Travel Planning

Travel Planning

Readers’ tips and advice: The best thing about Singapore is the people



My wife and I just returned from a truly delightful holiday in Singapore. We saw many amazing sights and had lots of wonderful and diverse experiences in our 12 days, the incredible gardens, the zoos, the bird park, the art works, the parks, the aquarium and the local wildlife.

There are lots of excellent places to eat, with healthy, cheap and delicious food. But we shall also never forget the marvellous people we met, so genuinely friendly, helpful, polite and welcoming and the tremendously clean, tidy and efficient public transport system and streets we used every day.

From our first day, while looking for our hotel, a nice lady saw gave us directions and as it was raining heavily two other lovely women put each of us under their umbrellas to get across the footpath to shelter, to the many people, on the trains who gave up their seats, or offered directions, to the many others who were eager to chat to us, young and older citizens, attendants, bus drivers and train attendants, to the nice lady who gave us directions and told my wife she had left her hat behind and the elderly man at the MacRitchie Reservoir Reserve for his stimulating insights and information about Singapore, nature, humanity and other world matters.

We thoroughly enjoyed our conversations with these interesting people.

Steven Katsineris, Hurstbridge, VIC

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I stayed in The Netherlands with my elderly father for a month last year and we leased a car and based ourselves in a relaxing lakeside village between Utrecht and Amsterdam. We made many day trips visiting friends sand family.

Two months after returning home I began receiving speeding fines from the many fixed speed cameras near our lodgings.

In all, nine fines arrived and despite all of my alleged offences being less than 10 km/h over the limit, this resulted in fines of many hundreds of dollars. Some of them were for the same camera on the same day.

So be aware that the authorities will track you down, even to Australia.

Greg Van Meeuwen, Epping, VIC


Your cover story on the “Best of British’ (Traveller on Sunday, May 13) didn’t include what I consider one of the gems of England: Salisbury Cathedral.

It’s in a perfect setting in a park like area. Architecturally, it’s better than Westminster Abbey. They don’t charge for admission or a guided tour (unlike Westminster Abbey) but suggest a very reasonable voluntary contribution, which I was more than happy to pay. It’s also friendlier.

They also have a two hour tour of the steeple, which was more than worth the extra price. I recently spent almost a day at Salisbury Cathedral (and didn’t manage to get to – or want to – visit the nearby Stonehenge).

Wayne Robinson, Kingsley, WA


Travelling on the “Mostly Argentina” tour with Judith of Salmon Plus and Louise of Spanish and Beyond, we enjoyed surprising new experiences along with great accommodation and great food.

The South American countries visited included Chile and Argentina with a taste of Uruguay and Brazil, were shared by intelligent and sensitive local guides along with Judith and Louise, who gently immersed us into the cultures past and present.

Every day we learnt about how the locals live, shared local language, literature, art, music and history and enjoyed local wine and food. Special days were spent at out of the way small towns, farms, vineyards experiencing nature such as The Andes and Iguazu Falls as well as in buzzing big cities. We learnt so much from this tour and fellow travellers.

Annette Longhurst, Dubbo NSW

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Travel Planning

Most annoying passenger behaviour on planes

With ultra-long-distance flights of 18 hours-plus on the horizon for Australian travellers, the issue of what’s OK or not OK for one’s fellow passengers takes centre stage.

While the aisle-galloping infant, the armrest hog and Mr Stinky can be tolerated for a flight of an hour or two, multiply that by a factor of five and tempers could explode.

The 2018 Airplane Etiquette report from Expedia put the spotlight on the inflight behaviours that annoy us most, and top of the list is the seat grabber, the one in the row behind who finds it necessary to get hold of the top of your seat and yank it back in order to hoist themselves upright.

Don't reach for the back of that seat. Passengers hate 'seat grabbers' the most, according to a new survey.

Next is the inattentive parent, doing nothing to calm or comfort their distraught child, closely followed by the odour-enhanced passenger with an aroma you could carve.

Following in descending order of offensiveness are the personal space invader, the shouter and the queue jumper – slithering through passengers waiting to leave the aircraft just so they can spend more time waiting at the baggage carousel. The food fetishist toting their own pungent BYO meal and the bin hog complete the list.

Missing altogether is the seat recline enthusiast, who hits the button while the plane is still on the ground, then needs to be reminded to put it upright for meals. Not long ago the seat recline issue was a major cause of discontent. Perhaps bad inflight behaviour is also subject to the whims of fashion.

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Most annoying passengers

The seat grabber (60%) – a passenger who constantly bumps and grabs the seat in front of them when they get up out of their seat. 

The inattentive parent (45%) – the parents who pay no attention to their child whether they are crying, whinging or misbehaving

The aromatic passenger (44%) – poor hygiene or the polar opposite of wearing too much perfume or cologne

Personal space violater (35%) – passenger who gets too close or falls asleep on or near you on the flight.

Audio insensitive (22%) – passenger who talks loudly disturbing the peace in the cabin

Queue jumper (21%) – passenger who rushes to deplane before those seated in front of them

Pungent foodie (13%) – someone who brings particularly whiffy food onto the plane

Baggage mishandler (13%) – someone who hogs all the overhead locker space or hits you with luggage on the way down

Source: Expedia

See also: The surprising drink order that annoys flight attendants the most

See also: Carousel bullies, queue jumpers: The 13 most annoying people at airports

Podcast: Why do we get so angry on planes?

