top-8-reasons-to-Visit-Georgia

Top 8 Reasons to Visit Georgia & Enjoy Georgian Hospitality

By Kateryna Kirian

Georgia? No, not a state. Yes, it’s a whole and amazing country in the Caucasus. And the first thing to know about this astoundingly beautiful country is that its original name is Sakartvelo. What’s more, we’ll give you at least 8 reasons why you should seriously start thinking about visiting it.

🔸 Why visit Georgia?

If you're looking for a unique destination to plan your next vacation, there's an exact match. It’s a magnificent country that combines Asian influence and old European culture. This charming place is Georgia, whose native name Sakartvelo stands for the land of Kartvelians who lived in Georgia’s central region.

➙ A visit to Georgia will surprise you with…

📌 breathtaking natural sceneries untouched by humans,
📌 centuries-old remnants of settlements carved out of rock,
📌 world-famous and literally unparalleled Georgian hospitality and the overall atmosphere of happiness,
📌 mouthwatering dishes and mind-blowing feasts,
📌 luscious wine,
📌 picturesque villages,
📌 affordable prices,
📌 one-of-a-kind towns of Georgia such as Tbilisi, Borjomi, Kutaisi and Batumi.

Visit Georgia: Top 8 reasons

➙ What kind of travel can you expect if you visit Georgia?

If you're looking for old buildings bursting with history, hiking and camping places or ski resorts then Georgia is the right choice for you. Also, Sakartvelo won’t disappoint if you're an admirer of the divine wine. Basically, if you are in for some adventures and open to bond with the locals, visiting Georgia will satisfy all the needs from your wish list. So undoubtedly, Georgia is a country that you should discover and explore at least once in your lifetime.

➙ Before you visit Georgia you should know that...

Parts of Georgia, namely Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are occupied by Russia since Russian invasion in 2008. However, the conflict is frozen, and it’s perfectly safe to travel across Georgia. What’s more, tourism accounts for almost 7% of the country’s GDP and approximately 70% of revenue Georgia receives from exporting services. Thus, when you visit Georgia you don’t only indulge in all the Kartvelians have to offer, but also help them out.

🔸 Nature

 Nature is one of the most convincing reasons why you must visit Georgia. In spite of its relatively small size, Georgia has a lot of things to offer. The first association with the country are majestic mountainous and breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. Thus, wherever you go, you will be in awe of the amazing views around you. Located in the Caucasus region, between the Black and the Caspian Sea, Georgia is a country with a lush greenery, full of fertile soil and stunning nature. The beauty of high mountains, green hills and lakes is in its pureness. There're not so many tracks of the negative impact of industrial development. Once you come to Sakartvelo,

▪️ head out to the mountains in Kazbegi (if you plan ahead, you can even embark on an expedition to the Mount Kazbek - 5,054 m!),
▪️ sunbathe on the beaches of Batumi,
▪️ indulge in the wild nature in Tusheti.

But remember that there's a risk that you'll never want to leave!

Nature is one of the most convincing reasons why you must visit Georgia.
Mount Kazbegi, Georgia
Kyrylo Kholopkin on Unsplash

One of the easy-to-reach mountainous places in Georgia is Gergeti Trinity Church situated at an elevation of 2170 meters! What you need to do is find a local bus from Tbilisi heading to Kazbegi/Stephansminda. It’ll take 3-4 hours, costing you just 10-15 Georgian lari. One GEL is more or less 3.4 USD. Then you can go on foot and reach the one-of-a-kind location in a few more hours. However, if you’re not a fan of walking, you can have a ride on a private minibus, which will get you to the very top.
:arrow: Tips from Airwander

➙ Wanna visit a cave, or maybe a whole cave city?

The incredible fact about Georgia is that this country has its own unusual cave city. By itself, it's a reason to visit Georgia at least for a few days, and even better for a week or two. Uplistsikhe is considered to be one of the oldest settlements in Georgia. It was carved out of rocks around 1000-1200 BC and once provided housing to more than 20 000 people. The cave city doesn’t only consist of houses, but also has a theater, a court, and a pagan church that was once used for sacrifices.

Prepare well before embarking on Uplistsikhe adventure

Keep in mind that Uplistsikhe is quite big, so make sure you're properly prepared for the excursion. You better be equipped with trekking boots or really well-fitting and enduring sneakers, but that depends on the season and weather. One of the best decisions will be to hire a guide to help you go through the caves without missing out on anything.

For true cave fans only

Suppose you're excited with an idea to explore other underground cities. There’s plenty of those in Georgia. For example, Davit Gareja, a rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery, which is carved out of the rock of Mount Gareja. Getting there will take you two hours away from Tbilisi by car.

Cave city is a must-see when you plan to visit Georgia
Uplistsikhe, Georgia
Michael Parulava on Unsplash

🔸 The people & Georgian hospitality

One of the most famous features that distinguish Georgians from anybody else is sincere hospitality. Interestingly, Georgians even have an ancient proverb that says, "Every guest is God-sent." So if you are going to visit Georgia, you can expect invitations into the locals’ homes to meet their families. You can accidentally find an amazing company for your trip, with a lot of extra insights. It may come as a bit of a shock, seeing lots of heartwarming smiles from the people you come across and getting invitations from random passers-by. But there is nothing strange, Georgians are just glad to have you as their guest.

➙3 important things to remember about Georgian hospitality

✔️ It’s basically a sin to reject hospitality, you better not even try. Otherwise, your hosts will be really disappointed. Honestly, I haven’t met anyone who even managed to escape Georgian hospitality. Neither do I know anyone who’s ever regretted it 😉.

✔️ Hospitality by default comes with a bottle of Georgian home-made wine. Alternatively, something stronger like chacha - a Georgian brandy with a really high percentage of alcohol.

✔️ You don’t necessarily have to speak any common language to perfectly understand each other. This is obviously a bit related to the previous one 🙃. But knowing that you’ll get such a warm welcome, you can learn a few words in Georgian (they are not that difficult), which will melt the hearts of your hosts. Moreover, you can bring some souvenirs from your country to thank Georgians back.

Hospitality is famous feature of Georgians
Tbilisi, Georgia
mostafa meraji on Unsplash

🔸 Georgian “supra”, a.k.a. a traditional & delicious & mind-blowing feast

They say that one of the best ways to get to know the country is by trying its food. From this perspective, Georgia is a food paradise on earth. If you're a fan of wine, meat, cheese and pastry, Georgian cuisine is something that will really delight you. Georgians are world-famous meat chefs. They are renowned for creating a variety of meat soups such as

▪️ kharcho (beef, tomatoes, rice, herbs and walnuts),
▪️ chikhirtma (chicken & eggs), or
▪️ bozbash (lamb meat with peas, chestnuts and tomatoes).

Also don't omit the chance to try Georgian kebab called Lyulya, which is made out of the ground meat and often served with tomatoes and pomegranate. If you’re a vegetarian, there're still plenty of delicious dishes for you! For example, khachapuri – a cheesy sulguni bread covered with an egg on top and some slivers of butter.

For dessert, you can be served

▪️ churchkhela – candle-shaped candy with different nuts and covered in a thickened fruit juice,
▪️ pelamushi – a sweet cereal cooked with grape juice, or
▪️ kada pie – a sweet pastry.

Warning! Georgian food is so delicious that you can't stop enjoying it 😋.

Go on a free tour and ask about the places where the locals usually eat. You’ll get to try Georgian cuisine at lower prices and in genuine and lovely settings.
:arrow: Tips from Airwander

Visit Georgia to indulge in delicious food
Khachapuri - a famous Georgian dish
Mike Swigunski on Unsplash

🔸 The birthplace of wine

If you thought that the best wines could only be tasted in France, Georgia would dispel this illusion 😉. Sakartvelo is considered to be a homeland of winemaking as well. It's a place where grape and wine are deeply interwoven with Georgian culture and religion. Once you visit Georgia, you can witness the traditional way of making wine, which is by using Qvevri – big clay pots that are buried in the ground. Georgian people believe that such an approach makes the wine taste earthy and extremely delicious.

