forth with no real plan. It may not last forever.

*This post was inspired by Kate Maxwell’s “Seven Excellent Rules for Solo Travel”.