To subscribe to the podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.

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Travel Planning

Five places that made me: Todd Sampson


In filming series two of Body Hack, I embedded with the Iraqi Special Forces in the battle of Mosul to experience first-hand how the human body copes in one of the most violent and stressful environments on earth. What I also discovered on that journey was the incredible beauty and heart of an ancient city. Even with all the destruction, I was overwhelmed with the incredible hospitality and warmth of the Iraqi people. Most of what I knew about Iraq had been broadly defined by the media, yet what I experienced was remarkably different.


Flying home from Alaska, we stopped to refuel on Easter Island. The plane took off at midnight. I fell asleep. Suddenly we were descending quickly and dumping fuel into the ocean – they announced there was a potential explosive device on board and we needed to get off quickly. Time seemed to slow down and I remember thinking to myself: concentrate on your breath. As you can imagine, chaos broke loose, we landed hard, the doors were off quickly and we all ran down the runway into darkness. It was a false alarm and as a result I was detoured to Tahiti for two days. I’ll never forget Easter Island.


I had been climbing since I was a small boy and my childhood hero was Sir Edmund Hillary. Two weeks before my attempt to summit Everest, I was in New Zealand for business and randomly thought I would see if Ed Hillary was in the phone book. He was. I called him and he invited me to tea. We spent two hours talking about fear and how to manage it. Climbing Mount Everest taught me a lot about fear and the stories I tell myself when I’m scared. In many ways, it was like an extreme form of moving meditation.


I moved to Cape Town from Canada the year Nelson Mandela took power. I had the opportunity to live through a unique time – a cultural revolution. Cape Town is arguably the most naturally beautiful city in the world and combine that with a diverse and rapidly changing culture, I thought I would never leave. With more than 88 per cent of the population black and historically subjugated, South Africa taught me about the power of acceptance and also how inhuman we can be.


Body Hack 2.0 sees me in India’s most holy city, Varanasi, to explore the holy men, in particular the controversial Aghori – who have been eating the dead for centuries. I will never forget the 3000-year-old fires along the Ganges and the steady stream of bodies being carried in to be cremated. Varanasi not only challenged my view of death, it also reminded me of the power of faith and the impact it can have on lives.

Todd Sampson’s Body Hack 2.0 premieres May 31 at 8.30pm on Channel TEN.

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Travel Planning

World’s 10 best archipelagos: Islands that make outstanding travel destinations

If islands have always entranced explorers, travellers and dreamers, then archipelagos provide the ultimate travel seduction. Some such as the Canadian Arctic, Malay Archipelago and Caribbean come on a grand geographical scale. Others such as Japan, New Zealand and the British Isles are more often thought of as nations, but provide ample island-hopping possibilities; the British Isles actually encompass more than 6000 islands. Yet other archipelagos are small, seemingly inconsequential outcrops of islets and rocks, numbered in the tens of thousands in places such as Finland and Sweden.

The islands of archipelagos lie in chain or clusters or are carelessly scattered across vast oceanic spaces. What makes them special is that isolation often bequeaths them not just distinctive landscapes and endemic plants and animals, but distinctive cultures, cuisines and curious histories too. What’s more, they’re seldom single, simple entities. Each of their islands can be different as well: consider Japan, where northern island Hokkaido has snowy mountains, indigenous Ainu and dancing cranes, while balmy Kyushu is packed with people, history and sub-tropical beaches.

The peculiarities that set archipelagos apart create outstanding travel destinations. They’re fine places to trace the history of explorers, pirates and spice traders; to ponder theories of evolution, or how isolated cultures develop. If you think of Fiji as single destination or French Polynesia just as Tahiti, then you’re missing out on the many nuances that archipelagos provide. And while main islands might bag the limelight, minor islands can sometimes be even better.

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile.

THE GROUP Galapagos, Ecuador

THE NUMBER 18 main volcanic islands occupy 45,000 square kilometres of Pacific Ocean straddling the equator, 900 kilometres west of South America.

SEE AND DO These volcanic islands helped Darwin formulate his evolutionary theory, and the intimacy of the wildlife experience gobsmacks visitors. Get close enough to hear iguanas chomp seaweed, photograph penguins and admire dancing boobies. Isla Isabela has tortoises, Santa Cruz the Charles Darwin Research Centre, Isla Bartolome fabulous scenery.

DON’T MISS Snorkelling. Most archipelagos are great underwater, but here you can swim with seals, manta rays and marine iguanas. Playa Mansa on Santa Cruz Island is a top spot.

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ESSENTIALS Visit December-May for calmer seas and lower temperatures. You can fly ( and stay on one of four islands, but a cruise with a company such as Celebrity Cruises ( is a far superior and easier experience. See

THE GROUP Society Islands, French Polynesia

THE NUMBER 14 main islands make up just 1590 square kilometres of land in the South Pacific and are divided into Leeward and Windward island groups.

SEE AND DO Early European visitors to Tahiti created the romantic image of tropical islands as sensual paradises, and these islands remain unsurpassed for sheer beauty. Moorea and seldom-visited Huahine have gorgeous lagoons and rugged mountains, while Bora Bora is the honeymoon cliche.