Interestingly, UNESCO found the ancient winemaking method unique and added it to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. But not just wine can you enjoy in Georgia! You should also try chacha – grape spirit with 40% alcohol concentration, which every local can gladly treat you with. If you want to discover the whole process of making wine, you should definitely take one of the wine tours in Georgia. Then, you’ll see amazing vineyards, taste the best sorts of wine and listen to great stories from Georgians.

Georgian wine
Tbilisi, Georgia
Timur M on Unsplash

🔸 Picturesque villages to enjoy when you visit Georgia

Far from city hustle and bustle, there're some truly remote regions of Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains.  With their picturesque medieval villages, the small communities of Khevsureti and Tusheti partially retain ancient pagan traditions.

Tusheti is bright and breathtaking. It combines a few communities, is full of old towers, churches, and amazing mountainous views. Apart from that, Tusheti offers numerous hiking trails, so you gain a double advantage - physical activity and connection with nature.

Ushguli is another village in Georgia worth visiting. In fact, it’s the highest village in Europe. Placed at an altitude of 2100 meters, Ushguli counts merely 250 of constant habitants. If you're considering a trip there, it's better to choose summer over winter. This is because snow covers the entire place. As a result, roads there can be closed and no one can go to Ushguli or come back for quite some time.

Ushguli in Georgia is a picturesque village
Ushguli, Georgia
Alice Pontini on Unsplash

🔸 Affordable prices

Georgia often appears on lists of the cheapest destinations in the world. And this is no mistake! This underrated destination is not only the perfect place for nature, culture and history lovers but is also very cheap to travel or live.

If you're a camping lover, here comes the good news. Starting from late spring, throughout summer, and finishing with early autumn, you can comfortably camp in the pristine countryside of Georgia. Unlike many countries, Georgia doesn't have strict restrictions about camping, so you can set up your tent almost everywhere for free.

Hostels and Airbnb options there are also very cheap and seem to be a perfect option if you travel by yourself. Can you imagine that it's possible to find a bed in a mixed dorm room starting from $5 per night? And it's all in the capital city of Tbilisi!

If you're not a fan of hostels and need more comfort and privacy, then you may find it attractive to stay in a guesthouse or homestay. Especially, if you're travelling with a partner, friend or family. And that also won't deplete your wallet either. You can find a nice twin or double room starting from $12 per night. And if you're looking for roommates or any kind of advice about your trip, Georgian Wanders will be a great guide for you.

Visit Georgia to marvel at local crafts
Mtskheta, Georgia
Konstantin Pudan on Unsplash

🔸 Special cities to visit in Georgia

➙ Tbilisi

Tbilisi Old Town

The capital of Georgia is charming and chaotic at the same time. Take a walk through the streets of its hillside Old Town for the best understanding of Tbilisi's past. A lot of the buildings were thoroughly restored. Amazingly, they still have intricate carved wooden verandahs painted in warm colors. The city of Tbilisi is famous for its sulfur baths in the Abanotubani district. They amuse tourists and are still in use, even centuries after the restorative hot springs were discovered. It's impressive that you can find buildings from each period of the country's existence, beginning from the ancient city wall, or the first town ruins, to the modern buildings with futuristic shapes.

Local markets of Tbilisi

Another interesting element of the capital is its numerous markets. You can see them almost in every street. Smiling locals will offer you a huge variety of things like food, souvenirs, antique and other small things for a really low price. You can take them home or present to your friends.

Georgian festivals & art

It's hard to find a better way to discover rich Georgian culture than attending music, dancing, and theater festivals, most of which take place in the capital. Check out 16 Georgian Festivals, and you'll find the one you would immediately want to visit! Tbilisi is a city that encourages creativity. One of its expression is through murals and graffiti. You'll notice they cover many walls and gray facades all across the city.

Buy a local sim-card to have access to the cell phone data whenever you need. Also, don’t forget about the Free Tours - the guides in Tbilisi are super helpful. They’ll share a lot of insights into local history, culture, architecture and cuisine!
:arrow: Tips from Airwander

The capital of Georgia
Tbilisi, Georgia
giorgi gvilava on Unsplash

➙ The spa town of Borjomi

The spa resort Borjomi is a Georgian national treasure which attracts tourists from all over the world. The mineral springs of the region have healing qualities. Many people go there to try a treatment in the spa area. It's believed that deep mineral, fresh water and slightly saline water positively influence health and treat different diseases. So if you're looking for a one- or two-day refreshment and after an active exploring of Georgia, Borjomi is the best option. Another interesting thing you can check out there is Borjomoba. It's the feast of the city, celebrated in late September. No need to remind you that you can try the best dishes of the regional cuisine, discover Georgian crafts, music and traditional folk dances.

➙ Kutaisi

Old culture

Kutaisi is one of Georgia's most charming cities and one of the oldest settlements in Europe. It's definitely worth your visit, as it has a unique beauty. In fact, it looks and feels as if it's of another era. Also, it's a good place to take a break, if you're making a long east-west journey between Tbilisi and Svaneti or Batumi. The city lies only 200 kilometers away from Tbilisi. Thus, it's easily accessible from almost everywhere in Georgia via minivans or trains. Once you come there, you should see one of the symbols of Kutaisi - the Colchis fountain. One of the fountain's statues presents the Tamada, the toastmaster of the supra ceremonies in Georgia.

Pristine nature

For those who enjoy active leisure, there's a great opportunity to go to Martvili canyon. There you can rent a kayak and take a tour of natural green pools and reach the waterfalls through the limestone canyons. Prometheus Cave is another magnificent place to visit. The cave attracts visitors with its wonderful stalactites, stalagmites, waterfalls, and underground rivers.

Kutaisi in Georgia
Kutaisi, Georgia
Michael Bourgault on Unsplash

➙ Batumi

Batumi Boulevard & Europe Square

Batumi has plenty of entertainment to offer. Start exploring Batumi with a walk or a bike ride on the Batumi Boulevard. The first thing you'll see is the Ali and Nino monument – one of the most notable sights of Batumi. People often call it the Statue of Love. Make sure you go there after the sunset, as it's beautifully illuminated at night. On your way, you'll see a Batumi Tower Ferris Wheel - a skyscraper with a built-in Ferris wheel. Another magnificent sight to behold is the 130-meter-tall Alphabet Tower. It has a structure similar to the DNA and symbolizes the uniqueness of the Georgian alphabet. You also have to see Europe Square. It combines renovated old buildings from the period when the city was a free port on the Caspian oil route and new ones in an old style.

Natural paradise

Batumi is also considered to be a natural paradise, which attracts tourists in any season. On a clear day in early spring you can observe the Caucasus Mountains from the city. Summer is a golden time for taking sunbaths and swimming in the turquoise water of the Black Sea. Winter in Batumi is a chance to catch with your camera the picturesque views of the major peaks of the Caucasus Mountains and snowed hills around the city.

Statue of Love in Batumi, Georgia
Batumi’s Ali & Nino - “Statue of Love,” Georgia
Alexandr Nikulin on Pexels

Madloba (‘thank you’ in Georgian) for reading this article and don’t forget to say Gamarjoba (‘hello’) when you visit Georgia!


How to Create Your Perfect Travel Bucket List

How to Create Your Perfect Travel Bucket List

By Kateryna Kirian & Kate Chyzhykova

This year a lot of our travel plans have been put on hold. And yet the good news is that you can use this time for planning trips in the near (or a bit distant) future. While the world is going crazy, you can just make your coffee, grab a notebook, create your perfect tailor-made travel bucket list and start savoring future adventures.

“Sounds easy-peasy, but where to begin?” you may ask. What is the best way to write down a travel bucket list? How to decide on what to put on it in the first place?! Well, keep reading, and you'll find some useful tips on how to write an astonishing travel bucket list. The creative process of making a dream list of destinations you want to visit is a perfect solution.

📌 Do the brainstorming for your travel bucket list
📌 List the places you've already been to
📌 Choose your adventures & destinations
📌 Prioritize
📌 Decide on who’ll keep you company
📌 Research your chosen travel bucket list destinations
📌 Don't forget to take the travel must-haves
📌 Dream big

Find Out How to Create Your Perfect Travel Bucket List

#1 Do the brainstorming for your travel bucket list

So first things first, you should define your travel style and understand what kind of adventures you prefer. There are a lot of helpful techniques about how you can do that. Please, don't rush to pass Facebook tests like "Find out what type of traveler you are." We know a better way. You can start with a bunch of questions to ask yourself. Here are some of them.

✔️ What are your hobbies? Which activities do you enjoy?

Hobbies sometimes can lead you somewhere you’ve never even thought about before. For example, if you're a danceaholic, you simply follow your heart wherever it guides you. In other words, wherever a dancing festival takes place. Occasionally, you can take a few days before the dancing event and explore a new point on your travel map.

✔️ How intense would you like your adventure to be?

It's essential to decide to what extent you want to challenge yourself on a trip. There’s no need to go the extra mile and climb the highest mountain just because your friends did it. Unless you really want to, Likewise, there’s no pressure to join a diving expedition if you are scared of water. Remember, it’s up to you to choose the most attractive option which will give you the maximum pleasure.

Add mountains to your travel bucket list
Lac Blanc, Chamonix, France
Photo by Simon Fitall on Unsplash

✔️ What mix of culture, nature and adventure is best for you?

Nobody can answer that question better than you because it depends on what you are looking for in your trips. No matter whether these are natural wonders, or ancient architectural masterpieces, or meeting extraordinary people and parting all night long, you have to listen to your heart and plan a trip based on your intuition (and some good advice from Airwander travel experts, if you must 😊).

✔️ What environment and weather do you enjoy the most?

Do you mind chillaxing on the beach with tropical views when it’s scorching hot? Or would you rather put some warm cloths on and go on a glacier adventure? Keep in mind that seasonality matters as well. Depending on when you visit a country, the days may be much longer or shorter, rain can be a blessing or a curse, and temperature can be just fine for the locals but virtually unbearable for you. Thus, consider what are the most appropriate weather conditions when you think about where to go next time. Your comfort on a trip is only in your hands, so do your best to plan it right.

✔️ How do you prefer to travel - solo, duo or in a company of friends/family/total strangers?

A story has it that people can be divided into two personality groups, introverts and extroverts. Hmm… not exactly, it’s more of a continuum ranging between the willingness to hide from the whole world on a desert island and a strong need to always be closely surrounded by your friends and acquaintances. It often depends on your current mood and personal life events. Thus, when planning a trip, consider whether to join a loud and joyful group from the beginning, enjoy a romantic city break, get a single room and relax in privacy, or get to know people on the go while staying in hostels or with Airbnb/Couchsurfing hosts.

✔️ Is there anything that's a no-go for you - what would you prefer to avoid on your travel bucket list?

You maybe already know your personal dos and don'ts, but it never hurts to consider one more time the things which scare you away (such as extreme heat or heights) and are far from contributing to your overall happiness. Surely, we celebrate confronting your personal fears and liberation from stereotypes! But let’s just say, a stay in the downtown with busy nightlife wouldn’t be the right thing if you want to have a silent retreat 😄. So do your homework before you set out.

✔️ How long should your trip last?

Think if you need just a weekend trip to escape the hustle and bustle of your everyday routine. Or maybe you’re more of an adventurous spirit, and nothing would make you happier than enjoying your weeks off searching for jaw-dropping natural wonders in the U.S. Or maybe you’re experiencing this life-changing moment when you’d love to try out something you’ve never even dared to think of before, like a 2-month desert expedition. It’s all up to you, just give it a bit of thought.

Antelope Canyon in Arizona, USA is worth to be found on your travel bucket list
Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA
Photo by Ameer Basheer on Unsplash

✔️ What's your reason to add a country to a travel bucket list?

Probably, this last one is one of the most important questions, closely related to the previous one. You need to figure out, where this travel spark comes from, what drives you to see more of the world.

➙ Why do you want to see as many places around the world as possible?
➙ Is there a particular food or experience you want to check out?
➙ Is it your dream to trot the globe for stunning destinations off the beaten path?
➙ Have you thought of volunteering in a country you've never visited before?
➙ Are you thinking about immersing yourself in a culture that has always appealed to you?
➙ Are you trying to take your hobby (dancing, diving, cycling, skiing, to name but a few!) to a new level?
➙ Do you want to take the plunge and try something completely new - country, culture, cuisine, community?

Morocco is a perfect place for starting your adventure with delicious cuisine
Moroccan cuisine
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Get inspired to create an unparalleled travel bucket list

Thinking about your purpose to visit a destination may provide inspiration for more places to see and things to do. For example, if you want to learn how to bake the best pizza and pasta, you may consider visiting Italy, Spain or France.

An excellent idea is to surround yourself with inspiration and information while brainstorming ideas for your bucket list. Don't forget to read travel guides, ask friends and colleagues about their travel experiences and watch videos and travel blogs about countries you dream of visiting.

Here are some websites you can use as a source of inspiration:

▪️ Fodor's Travel
▪️ TripAdvisor
▪️ Lonely Planet
▪️ National Geographic
▪️ Budget Travel

You shouldn't worry about how realistic your plans may sound at first sight. You can always adjust them to reality later. If just thinking about location makes you excited, add it to the list! Write each and every idea down, no matter how far, no matter how crazy. After all, you have plenty of time to pull if off.

#2 List the places you've already been to

Remember that your own experience can work no worse in looking for inspiration than online resources. It can be really helpful to start with thinking about past getaways and trips in all the cities and countries you’ve already visited. While writing them down, you may re-discover what type of travel you enjoy most. Also, you may set eyes on destinations that you'd love to visit again.

So after a short analysis, you’ll be able to say whether you’d rather go for the mountains and off-the-beaten-path destinations, or if you're more into architectural beauty and a plethora of cultures, or whether you are the bright-big-cities-team with local cuisine being the No 1 stop. Organizing your travel experiences will also remind you how many great places you've already seen and how many things to explore are still out there.

Try adding Morocco to the list of the countries you want to visit
Chefchaouen, Morocco
Photo by Mohammed lak on Unsplash

#3 Choose adventures & destinations for your tailor-made travel bucket list

While deciding on the list of destinations for your travel bucket list, focus on certain things you'd like to experience. Especially, if you've been dreaming about them for ages. That could be wandering in African deserts, exploring Niagara Falls or skiing in the Arctic. Keep in mind, though, that most activities can be experienced in more than one location. It means that you can, for example, amaze at the northern lights in Canada, Iceland, Norway and Finland.

Thus, there are usually more opportunities to pull off your dream trip, even if a country you were supposed to visit is unreachable at the moment. Surely, some places have no equals - there’s no second Petra in the whole world apart from the one in Jordan. And yet, if you are so into ancient civilizations, you’d be pretty satisfied when visiting Baalbek in Lebanon. So focus on what you can do with the resources you have at your disposal, be it time, budget, mobility, or just a strong wish to discover the world.

Create a list of countries for your travel bucket list and group them

When you know what you’d love to do, the next step is to decide where exactly you can do these things. To work this out, write down a list of countries and places you've always wanted to visit. Then, start thinking about which place would be perfect for your little (or big?) adventure. You can group the countries with various criteria.

Activities to enjoy

Sightseeing, beach vacation, romantic getaway, scuba diving, safari, paragliding, (sand) skiing, extreme sports, delicious cuisine and so on.

Accessibility

Countries that are visa-free with your passport, or those that offer visa on arrival or an easily acquired electronic visa are your best shot. But make an adjustment for the pandemic restrictions - most of the countries currently have certain measures - be it a mandatory negative test result, or a quarantine on arrival. So you better do your homework.