DON’T MISS Sunset on the lagoon at Bora Bora. It’s a tourist cliche for good reason as the lagoon turns from impossibly electric blue to orange and pink, and knobbly volcanic peaks are silhouetted against the darkening sky.

ESSENTIALS Visit year-around, though November-April has more rain and humidity. Flights ( take you there and around islands. Oceania Cruises ( is among cruise lines with dedicated French Polynesia itineraries. See

THE GROUP Spice Islands, Indonesia

THE NUMBER More than a thousand islands, more properly the Maluku Islands or Moluccas, occupy 700,000 square kilometres of Banda Sea.

Naxos town, Cyclades Islands, Greece.

SEE AND DO In the 15th century, the European race for cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg supplies here was the spur for discovery and colonialism. Today the islands are remote and charming. The Banda Islands in particular have plenty of colonial and World War II historical sites, great coral snorkelling and superb scenery. Ternate and Ambon have the main population centres.

DON’T MISS The white-sand beaches of the Kei Islands, particularly at Ohoidertawun, a bay cupped in limestone cliffs riddled with caves, carved with petroglyphs and flanked by coconut trees in the ultimate tropical-island fantasy.

ESSENTIALS The dry season is November-March. Avoid the June-August monsoon. Garuda ( flies to Ambon and Ternate. Australian cruise company Coral Expeditions ( has Spice Islands itineraries. See

Huahine island, French Polynesia.

THE GROUP Cyclades, Greece

THE NUMBER More than 200 islands, many uninhabited, with a land area of 2572 square kilometres in the Aegean Sea, named for their circular formation centred on Delos.

SEE AND DO The quintessential Greek islands unite whitewashed houses, blue-domed churches, olive groves and ancient ruins. Mykonos is a party centre of the Mediterranean, Santorini for honeymooners. Naxos features a Venetian castle and Byzantine chapels, off-the-beaten-track Tinos is favoured by Orthodox pilgrims.

DON’T MISS Oia on Santorini (, a town of blue and white fisherman’s houses and a marble-lined main street tempting with souvenir-shopping and strolling. It’s quieter that Fira and has spectacular views over the island’s ancient volcanic caldera of plunging, red-banded cliffs.

Seafresh fishmongers at St Peter Port, Guernsey, Britain.

ESSENTIALS Visit May-June for lower temperatures, spring wildflowers and fewer crowds. High-speed ferries ( and planes ( link many islands. Star Clippers ( has several Cycladic cruise itineraries. See

THE GROUP Florida Keys, US

THE NUMBER About 1700 coral cays (356 square kilometres of land) running 350 kilometres into the Gulf of Mexico from Florida’s tip towards Cuba.

SEE AND DO Drive the highway that links many of the keys across more than 40 sea-sparkled bridges above improbably turquoise water. Shipwrecks, sailing, big-game fishing and shallow waters abundant with marine life are the lure; hurricanes provide the occasional alarm.

Spice Islands, Indonesia.

DON’T MISS Sunset with buskers on Mallory Square in Key West, followed by a boozy time on Duval Street. Yes, it’s touristy, but sometimes on islands you just have to give in to the sway of music and the lure of fruit cocktails.

ESSENTIALS Winter is high season, summer rainy and humid. Visit March-May. Fly ( into Key West. Drive US Highway 1, charter a yacht ( or take a shuttle bus ( See

THE GROUP Channel Islands, English Channel

THE NUMBER Eight inhabited islands (Jersey is the largest) and several rocks constitute 198 square kilometres of land in the English Channel, close to France’s Normandy coastline.

Polar light above Svolaer part of  Norway's Lofoten Islands.

SEE AND DO If you want proof that archipelago isolation provides quirky history, head to these crown dependencies, with a status quite separate from Britain and yet retaining a very English, old-fashioned atmosphere. Guernsey and Jersey are top destinations, but little Sark, free of motor traffic, is like stepping into an Enid Blyton story.

DON’T MISS Fans of Gerald Durrell should head to Jersey Zoo (, a leader in the conservation of endangered species such as gorillas, orang-utans and lemurs. A “keeper for a day” experience gets you up close to the creatures.

ESSENTIALS Visit September-October for good weather, warm seas and shoulder-season prices. Flights ( and ferries ( get you there from Britain. See

Balearic Islands, Menorca, Spain.

THE GROUP Balearic Islands, Spain

THE NUMBER Four large islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera) and many smaller ones create 4992 square kilometres of land in the Mediterranean.

SEE AND DO Islands are coveted places, as Greek, Roman, Moorish and other remains here attest. Today it’s tourists that invade: Ibiza is a notorious summer jet-setting party capital, though remains beautiful inland. Majorca has great beaches, a rugged interior perfect for hiking, and an impressive cathedral and Arab-influenced old-town architecture. Less-visited Minorca has perhaps the most gorgeous landscape.

DON’T MISS Driving Majorca’s World Heritage-listed Serra de Tramuntana mountain range (, where extraordinary hairpin bends reveal glorious scenery of mountains, dry-stone terraces and medieval villages.

Church of Saint Nicholas, Santorini, Cyclades Islands.

ESSENTIALS Visit March-May for pleasant weather and fewer visitors. Ferries ( or flights ( get you there from mainland Spain. See

THE GROUP Lofoten Islands, Norway

THE NUMBER Six main islands and hundreds of skerries provide about 1227 square kilometres of land off the north-west coast of Norway, within the Arctic Circle.