Transportation

How easily can you reach your destination? Is it only reachable by air, or are there multiple alternatives? Do you need to rent a car /  a motorcycle, or is public transportation sufficient to see all the places you want? Some people go as far as buying an old car for a symbolic price and exploit to see numerous countries on their way (this works really well in Asia or Africa).

Cost

You can always make the best out of your trip, no matter how limited your resources are. And yet keep in mind that while the flight itself may cost you next to nothing, taking a shuttle from the airport to the city center, renting a car, visiting unique places of interest and the actual cost of living in a country varies a lot from country to country. And even city to city.

Individual preferences

Maybe you’ve made some friends online, and you’d love to visit them? Or maybe there’s a fascinating festival you’ve dreamt about to take part in? Or just maybe you’d love to spend your winter holiday on a beach with lots of sunshine? Surprise yourself with some fresh thoughts on what actually matters to you, especially if it’s hard to choose between incredible destinations.

If grouping the countries according to criteria didn’t help, you can assign values to the categories, and then to the countries within each category.
:arrow: Tips from Airwander

Beach vacation is a must-have for every travel bucket list
Australia, Palm Beach
Photo by Ben Krygsman on Unsplash

#4 Prioritize

You must already have the list of countries grouped into different categories, such as activities to enjoy, accessibility, transportation, cost, and individual preferences. Keep in mind that these categories are just the ones that make sense to us, you can always come with your own.

Assign a value to countries within each category of your travel bucket list

One way to go about prioritizing categories is to assign them a value, as suggested above. Let’s say, you are based in the U.S. and you’re weighing up going to France, which you’ve always dreamt about visiting and Mexico, where there’s a dancing festival. Then the values can be assigned as follows.

▪️ Both countries get 5 for activities, as there’s a lot of amazing things to do.
▪️ Mexico gains 5 for accessibility, where’s France gets 1 as its borders are closed for the non-EU citizens who are traveling for pleasure due to the pandemic.
▪️ As for transportation, you can get to Mexico in a shorter amount of time and not just on a plane, so we’ll give it 4 out of 5, and France will get 2 points.
▪️ Well, according to the cost of living suggested by a few websites we scanned, food in Mexico will cost you half as much as you’d spent in France. And probably, so will other things. Thus, 4 to Mexico and 2 to France.
▪️ As France has been your dream for a long time, and there’s this really special festival in Mexico, both countries score a 5 in this individual case.

You may think now it’s time to count the points. Not yet.

Assign a value to the categories

Now, think of what criteria - in other words, categories, - are of utmost importance to you. For instance, if budget traveling is your thing, and it greatly influences the way you travel, assign it the highest value of 5, and if it plays no role, give it 1. So weigh up the significance of the categories, give each of them points from 1 to 5, or from 1 to 10, and then multiply the value assigned to each category by the individual score of the country within this category. Let’s say, if Mexico has got 5 in accessibility, and the ‘accessibility’ category has a value of 4, you’ll have 20 points. Do the simple math for each category and add up all the points - you’ll have your champion country and the following travel bucket list!

Mexico is open to tourists even in times of the pandemic
Cholula de Rivadabia Centro, Cholula, Puebla, Mexico
Photo by Roberto Carlos Roman on Unsplash

Create a timeline

Another idea to organize your travel bucket list is creating a timeline where you can place all the upcoming milestones and pinpoint where and when on this timeline you can go on vacations.

▪️ Maybe you have 3 weeks of vacation time coming up any time soon?
▪️ Do you plan on having a major and ambitious trip before starting your uni?
▪️ Are you going to move out of the house in 5 years?

Basically, it’s about identifying periods in your life where free time could be used for travelling. Don't limit your imagination! You can always schedule a few shorter, feasible trips in the upcoming weekends and holidays. Then, you can plan more serious trips in a few years, based on big life changes or accomplishments, so that you'll have plenty of time to come up with a budget and prepare.

#5 Decide on who’ll keep you company

After choosing the destination and creating an adventure plan, it is crucial to decide who you want to share your travel bucket list with. Your partner, friends, siblings, parents, kids, total strangers? Or maybe you want to take the trip on your own? If you don't agree with your partner or friend about the travelling point, it's all right. There's no purpose in forcing someone to go somewhere they don't want to, or letting yourself be caught up in a trip you're not interested in at all. Travelling on your own can become one of the craziest and simultaneously the most inspiring adventures in your life. On the other hand, it can be a time for relaxing and meditation, when no one else will disturb you. Here you can find out how your life will change when you travel alone.

Still, if you're going with someone, make sure that each person wants to visit the chosen destination and feels comfortable with all the preparation process and further activities you're planning to do there.

Exploring countries from your travel bucket list alone is unforgettable experience
Mauna Kea, Hilo, United States
Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

#6 Research your chosen travel bucket list destinations

After you’ve narrowed down your options to the final travel bucket list, the next step is to do solid research about the place you plan to visit.

➙ What’s the country’s official policy for those who get a positive test on arrival?
➙ Would you rather stay in one place for the whole visit, or would you prefer to be more mobile?
➙ How do you want to get around the country?
➙ Which mountains you want to climb or which museums to attend?
➙ What are the best tours and hidden places to look for?
➙ Which concert is a must-visit?
➙ Is there free Wi-Fi or do you need to buy a local sim-card?
➙ Is it safe to drink tap water?
➙ Do you need a special vaccination to enter a country?

Travel planning is the key to a trip's success

Researching in advance gives a variety of opportunities which you can miss when you plan everything the last minute. The more information you have about the country, the better your trip will be. Being aware of the most exciting events in a chosen place earlier, you can buy the tickets and book a high-standard hotel at a lower price. However, it some locations, especially in Africa and Asia, spontaneity and open-mindedness pay off - if you hand out with the locals, you can get access to all the vets places at the lowest cost possible.

Before going to any country, check carefully its current political, health and environmental situation. And dig deeper (forums, blogs, videos, discussions) to see the implications. For instance, in Lebanon, the official rates of currency exchange are manipulated by the government. Thus, when you think you are getting a good deal paying for your taxi from the airport in U.S. dollars using the official rates, you are actually losing a lot of money. At the same time, though, when you hear on the news that it’s not safe to go somewhere, check it out on your own. Even better, ask somebody who’s already been there. Even if a country is in turmoil, the tourists are often safe and very welcome nonetheless.
:arrow: Tips from Airwander

Try out discovering different cultures
Mpanda, Tanzania
Photo by sofiya kirik on Unsplash

#7 Don't forget to take the travel must-haves

Once the next destination is chosen, and you know everything you need about your future trip, it's time for thoughtful preparation and packing the suitcase. If you feel that some advice on how to pack your bag smartly and take all essentials at the same time is necessary, take a look at the article about travel must-haves you should include on your next trip checklist.

It's always good to add your flight numbers, hotel addresses, maps, scans of documents, etc. to your cloud storage for easy access. You’ll never know when you need them.
:arrow: Tips from Airwander

#8 Dream big and don't make your travel bucket list small!

Last suggestion for you! Don't let fears and potential travel barriers scare you away! You'll have plenty of days to correct and modify the list, check it, add new ideas or throw away the irrelevant ones. Whenever feeling doubtful, simply ask your heart where in the world it wants to go…and write it down.

And if your inner voice doesn’t help, go to Airwander and explore the Anywhere feature. Just select your home city and in the destination box choose “Let me go anywhere!” You’ll be surprised at what amazing places you can visit with just a few clicks. So you better stop reading this article (you can always go back!) and start creating your unique travel bucket list. It’s all up to you, and the sky is no longer the limit.

Broad your horizon while exploring different countries
Kapadokya, Turkey
Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz on Unsplash

Natural wonders in the United States

10 Jaw-dropping Natural Wonders in the United States

By Kateryna Kirian

Pandemic restrictions have significantly limited our travel horizons. The borders are closed, international flights are scarce, and the virus is lurking around every corner. But every cloud has a silver lining. Why not focus on what’s at hand? Did you know how many must-see locations you can visit without leaving the U.S. borders? In fact, you don't need to travel far from home to find awe-inspiring wonders. To spark your imagination and maybe even take your breath away, let us present you just 10 of the most inspiring natural wonders in the United States.

Have you ever dreamed of
📌 sandboarding on one of the highest sand dunes in the world
📌 soaring over the cliffs of the Grand Canyon on a zip line
📌 enjoying the Northern Lights through a glass roof
📌 glacier hiking to enter the astounding Ice Caves
📌 exploring Niagara Falls from different angles (and different countries)
📌 hugging the highest and the oldest trees in the world
📌 climbing up to the very top of the highest waterfall in North America
📌 visiting a red-rock wonderland which closely resembles a trip-to-the-Mars experience
📌 swimming in the actual Crater Lake
📌 discovering one of the oldest underground caverns around the globe?

Let's get right to it!

#1 Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

As the name suggests, the Great Sand Dunes park is absolutely worth visiting because of the dunes. They happen to be the highest in North America! However, it is not only the dunes that make this place utterly stunning. A unique combination of sandy desserts, snow-capped peaks, fairy alpine lakes, wondrous conifer and aspen forests... All for you to enjoy and contemplate at the same moment.

In Sand Dunes Park, the ways to get unforgettable memories are legion. Apart from good old hiking and camping, and not to mention stargazing (if the weather allows it), the must-do activities are definitely sand sledging, skiing and sandboarding. If it doesn’t ring a bell, check out the best tips and routes where you can test skills. Just remember that none of these is available for rent in the National Park. You’ll have to rent your sand sledges or sandboards elsewhere beforehand.

Sand Dunes are one of the natural wonders in the United States
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado
Photo credit: National Park Service

Wait, there’s more. Have you been to the Garden of the Gods?

In about a 3-hour drive from Great Sand Dunes National Park, there’s another place with breathtaking sceneries. Right in the heart of Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods gives you an opportunity to walk where dinosaur trails used to be. Furthermore, the park offers plenty of activities which you can do alone or with friends and family. There are more than 15 miles of hiking, cycling, and horseback riding trails.

Other popular activities include technical rock climbing, taking Segway or Jeep tours. You can also live through the history of the park at the interactive exhibits in the visitor  & nature centre. The good thing here is that the park is open to visitors free of charge. However, hours of operation vary depending on the season. While hiking, you may catch a glimpse of the wildlife and see mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes and even bobcats.

Check local travel restrictions and park opening times before booking a trip, and always follow official medical advice.
:arrow: Tips from Airwander

#2 The Grand Canyon in Arizona

If you dreamed about escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, there's no better place than the Grand Canyon. Undoubtedly, this place is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the United States. It's stretching 277 miles across the Arizona desert. The Canyon has three areas: the South Rim, the North Rim, and the West Rim. In each area, there are plenty of recreational activities, which you should add to your travel bucket list.

The South Rim is famous for its historically significant Grand Canyon Village, stunning Hermit Road and mesmerizing desert views. It is similarly fabulous for incredible lodging areas and restaurants. In fact, the Grand Canyon is a dream destination! It has something to offer to those hoping to marvel at nature in comfort and those yearning to get lost in the middle of nowhere. The North Rim is your chance to get away from the crowds and take some rest in the open country. Keep in mind that while the South Rim is open all year, the North Rim closes during the winter months.

If you head out to the West Rim, you may enjoy the Skywalk. It is a bridge platform with transparent sides coming through the canyon and enabling spectacular panoramic views. For truly adventurous spirits, there’s a rafting tour and a zip line experience available. Just imagine soaring over the cliffs of the Grand Canyon!

The Grand Canyon is the most famous natural wonder in the U.S.
The Grand Canyon
Photo by Alan Carrillo on Unsplash

Natural wonders in the United States don't end with the Grand Canyon.

A pleasant bonus to visiting the Grand Canyon is that on your way you can make a stop in Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles. Actually, if you want to really get carried away with the fascinating nature experience, and you aren’t on a budget, try taking an all-inclusive park tour. This one also includes Zion National Park and Yosemite National Park. Also, it’s worth spending a few nights in the Canyon - the view of the stars is utterly mesmerizing. Yet if you are looking for more opportunities to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way, check out these 10 best stargazing sites in the U.S.

#3 The Northern Lights in Alaska

The northern lights are not just one of the natural wonders in the United States. You can witness them from just a few places on the Earth - Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the U.S. Alaska really is the perfect place to witness the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis. The phenomenon caused by the collision of the solar wind with particles in our atmosphere can turn into a spectacular natural light show.

If you've never slept in the house with a glass roof, Alaska is exactly a place to give it a try. It’s a 100%-guarantee you won’t ever regret this decision. In Glass Igloos, you'll enjoy green, white, purple or magenta light swirls across the sky lying in a comfortable bed with a cup of hot chocolate.
:arrow: Tips from Airwander

The Northern Lights in Alaska will inspire you to visit even more natural wonders in the United States
The Northern Lights in Alaska
Photo by Vincent Ledvina on Unsplash

#4 Mendenhall Ice Caves in Alaska

Still, Alaska’s wonders do not exhaust themselves with just the northern lights. The Mendenhall Glacier, not far from Juneau, is a place offering a one-of-a-kind experience. Just imagine, the Mendenhall Ice Caves are formed by the meltwater and an ice river coursing through the glacier formation. Thus, the bright blue caves are constantly changing and reshaping. As the glacier recedes, the caves are gradually melting, changing their shapes and collapsing. You must keep in mind that a visit there is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

However, the hiking tour is quite strenuous and requires physical training, certain balancing skills and confidence. You'll have to hike 800 feet up on the steep, slippery, mountainous terrain of the Mendenhall Glacier. Still, to make things clear -  the view is undeniably impressive. Visitors are allowed to visit the caves on their own. Still, inexperienced travelers are advised to take one of the guided hiking tours. A round-trip visit typically takes at least 8 hours, and proper safety equipment is essential.

Mendenhall Ice Caves in Alaska are on the list of jaw-dropping natural marvels in the United States
Mendenhall Ice Caves in Alaska
Photo credit: Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström

#5 Niagara Falls in New York

You must have heard and maybe even visited Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, but did you know that you can witness this natural marvel in the United States, too? Standing 176 metres tall, this natural wonder was carved by the movement of ice during the Ice Age. The best way to discover Niagara is to take a boat trip. It provides an incredible view of the falls and a chance to experience the beauty and power of the water up close (don’t forget to take a raincoat with you!).

Visitors can get right underneath the falls by taking the famous Maid of the Mist boat tour or by hiking to the Cave of the Winds underneath Bridal Veil Falls. But if you'd like to view the impressive falls from an entirely different angle, you can walk or drive across the border and view the falls from the Canadian side as well. It's also possible to book a hotel in the local area for those keen to explore the whole Niagara Falls State Park in greater detail.

A popular destination among the natural wonders in the U.S. is Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls
Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash

#6 Sequoia National Park in California

Did you use to dream as a child to hug and smell the highest and the oldest trees in the world, just like those you saw just in an encyclopedia next to the dinosaurs? Here’s your chance to do it in reality. Go to the Sequoia National Park and draw energy and a sense of astonishment from the tallest trees on the Earth. Apart from giant sequoias, you can find there other species of redwood trees which are hundreds of years old, growing over 300 feet high (taller than the Statue of Liberty!), and living for up to two millennia. If you head out to the old U.S. Highway 101 about 300 miles north of San Francisco, you'll be surrounded with more than 50,000 acres of redwood trees, which will astound you with their greatness.