SEE AND DO Deep fjords, snow-capped mountains, wild coastlines and pale Arctic light make every outlook magnificent, so get walking. Bird life is abundant. You’ll find plenty of Viking history at the excellent Lofotr Viking Museum, plus many contemporary cod-fishing villages.

Street procession during an annual carnival in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

DON’T MISS Anything. This is without question one of the world’s most beautiful places, and no matter where you drive or walk, the scenery is stupendous. Reine on Moskenesøy island is considered by Norwegians to be their most scenically sited village.

ESSENTIALS Visit May-October and avoid permanently dark December-January. Flights ( only get you near, car ferries ( do better but driving is superbly scenic. Bridge and tunnels connect with the mainland. See

THE GROUP Tierra del Fuego, Chile/Argentina

THE NUMBER Isla Grande is large at 48,100 square kilometres, but countless islands stud South America’s southern tip and the Chilean coast further north.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.

SEE AND DO Patagonia has challenged explorers and travellers for 500 years. It’s a legendary land of fierce winds, ragged mountains, marvellous beech forests and glaciers such as gigantic Perito Moreno. Fishing port Punta Arenas is the gateway to Torres del Paine, a stunning national park.

DON’T MISS The jagged Dientes de Navarino mountain range and its many alpine lakes near Puerto Williams in Chile, which are splendid. If you care to tackle a gruelling, five-day walking route, the rewards are spectacular.

ESSENTIALS Visit in summer (November-February) for the clearest, most pleasant weather. Fly ( into Punta Arenas or Ushuaia. Roads only go so far, however, so consider local cruise company Australis ( See and

THE GROUP Lesser Antilles, Caribbean

THE NUMBER 50-odd islands and innumerable islets totalling 14,364 square kilometres of outcrops between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

SEE AND DO The discovery of the Americas and buccaneering adventures provide a startling history, the collision of European and African cultures a potpourri of cuisines, music, festivals, architecture and lilting accents. Eight island nations such as Barbados and St Kitts and 16 assorted territories including Martinique, the US Virgin Islands and Curacao provide abundant variety. Lovers of shipwrecks and Nemo have outstanding dive options.

DON’T MISS St Lucia ( has unadulterated loveliness, superb beaches and a lively music scene. Trinidad ( has one of the world’s best Mardi Gras carnivals in February, with steel bands and sequins galore.

ESSENTIALS Go December-April and avoid September-October rains and hurricanes. Plane-hopping or cruising will get you around. See, and


If you think these places are single islands, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover more to explore.


One of the world’s smallest and most-densely populated countries nonetheless has nearly 20 uninhabited offshore islands and two quieter, interesting alternatives to Malta main island. Gozo features hilltop villages built of honey-coloured limestone, clustered around opulent, gold-laden churches. Ramparts provide glorious views over patchwork tomato and watermelon fields. Clifftop Dwerja and San Lawrenz are magnificent at sunset. Meanwhile tiddly Comino, just three square kilometres in size, is noted for its Blue Lagoon, frequently used as a movie location. See


The nation of Mauritius encompasses main island Mauritius, outlying islands, the uninhabited archipelago of St Brandon, and Rodrigues some 560 kilometres east. This tiny autonomous outpost depends on fishing, farming and tourism, but eschews glitz resorts for modest hotels and guesthouses. A mostly African and Creole population cling to the mountainsides, which are planted with vegetables and banana trees. Its huge surrounding lagoon and reefs provide excellent scuba-diving, windsurfing and kitesurfing, plus some of the world’s best big-game fishing. See


Two large islands (Unjuga and Pemba) and a host of smaller ones make up this semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. Pemba is scarcely developed for tourism, providing a true getaway and local life among clove plantations. The lush, palm-shaded island is surrounded by outstanding coral reefs frequented by giant rays and turtles, especially around outlying islets Misali and Panza. Its coast is littered with old Islamic and Portuguese ruins. Other visit-worthy islands are marine national park Chumbe and Changu, home to giant tortoises. See


Okinawa Island is the largest of the Okinawa Islands, part of the balmy, whale-haunted, 7000-odd Ryukyu Archipelago that runs almost 1000 kilometres south-west from Japan nearly to Taiwan. You’ll find a laidback lifestyle and famously healthy cuisine: Okinawans live longer than anyone else. Miyako Island has good scuba-diving, and manta rays float with snorkellers off Ishigaki Island, which also has World War II sites, a hilltop observatory and Shinto shrine. The national park of Iriomote Island has good kayaking and hiking. See


Few visitors to north-western Greece have horizons beyond this gorgeous, scimitar-shaped island. Corfu is, however, just one of seven large (and many smaller) Ionian Islands such as Cephalonia, Ithaca and Lefkada, the latter connected by bridge to the mainland. Flying under the mass-tourism radar, you’ll find a slower pace, handsome countryside, scattered archaeological remains and some of the world’s best windsurfing. The islands have a distinctive shared history influenced by Venetian, Italian and British occupation. The latter bequeathed a penchant for cricket and afternoon tea. See


Some islands are gems all alone in the middle of a watery nowhere. Here are five fascinating ocean outposts every intrepid traveller should visit.