You'll be astounded by the intact beauty of Sequoia National Park in California
Sequoia National Park in California
Photo by Vitto Sommella on Unsplash

#7 Yosemite National Park in California

Another place where you can find ancient sequoia trees is Yosemite National Park, one of the oldest national parks in the United States. It has a variety of rare wildlife species which inhabit California's craggy mountain range. The park includes a staggering array of natural beauty, presented by jewel-like subalpine lakes, eye-catching waterfalls, and sky-scraping granite tops. Exploring the whole park can take quite a long time, but its highlights are believed to be the sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove and the 2,425-feet Yosemite Falls, which is the highest waterfall in North America and one of the most magnificent natural wonders in the United States.

The best time to enjoy the fall is May, which is a combination of nice weather and well-flowing watercourse that feeds the waterfall. There're two trails leading to Yosemite Falls, a staggering bucket-list destination indeed. The easier trail is a simple one-mile hike, but if the adventurous spirit encourages you to take a more challenging pass, you should choose a demanding but immensely pleasing all-day hike to the top – either way you won’t regret it.

Yosemite Fall in its majestic beauty
Yosemite National Park in California
Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

#8 Arches National Park in Utah

The park is home to more than 2,000 natural stone arches, which is more than anywhere else in the world. The red-rock wonderland is situated right next to the Colorado River in eastern Utah. The next time you find yourself thinking about a new destination to add to your travel bucket list, consider one of the most breathtaking natural wonders in the United States - Delicate Arch. Standing at 52 feet high, the arch is made out of Entrada Sandstone and is one of the Utah’s visual symbols.

Back in 2002, when Utah hosted the Winter Olympic Games, Delicate Arch was the first place within the state to enter the torch relay. You can spend your time in the park driving or cycling along the picturesque 18-mile road. Hiking lovers will also be over the moon with a diversity of hiking routes that range from 15 minutes up to 5 hours and are open during the spring, summer, and fall.

Visiting Arches National Park in Utah equals a trip-to-the-Mars experience
Arches National Park in Utah
Photo by Josh Soriano on Unsplash

#9 Crater Lake in Oregon

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America that fascinates visitors with its intense blue colour. The lake was formed by the fall of a volcano which erupted and collapsed approximately 7,700 years ago. At 1,943 feet deep, the lake takes its water directly from snow or rain, so there are no inlets from other water sources. It's actually one of the purest lakes on the Earth! What’s more, the location is a perfect place for skiing and snowshoeing in winter, and hiking in summer. You can even swim in particular areas, but brace yourself for quite low water temperature.

Apart from skiing and swimming, Crater Lake is a great place to test your cycling skills as well. The hilly landscape requires high endurance and plenty of training. After enjoying the astonishing views during the day, you have a chance to see the satellites, planets and the ‘arms’ of the Milky Way on a clear, moonless night as Crater Lake's skies turn into some of the darkest in America, which makes it a perfect place for stargazing.

Crater Lake in Oregon must be on your list of must-see destinations in the U.S.
Crater Lake in Oregon
Photo by Jeff Hopper on Unsplash

#10 Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico

Sometimes we can't even imagine what beauty may be hidden just below our feet. The Carlsbad Caverns National Park has more than 119 caves underneath the ground, which have several huge underground chambers, up to 250 feet high, filled with bright formations of many colours and shapes. As a result, you can take a self-guided tour into one of the oldest and most famous cave systems in the world or explore the caverns with a ranger who can reveal a lot of underground secrets. One of the caverns, called the Big Room, also happens to be the largest-volume cave chamber in America. Keep in mind that the caverns are an all-day drive from any other major attractions in the Southwest, but without any doubts, they are well worth the long journey.

Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico are one-of-a-kind in the United States
Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico
Photo credit: NPS Photo/Peter Jones

Mind you, all of these natural wonders are actually in the United States! Astonishing views, exciting terrains, and unique wildlife are all within your reach. So pack the essentials and don't miss an opportunity to escape your daily routine and visit the superb places to unwind. If you feel inspired to explore the jaw-dropping destinations outside the U.S., check out our article about the absolutely best places around the world off-the-beaten-path. And once you've found an astonishing place you'd love to visit, don't forget to book the flights :)


real-life-places-from-top-3-fantasy-movies

Real-life Places from Fantasy Movies You Need to Visit: Top 3

By Kateryna Kirian

Your favorite movie gives you goosebumps? You are still guessing if these stunning locations are real-life places from fantasy movies? Well then, what about visiting a movie scene by yourself? It might be a great adventure to...

3...2...1...Action!

Lucky you! A lot of famous locations are real, and you can visit them right now. You don’t need to cast a magic spell or look for a spaceship for discovering those places. Just choose a movie, pack your backpack, follow the bucket list of top travel movie destinations we prepared for you and brace yourself for one of the most memorable journeys in a lifetime. If you still don’t get itchy feet, here are some great films to inspire your inner traveler. If you want to get to know more about fulfilling your travel dreams in times of the pandemic, check out our article about travel planning with a proper balance of wanderlust and safety.

I. Game of Thrones

If you haven't watched Game of Thrones, at least you've heard of it. This TV show can be called the engine of the tourism industry. For 8 seasons, the film crew managed to feature a huge list of countries. The iconic places that appeared in the background of the series scenes instantly became popular and still attract tourists from all over the world.

Northern Ireland

This country has an immense concentration of amazing real-life places from fantasy movies that could be visited, among other tours, on a Game of Thrones tour from Dublin.

Tollymore Forest Park

The 630 hectares of Tollymore Park forest near the Morne Mountains is a great place to walk or even hike in Northern Ireland. The mountain rivers, caves, caverns and picturesque sea views attracted the film crew here. In the series, it’s a woodland where Nightwalkers are spotted and the Direwolf puppies are found.

The Dark Hedges, County Antrim

The Dark Hedges is perhaps the most beautiful beech alley in the world and one of the most photographed landmarks in Northern Ireland and on the Game of Thrones Map. The trees were planted in the 18th century to impress visitors of Dunluce Castle. The idea was so good that it outlived its creators and still impresses tourists. Luckily, Dark Hedges are currently free to visit, so you definitely must go there.

real-life place from the fantasy movie Game of Thrones
The Dark Hedges from Game of Thrones, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Source: https://www.belfastlive.co.uk/sport/other-sport/iconic-dark-hedges-been-incorporated-13314154

Castle Ward, County Down

Probably the most famous Game of Thrones filming location in Northern Ireland is Castle Ward, also known as Winterfell. Visitors can dress up in the costumes of the Game of Thrones’ characters and play around the castle learning archery. And now you can discover Winterfell for yourself! The National Trust has reopened its outdoor spaces after the lockdown. Don’t hesitate and book your visit there.

Croatia

Croatia is the country where most of the famous episodes of the show have been filmed. Dubrovnik, as a city blessed with stunning landscapes, is proud to have not only the majority of Game of Thrones filming locations but also a lot of other real-life places from fantasy movies.

King’s Landing

King’s Landing is the capital of the fictional Seven Kingdoms - a city with truly astonishing views. This place has witnessed many events such as King Joffrey’s name day tournament. The location is known as ‘the pearl of the Adriatic’ because of a unique old city overlooking the magnificent Dalmatian coast. By taking a tour in the old walled city of Dubrovnik you will be able to see and photograph the Black Water Bay and most of the areas which found their way into the series. The tour lasts approximately 3-4 hours, including climbing the stairs for a bird’s-eye view of the Bay.

real-life location from the fantasy movie Game of Thrones
King's Landing from Game of Thrones, in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Source: Unsplash

Spain

If you plan to visit the amazing filming locations from Game of Thrones in Spain, like Girona Cathedral, Castle of Zafra, Bermeo or Almeria, we would recommend you to rent a car. Some locations can be reached by public transportation, but many do require driving by yourself, especially the more remote ones – which often happen to be the most incredible ones, too.