Though this stunning island 600 kilometres east of Port Macquarie and part of NSW is just two kilometres wide and 11 long, it’s a World Heritage destination with twin volcanic peaks, the world’s most southerly coral reef and remarkable bird life. With only 400 visitors at any one time, a getaway provides adventure and exclusivity. See


French island La Reunion rises from the Indian Ocean south-west of Mauritius in a staggering display of rearing mountain peaks topping 3000 metres. Vanilla and sugar, plus geraniums and vetiver for the perfume industry, make this an aromatic place. Orchids and waterfalls stud rainforest in a landscape sultry with ancient volcanoes, like a miniature version of Hawaii. See


Easter Island lies 3500 kilometres off South America’s coastline and is scattered with nearly 900 monolithic moai sculptures, huge guardians over a rugged landscape. The largest weighs 82 tons and is nearly 10 metres high. No one knows what purpose these statues once served, but few are left unmoved by their brooding and majestic presence. See


The South Atlantic, British-controlled island finally got an airport in 2016, though is mostly visited by occasional cruise ships. It has a mountainous landscape of spectacular views and green inland valleys and is most famously associated with Napoleon, exiled here from 1815 until his death in 1821. Capital Jamestown has many handsome Georgian-era buildings and military fortifications. See


This far-flung, windswept Tasmanian toehold in the Pacific Ocean on the way to Antarctica is home to a few hardy Australian Antarctic Division researchers and visited by expedition cruise companies. World Heritage listed mainly for its geology, it’s most interesting to visitors for abundant wildlife, including 80,000 elephant seals, 3.5 million seabirds and millions of penguins. See

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Travel Planning

Seven dishes you must try in Palm Springs, California

According to Gabriel Woo, chef at Sparrow’s Lodge and Holiday House PS, these are the seven dishes you must try in Palm Springs.


This place is a must-go whenever you are in Palm Springs. Great ambience, great food, great drinks and live music on Thursdays. I always go for the savoury meatballs with just enough spice in the sauce and the simple but refreshing tri-colore salad. See


A simple but fulfilling lobster roll. This dish is one that I like to show off when someone comes into the beautiful boutique hotel to say hi. Located near the main drag, it is definitely a spot you want to check out when you are in the area. See

Gabriel Woo, chef at Sparrow's Lodge and Holiday House.


If I chose to be vegetarian, I could live off of this dish. It delivers satisfaction in all key areas: flavour, texture, umami, and sophistication. See


Pod Thai (a herbaceous rum cocktail inspired by Thai flavours) is the drink that has been on the menu since day one. And for good reason. Great for beginner Tiki drinkers and experienced Tiki drinkers alike. Everything on the menu is crafted with great attention to detail. The staff on the other side of the bar are simply professionals. See


The fact that they do not have a website tells you how authentic the dishes are at this establishment. This dish in particular is a regional dish of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. It consists of a rich beef broth, thin sliced beef, pinto beans, bacon, and tons of onion and cilantro. (Cathedral Plaza Shopping Centre)

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This new ice-cream joint has the whole town on a sugar rush. Blanca curates each and every flavour from scratch and has vegan options available. This coffee float comes with a delicious cold brew coffee and two scoops of ice-cream of your choice. See


I had a chance to tour the kitchen of this bakery before it opened and from that moment on I knew it would be successful. It is doing bagels the best way: the right way. It offers organic breads, sandwiches, coffee, specialty coffee drinks and the best bagels. See

Born in Mexico and raised in Palm Springs, Gabriel Woo – “Chef Gabe” – is a star on the rise. His restaurants, The Pantry at Holiday House PS and The Barn Kitchen at Sparrow’s Lodge are participating in Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week, a 17-day dining event that showcases the Coachella Valley’s cuisine. On June 1-17. See

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Travel Planning

Traveller vs tourist: The worst thing about being a travel snob

Is there anything more cringe-worthy than hearing someone proclaim that they’re a “traveller, not a tourist”?

There’s all sorts of things wrong with that statement. There’s the conceit, for starters, that you’re somehow better than all the other people you’ve seen wandering around the same places doing the same things as you. It’s a form of travel snobbery, of one-upmanship.

It’s also delusional. It might be nice to believe that you’re seeing the world in a more sophisticated, more “authentic” way than everyone else, but you’re probably not. You’re just doing a certain version of the travel experience, very likely as unimaginative and derivative as the worst of the “tourists”. What does your guidebook say?

But still, there’s more to it than that. Because applying a label like “traveller” to yourself, assuming an identity – it might feel like freedom, but it’s actually restriction. The minute you define yourself as any kind of traveller, or tourist, or backpacker, or flashpacker, or independent traveller, or adventure traveller, or anything else, you put yourself in a box that you’ll probably never even consider escaping from.

So you want to be a “traveller”, and a not a “tourist”? That’s fine, mostly, if what that means to you is getting off the beaten track (though, trust me, that path has probably already been beaten), visiting places that aren’t popular, avoiding standard attractions in favour of organic experiences and chance encounters.

That’s a great way to travel. But if in doing that you completely shut yourself off from experiences that could be considered “touristy”, then you’re going to be missing out.

You’re going to miss out, for example, on seeing the Eiffel Tower, and on seeing the Colosseum. Those sights are as touristy as they get – but they’re also pretty amazing.

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You’re going to miss out on taking the ferry from Manhattan across to Ellis Island and to the Statue of Liberty. You’re going to skip the East Side Gallery in Berlin. You’ll take a pass on the Great Wall of China. You’ll say no to well-known palaces and cathedrals and temples and mosques the world over.

You’ll miss out, in other words. For no good reason.

Same as you’ll miss out if you declare yourself to be a “backpacker”, a hardcore budget traveller who only does things on the cheap. You only stay in the stinkiest hostels; you cook food for yourself in their kitchens; you always ride public transport; you drink whatever booze is cheap and nasty.

That’s fine, of course, if you want to travel that way. It’s good. But as soon as you apply a label to yourself, you box yourself in.

What if you decide you want to splash out on nice accommodation every now and then? What if you want to spend a lot of money on a fancy meal? What if you want to hire a car instead of taking the bus one time? What if you feel like trying a bottle of local wine instead of sticking to supermarket beers?

Would you feel bad about doing that because you’re a backpacker? Because other people with similar labels would sneer at you? That’s a problem.

Any label you give yourself as you wander the world will become a prison. If you decide you’re a “flashpacker” you’ll miss out on some great budget experiences. If you’re a luxury traveller you’ll one day realise that there’s a whole world out there that you haven’t even discovered.

It’s ironic that when people travel, when they indulge in this pursuit that’s supposed to be all about freedom, all about personal choice, they slap labels on themselves that restrict the things they see, the things they experience, the way they interact with the world.

Travel shouldn’t be about that. You can be a traveller and a tourist. You can be a backpacker and a flashpacker and a luxury traveller all on the one holiday. You can go on a tour and then travel solo for a while. You can stay in one place for a month and then burn through four or five destinations in the next week. You can be sober and then a drunk. You can be social and then a loner.

You can change your travelling style day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute if you like.

The trick to travel is to ignore the definitions you once gave yourself, or those that other people would award you, and just do what feels right and necessary at the time.

What’s your travel style? Do you like to mix things up, or do you stick to a particular way of moving about the world?



See also: Travelling when you don’t speak the local language

See also: 13 things you will never hear an Australian traveller say

LISTEN: Flight of Fancy – the podcast with Ben Groundwater

To subscribe to the podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.

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Travel Planning

Travel in the 1970s: Eight things that would shock backpackers today

Back in the 1970s, before Afghanistan imploded and the shah still sat on the throne in Iran, apart from a short flight into Rangoon and out the other side, you could travel from Singapore to London by land. Britain still held powerful allure, a couple of years squashed into a flat in Hammersmith a rite of passage, but the getting there had changed.

Instead of four weeks on a P&O Cruise ship it was six months on the hippie trail, at about the same price. Dropping out was cool and ideologically correct, but really, taking the overland route was all a great lark, a putting-off of mortgages and the 9-to-5 straitjacket.

It was a pilgrimage, with shrines along the way. Chicken Street in Kabul, the Pudding Shop in Istanbul, the Chai and Pie in Kathmandu. For some it was a quest. Lives were changed, and you learned a few things on the hippie trail that no backpacker today ever has to grapple with.

Travel in another era: Benidorm, Spain circa 1972.

One guidebook was all you needed

The bible was Across Asia on the Cheap, a slender blue paperback with a cover price of $1.80, published in 1973 by Tony Wheeler, the first in a series of globe-spanning guidebooks that would become the Lonely Planet empire. After preliminary forays to cover the essentials – Money, Food, Vaccinations, Dope, where to get a fake student card, Maps – “you really don’t need maps at all” – the serious travelling began with Indonesia on page 35, and 59 pages later you were in Istanbul.

The highlights of India were wrapped up in two pages. Leafing through its pages now reveals just how different the world was then.

“You can ship a motorcycle from Fremantle to Singapore for $30.”

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“You could hitch all the way to Europe.”

On “money”, it suggested a bare minimum of $US500 would finance three or four months of travel.

“Embassies? They’re really very little use, they won’t bail you out of trouble.”

“Playing the black market isn’t as risky as it sounds.”

​See also: 10 things travellers probably shouldn’t be doing

Donating blood as a paying proposition

There were places where blood could be monetised. As a blood owner you could sell yours, and unloading an armful was fairly lucrative. I did it in Tehran and the proceeds got us to Turkey. There was even a coupon for a free meal for two at the nearest cafe. Blood was even more valuable in the Gulf States, so much so that some were prepared to travel to Kuwait for the express purpose of selling theirs.

If you had $US500, you had enough to travel for several months.

The black market was fruitful and efficacious

Hard currency and consumer goods were scarce in many Asian countries, and this could be worked to your advantage. Myanmar, for example, was only slightly more accessible than North Korea is today. The Burmese, therefore, had a zesty appetite for consumer goods.

To exploit this deficit, all you had to do was purchase a duty-free bottle of Johnny Walker and a carton of 555 cigarettes, sell them to a taxi driver when you arrived in Rangoon and the profit would enable you to travel for a week, which was all that your visa allowed.

India was only slightly less restricted and a SLR camera or a battery-powered calculator could yield a huge profit. In Laos, where the Pathet Lao had just taken possession, you could change  $US20 on the black market for a brick-sized wad of cash. Myanmar, by the way, was completely mad, and nothing worked.