Gaztelugatxe

Gaztelugatxe is an islet with a small church called San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, dating back to the 10th century. To make a wish, you can ring the bell by yourself three times. Although the island doesn’t have a giant castle or actual dragons, fans of the show are coming there from all around the world. Dragonstone Island features the scene where Daenerys Targaryen is planning the war against her enemies.

real-life location from the fantasy movie Game of Thrones
Dragonstone Island from Game of Thrones, also known as a Gaztelugatxe island in Spain
Source: Photo by Luismi Sánchez on  Unsplash

II. Harry Potter

Sadly for all Harry Potter fans, Hogwarts only exists in the pages of the book and on the TV screen. But there are also some real-life places that actually brought these fantasy movies to life. The majority of the amazing and yet real scenes of the movies were filmed in the U.K., and many of these locations are available on the walking routes. If you are really into it, you can find a Potter-themed walking tour or even take a Warner Bros. Studio Tour, where the magic was created:) Anyway, take a look at the list of the filming locations from Harry Potter that will make happy muggles and magicians. Lumos!

real-life location from the fantasy movie Harry Potter
Glenfinnan Viaduct from Harry Potter, in Inverness-shire, Scotland, UK
Source: Unsplash

1. King's Cross Station in London

One of the most memorable scenes from the first movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when freshman Harry tried to board the Hogwarts Express on Platform 9 ¾. Interesting fact, that at the time of shooting, platforms 4 and 5 were temporarily renumbered 9 and 10. There is still a Platform 9 ¾ on the station (unfortunately, you can't board the Hogwarts Express). There is a chance to take a picture and visit the Harry Potter shop nearby where you can buy souvenirs from the books and films.

2. Leadenhall Market, London

It’s London's most beautiful Victorian covered market and a popular filming location for other movies like Hereafter, Brannigan and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. That is a place where Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron Pub (42 Bull's Head Passage, in real life). Now you know the perfect place for drinking a mug of butterbeer:)

3. Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucester

Gloucester Cathedral looks as a perfect shooting location, indeed! Its glass windows dating back to 1350, however, its history dates back even further with origins being recording around 678 or 679. The cathedral doubled as the inside of Hogwarts on multiple scenes, including the one when Harry and Ron spot an enormous troll down a long hallway. You can get there by car or train and come inside for free.

A part of Hogwarts from the movie Harry Potter
A part of Hogwarts from Harry Potter, in Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucester, England, UK
Source: https://canonjjohn.com/event/justone-at-gloucester-cathedral/

4. Oxford

Oxford is a place where the true fans of magic movies can find a lot of real-life Harry Potter filming locations. One of them is Duke Humfrey's Library (the Hogwarts Library) where Hermione loves to read and where Harry takes out a book from a restricted section. Another one is Divinity School where Ron recovers after being poisoned in the episode about The Half-Blood Prince. Those who are not indifferent to the filthy tricks of Draco Malfoy will definitely remember the moment, when Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody transforms him into a ferret. This scene was filmed in the courtyard of New College Cloisters. Fortunately, Oxford is easily accessible by a train or a car. New College is a 1-mile walk away from the Oxford train station. 

real-life location from the fantasy movie Harry Potter
A part of Hogwarts from Harry Potter, in the courtyard of New College Cloisters, Oxford, England, UK
Source: https://onestepwanderer.com/harry-potter-oxford/

III. The Lord of the Rings

If you call yourself a fan of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series, you should visit some real-life places that contributed to the creation of such wonderful and magic fantasy movies. Moreover, if you adore J. R. R. Tolkien's writing, you will enjoy visiting the places which played a significant role in the making of the famous movie and the books. Majestic mountain ranges, fairy forests, ethereal lakes and crystal rivers shown in the movies probably made you think there is no chance they are real! But thanks to New Zealand’s spectacular locations, some of The Lord of the Ring’s most iconic scenes look even more incredible in the real world than they do on the screen.

1. The Hobbiton Movie Set, Matamata

For sure, it’s one of the favorite places of the fans of The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, it’s a colorful city where visitors can feel the spirit of the magic world belonging to hobbits. The Hobbiton Movie Set was restored after the filming of The Hobbit, so fans are free to come. These are the real sets and locations that brought Hobbiton and the Shire to life. You can walk in the footsteps of Gandalf, Bilbo and Frodo, explore Hobbit holes, visit Green Dragon Inn and the double arch stone bridge near the mill on the riverbank.

The Shire the fantasy movie The Lord of the Rings
The Shire from The Lord of the Rings, in Hobbiton, Matamata, New Zealand
Source: Photo by Nikhil Prasad on Unsplash

2. Snowdon Forest, Te Anau Downs

nowdon Forest is the location for Fangorn Forest. This is where Gandalf whistles for his majestic horse, and Aragorn tracks the hobbits’ trail into the forest. What’s more, it’s the home of the Ents, living trees who traverse along the glens of Fangorn Forest. And you can see the home of these magic creatures by yourself! Explore the hiking trails as long as you wish, taking in the beauty of the lush forest.

3. The Putangirua Pinnacles, Wellington

Without any doubts, the Pinnacles are one of the most striking Lord of the Rings locations to see. These otherworldly rock landscapes were used for scenes in The Return of the King, when Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn sought assistance of the Army of the Undead along the Dimholt Road. The Pinnacles constitute the unique geological site that gives off the horrific atmosphere. And it’s quite close to Wellington:)

real-life place from the fantasy movie The Lord of the Rings
The habitat of the Army of the Undead from The Lord of the Rings, the Putangirua Pinnacles, Wellington, New Zealand
Source: https://www.nzrentacar.co.nz/blog/travel-tourism/shot-in-nz-part-ii-lord-of-the-rings/

4. Port Waikato, North Island

In The Fellowship of the Ring, the group of hobbits is left on the lonely peak. Among the ruins, Weathertop remains a safe vantage point from the dark riders. It's one of the most memorable moments in the series with an immediately identifiable location. Port Waikato itself is a somewhat untouched slice of the New Zealand coastline, with fewer crowds and more space to discover. Fishing enthusiasts can delight in surf fishing and river fishing, while food lovers can visit the town of Pokeno nearby, well-known for its giant ice-creams and organic bacon.

5. Mount  Ngauruhoe, North Island

One of the most iconic scenes is Mount Doom of Mordor (in reality Mount Ngauruhoe), the final destination on Frodo’s way to destroy the Ring. If you walk to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, you’ll see the active volcano rising from the earth. To see it closer, you can take a hike to the peak of Mount Ngauruhoe. It’s a steep walk up to an ancient volcanic area. Those who make it to the top will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Red Crater and Emerald Lakes.

location from The Lord of the Rings
Mordor from The Lord of the Rings, Mount Ngauruhoe, National Park, New Zealand
Source: Photo by Matthew Buchanan on Unsplash

We hope we managed to spark your interest at least a little. The rest is up to you - pack your backpack and let the adventure begin!


Top 10 Destinations Off the Beaten Path

Top 10 Destinations Off the Beaten Path

By Kateryna Kirian

The Road Less Traveled

Nowadays, more and more of us want to escape the crowds and find more off-the-beaten-path destinations where no traveler has ever set foot. While many countries in the world are struggling with overtourism, there are plenty of breathtaking destinations which are unjustly left out of travelers’ attention. The lockdown limited travelers immensely, but on the other hand, it’s a perfect opportunity to plan your next vacation and make it unusual and memorable. Why not add a few unexpected places to your bucket list and create your own unique adventure? Many travel destinations off the beaten path can surprise you no less than the most popular places. 

Check out Airwander edition of The Road Less Traveled:

How to choose an unusual vacation

Since you have already decided to visit a place that is off the beaten path, why not think outside the box one more time and creatively choose that place too? Check it out - it will never be challenging deciding where to go. Make travel planning your thing!

Check out 5 fun ways to pick an off-the-beaten-path destination for your next vacation:

1. Throw a dart at a map.

This idea tops many people’s Bucket Lists. It’s completely unpredictable and funny. You may wind up somewhere very close to home or exceptionally far away. It’s all a matter of chance.