Magic Bus was anything but

Magic Bus began shunting the happy wanderers on the hippie trail between London and Kathmandu in the 1970s, or was it the 1960s? Everything was a bit hazy back then. It promised a magic carpet ride to exotic realms, but it was all a bit of a con.

Low on funds, and in the middle of a freezing winter, my girlfriend and I took a Magic Bus from Istanbul to Amsterdam via Athens. It was an eventful trip. Several times the bus caught fire. One of our fellow passengers was the sister of a British boy imprisoned for transporting hashish in Turkey, put there by his mother who used him as her personal drug mule, figuring his youth removed him from suspicion.

Crossing the border from Austria to Germany, our driver was told he wasn’t licensed to travel with passengers. In the middle of the night we were dropped off short of the crossing and trooped across one by one while the driver took the bus across – and drove off into the night, with all our belongings. After about an hour the bus came screaming back down the autobahn, executed a tyre-screeching U-turn in front of the customs post, pulled up and in some haste we piled in.

See also: Countries with the worst and best reputations

Beware of French hippies

French hippies were hardcore. They had even less cash than we did. They tended to coagulate in India because they could scrape by on next to nothing and their bargaining skills were razor sharp. French hippies would haggle over the price of a boiled egg but they were incredibly cool and sophisticated. Also easily identified because they wore scarves in a way no one  else could ever imitate. What is it with the French, do they take kindergarten classes in scarf knotting?

You could survive for months without drinking water

Today you can buy purified water in plastic bottles anywhere from Almaty to Zanzibar. Not so back in the 1970s. Apart from Singapore and major cities in Malaysia where the water was clean, tap water was a high risk commodity from  Bali to  Athens. What you drank instead was carbonated beverages. Coke, Pepsi, Limca in India and tea anywhere west of Thailand, but milk was tempting fate. By today’s medical standards we were probably severely dehydrated.

Afghanistan was another planet

In Peshawar in western Pakistan, a stronghold of the Pashtun people, you could buy a pistol or an AK-47 assault rifle on the street. Pashtun men strolled about with rifles and shotguns slung over their shoulders. That was a prelude to the Khyber Pass, and Afghanistan. People disappeared in Afghanistan, just evaporated without trace. In Kabul I was asked how much I paid for my girlfriend, with the suggestion there could be a profit in it were she to change hands. The Afghans played the game of life by different rules. Nobody who ever went there in the 1970s would have been dumb enough to send troops to fight in Afghanistan.

You could travel for weeks without a Facebook feed

We wrote and received letters from friends and family. It was haphazard, but you discovered that being incommunicado is wonderfully liberating. Your loved ones wrote to you c/o poste restante and the central post office would hold letters for collection, at least in theory. Sometimes your mail would be filed under your Christian name but surprisingly it worked, most of the time. In some places you were advised to take your letter to the post office and watch them stamp the postmark, thus avoiding the possibility that the stamps could be peeled off and re-sold.

See also: Fifteen things travellers who grew up in the ’90s have all done

See also: Air travel in the 1980s: What flying was really like back then

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Travel Planning

The Trip: Kiev, Lviv and the Ukraine

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NAME Bob Cumming, Centennial Park, NSW

THE TRIP Ukraine

THE ITINERARY Ukraine is certainly worth a visit. I only had time to go to Kiev and Lviv. Kiev is where Russian Orthodox Christianity started more than 1000 years ago and it is full of wonderful old gold-domed churches. Reminders of the Soviet period include a 100-metre high Motherland statue rising above the Dnieper River and a wonderful metro system (25¢ a ride) that includes the world’s deepest underground railway station.

Lviv, five hours west of Kiev by train, is a beautiful place. It was in Polish territory for hundreds of years and it feels a bit like Krakow in Poland, with similar religious and secular architecture. Also like Krakow, Lviv has lots of great restaurants and bars, including one that mimics a military bunker. Unlike Krakow, Lviv is not packed with tourists. (I spent a few days in Krakow after my week in Ukraine.)

Although the “shooting” war was far away from me, I was always aware that I was in a country at the centre of the ideological contest between Russia and the West, where history is happening now. It is also where some of the worst horrors of the 1930s (Stalin) and 1940s (Hitler) took place. The most chilling of the many memorials that I saw was Babi Yar, in a park in the suburbs of Kiev, where 30,000 Jews were shot by Germans in two days in 1941.

“Is it safe?” people asked when I told them I was going to spend a week on holiday in Ukraine. The answer is a definite “yes” for Kiev, the capital, and anywhere west of that city. DFAT’s Smartraveller agrees, rating most of Ukraine as “exercise a high degree of caution”, the same as many countries popular with tourists, including Brazil and Nepal.

Australians can get a visa on arrival at Kiev’s main airport. The process was absolutely chaotic and it took two hours for me to get through immigration, but this was the only negative experience of my trip. Ukrainians are friendly; the food is excellent; there is lots to see and everything is very inexpensive.

BEST BITS Kiev Pechersk Lavra (monastery)

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WORST BIT Getting a visa on arrival at Kiev airport

BEST TIP Learn to say “thank you” in Ukrainian – “dyakuyu”

WHERE TO NEXT Torres del Paine trek in Chile’s Patagonia

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Travel Planning

Traveller letters: First peanut butter, now Vegemite is being confiscated by airline security


Your writer concerned about the confiscation of his peanut butter has my great sympathy. As a good little Vegemite I always travel with a tube of my favourite spread.

Recently my tube of Vegemite was confiscated at Sydney Airport because it was a liquid or a gel? I wonder what they thought I was going to do with it. Smear it all over the cabin crew and throw them into a salt-induced black coma? However, worse was to come.

In the terminal, just after security (also known as the rip-off shopping mall) I was able to buy the same size tube of Vegemite for double the price of the local supermarket. Either Vegemite is a severe threat to airport security or it’s not.

Vegemite - gel or liquid?

How unAustralian to confiscate the national food!

Julie Apps, Pemulwuy, NSW 


I want to congratulate Catherine Marshall on the magnificent quality of her writing in her cover story on the Nenet people of Siberia (Traveller, May 12).

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The Siberia of her imagination was mine too and she enabled mine also to morph “into an emerald wilderness quivering with sedge and lit by a watery sun.” 

Her extraordinary description of “Death on the Tundra” enabled an animal lover to understand and empathise with the reindeer herders’ needs and celebrate that the only bits discarded are done so for a reason.  Her evocation of journeying to Siberia, Siberia post-Stalin and life as the Nenets know it was both awesome and inspirational.

K. Buckeridge, Mosman, NSW


Bouquets for the federal government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). My wife, following the death of her mother who was tragically killed overseas in a hit and run, needed new passports for herself and an infant urgently.

Leaving at 5am to beat the traffic and locate parking, the Brisbane office of DFAT and interviewer  Malcolm received her sympathetically, with genuine concern and empathy.

In three hours my wife and daughter had their passports and were primed for the 5am flight the next day. In what I thought was an impossible task, our family is deeply appreciative and a large part of our suffering has been eased by DFAT’s courtesy and professionalism.

Ray Armstrong, Tweed Heads South, NSW

Actually John F. Gibson (Traveller letters, May 12), smearing peanut butter “on someone or something” might truly constitute a “deadly force” as you sarcastically put it.

If my granddaughter, who is highly allergic to peanuts, were to sit next to you on a flight while you eat your jar of crunchy peanut butter then touch shared armrests, the consequences could be devastating. Surely you’ve heard how common – and dangerous – peanut allergies are. I’m pretty sure you can find other snacks for your in-flight nutrition.

Thanks for your vigilance, Sydney Airport.

Jill Rosenberg, Caulfield South, VIC

Unfortunately peanut butter is one of the gels listed in the government’s idea of things you cannot carry unless you only have “containers of 100 millilitres (volume), 100 grams (weight) or less”. 

Worse, however, perhaps was the Swiss woman at Geneva Airport who was not allowed to take her half empty tube of the Swiss national food enhancer Thomy Mustard. The argument raged for about 10 minutes and luckily was, for no good reason, in three languages just to confuse the attentive audience.

J. Mackay, Bargara, QLD


Oh Nina Karnikowski, I read your piece, “Shape and sound of water” (Traveller, May 12) with tears in my eyes. Bittersweet memories of a long-ago trip with my youngest brother, and my first sighting of “the smoke that thunders”.

Running across the bridge in my bright yellow raincoat and slipping over the moss-covered track, I suddenly came face to face with a huge baboon. We seemed to look at each other for ages and then he ran past me to my immense relief.

Thanks for the memories and best wishes to you and your husband. 

Rhoda Silber, Manly, NSW


Having just returned from a visit to Vietnam, I’d like to highlight the confusion regarding visa applications. Two in our group sent their passports to the Vietnamese Embassy in Canberra. One of us used the Australian  government’s Smartraveller website and the link “Vietnamese National Web Portal of Immigration” while I searched for the Vietnam Embassy website within Australia.

After paying registered post both ways, the passports mailed to the embassy were returned within a week at a cost of $A99 per visa. The Australian online application ( also cost $A99 and a printed visa was mailed to me in three days.

However, the site linked from is the official website within Vietnam where a visa costs $US25. After processing her application and concerned at the price difference, my companion called the Vietnamese Embassy in Canberra and was advised that she would be required to pay the visa cost difference, of between $A100-$A300 upon arrival. Worried about additional unknown charges, she chose to reapply using the Australian online portal and paid $A99.

Visa scams abound, therefore one would (naively) assume the Smartraveller website would be current, directing applicants to the most efficient and cost-effective portal for visa applications.

Kay Douglas, Hawthorn, VIC 


It was heartening to read John Dunphy’s concern in his letter “Creature Discomfort” (Traveller letters, May 5). Animal welfare in many parts of Asia seems simply not to be a priority and will remain that way until people speak up. 

Our tourist dollars can be powerful and I agree, rather than shun these destinations, go, travel to them and use the opportunities to bring attention to improving the plight of animals. 

Sonya Hayden, Hawthorn East, VIC


Ross Dryan (Traveller, May 12) suggests that in Australia “one can travel 1000 kilometres and see nothing”. I could not disagree more. I’ve travelled fairly extensively throughout this country and I find the landscape endlessly fascinating and ever-changing. Sometimes in subtle ways, but invariably there will be so much more to be learned about the beauty of this diverse continent.

Liz Riordan, Newtown, VIC

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