2. Start a poll on social media and have people vote.

Let your family and friends pick where you’ll go next. The location which gets the most votes wins. It’s interesting to see who picked which location and why.

3. Put a bunch of names in a hat and draw one.

It’s win-win because you’ll choose the place you want to visit for sure. Save the slips for future trips, so that you’ll never run out of inspiration.

4. Roll a dice.

Assign a destination to each number and give them a roll. You can roll the dice during your trip as well for making decisions about where you eat and what activities to do.

5. Choose a theme and then find a city or country that relates to it.

Why not to go to the places where your favorite Indian movie was filmed, walk the same pass as your beloved character and simply enjoy the atmosphere? There are so many possibilities when it comes to themes and ways how you can implement it. There are no limits to your imagination.

Check out 10 top off-the-beaten-path destinations to visit

So after the dice or social media helped you to choose an unusual place to go, you can use these top 10 locations to inspire yourself for the trip.

1. Hidden Beach in Mexico

Suggested by Theculturetrip

Playa del Amor, commonly known as the Hidden Beach with the soft sand and clear aquamarine waters looks like a heavenly place. Be aware that this under-the-radar destination is quite tricky to reach, no boats can make their way into the beach, so you should hop into the water and swim under the rocks to reach this unique location. For those who want to explore more, there are coral reefs in the water, unique flora and fauna. If you do decide to visit, plan in advance to get a spot on tour. Access to the "hidden beach," also known as the Beach of Love, are limited and must be reserved a few days in advance.

the beach in Mexico off the beaten track
Playa del Amor or the Beach of Love, Mexico
Source: https://www.amazingplaces.com/mexico/playa-amor/

2. Bhutan

Suggested by Traveltriangle

It’s difficult to imagine a more persuasive recommendation for Bhutan than the one, officially given by one of its official representatives:

Bhutan decided long ago that we will never be a military power, we will never be an economic force, so to survive we must have a distinct identity. This is the identity you see; our clothes, language, the architecture. You look around and feel that you are in a different world. This is not an accident.
Ministry of Information and Communications of Bhutan

Being in this country is a chance to touch upon something traditional, authentic, pure and divine at the same time. Bhutan is a place of monasteries and fortresses, and these destinations are far off-the-beaten-path. Buddhism is an inseverable part of the soul of the country, which highly supports its cultural beliefs. Additionally, Bhutan is considered as the only country in the world which measure GNH or Gross National Happiness. It turns out that Happiness for them is more important than GDP.

Isolated monastery in the mountains of Bhutan
Taktsang or Tiger's Nest, Paro, Bhutan
Source: Photo by Adli Wahid on Unsplash

3. Namibia

Suggested by travelafricamag

Another country which keeps an ancient traditional lifestyle is Namibia. It’s a perfect solution for those who want to get away from the metropolis and relax, walking through The Namib Desert. This trip will definitely be a good choice for people who wish to find the solitude without crowds of tourists and annoying photo shooting. The country has a significant animal population. For ancient lovers, there is the Skeleton Coast between the desert and the ocean displaying the remains of ships dumped on the coasts. Namibia has saved the traces of the oldest inhabitants of the planet. In the north of the country, you can visit the villages of the Himba tribe, which has kept their traditional way of life. Namibia is one of the safest African countries with a low crime rate, so you can safely walk around the cities during the day and at night.

Namibian desert for off-the-beaten path hiking
Deadvlei Hiking Trail, Namibia
Source: Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

4. Mongolia

Suggested by Onceuponajrny

Mongolia is one of the most off-the-beaten-path travel destinations, which remain undisturbed by mass tourism. Probably thanks to that it succeeds in saving its unique traditions. People say that Mongolians are the most friendly and warm-hearted people in the world. No doubt it’s true. Mongolians don’t need to know English to communicate, they speak with their warm smiles. If you visit Mongolia, go for staying with a local nomadic family in their Ger, the experience will be priceless! 

Apart from incredible Mongolian people, this country if famous for its unique and incredible landscapes, which are made of unspoiled mountains' beauty, waterfalls, valleys, deserts, and pine forests. Grab a tent and go into the wild -  camping under the starry sky without anyone around you for miles.

out of the ordinary starry night in Mongolia
Mongolia
Source: Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

5. Georgia

Suggested by Theculturetrip

Georgia is another country legendary for its hospitality. This is a country with a spirit of freedom and open-minded people. Georgians suffered from various invasions during the centuries, and yet they never lost their faith. They believe that “a guest is sent from the God.” Therefore, they try to welcome any guests into their homes as if they were relative or very close friends. But be careful, they can be over-caring:) Georgian nature is unbelievably rich, it has deserts, ski resorts, Black Sea coasts and alpine zones.

That is a perfect place for climbing on the tops of the Caucasus Mountain in any season. Like its landscape, the food here is very diverse and incredibly tasty. It combines Persian and Mediterranean cuisine in a delicious mix. Once you go there, don’t forget to try an unmissable treat - cheesy bread Khachapuri, whose taste will stay with you for a very long time. 

High mountains in stunning Georgia far away from crowded places
Trinity Gergeti Church, Kazbegi, Georgia
Source: Photo by Iman Gozal on Unsplash

6. Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

Suggested by Airpaz blog

The most amazing places in the world may be overshadowed by more popular vacation spots nearby, so it’s crucial to know where and when to look for them. Vaadhoo Island on the Maldives is a small copy of paradise, but wait until you know more of its secrets yet. A beach on Vaadhoo Island, also known as ‘The Sea of Stars’ looks like a magic place from a fairy tale. It’s filled with glowing blue dots, looking like a pool with floating fairy lights. But keep in mind that it’s better to refrain from swimming at this time because sea plankton can release toxic substances. Vaadhoo Island is easy to reach, it’s located just 8 km away from Male, the capital of the Maldives. What can be better than sitting and enjoying the glow-in-the-dark beach, when warm water touches your feet?

7. Greenland

Suggested by Quarkexpeditions

Remarkable landscapes, exceptional wildlife, iceberg-choked fjords and colorful tundra… it is all about magic island Greenland. It's so far off the beaten path. That is a unique opportunity to see the Greenland ice sheet and feel the distant past of the Earth walking on ice which has more than 110,000 years. Another wonder is Aurora Borealis also known as Northern Lights. That picture must be seen with your own eyes, and no photographs can fully express this miracle of nature. September is the best time to visit Greenland if you want to see them. The freezing water of Greenland is whales’ favorite place. Seeing the majestic kings of the ocean, sailing leisurely alongside is an unforgettable experience.

Offbeat sightseeing of whales in Greenland
Diskobugten, Northern Greenland
Source: https://visitgreenland.com/providers/whale-tours/

8. Zhangye, China

Suggested by Chinahighlights

Looking for a new astonishing background for your pictures? The Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye City enjoy the honors of ‘The world's top ten magical geographical wonders’. Zhangye itself has temples hanging from the cliff sides, cairns also known as stone sculptures and hidden caves to explore. You will need to do some hiking to reach your destination points, but once you go through caves, you’ll see beautifully decorated Buddhist rooms. Other places worth a visit there are Binggou Danxia Park, Mati Temple and Giant Buddha Temple, representing Buddhist culture. Transport connection in Zhangye is quite good, and there are buses and car rental services which offer a huge discount in the off-season. 

Unvisited Rainbow Mountains in China
Zhangye National Geopark, Gansu, China
Source: Photo by Aaron Greenwood on Unsplash

9. Cullen, Scotland

Suggested by Faramagan

From the touristic perspective, Scotland is usually associated with Edinburgh or Glasgow. Still, there is a small, rural fishing village of Cullen, located on the outskirts of the Scottish Highlands, just one hour from Aberdeen airport and one hour from Inverness airport. It’s beautiful because of its golden beach sands which can beat tropical islands. This is a perfect solution for people who want to enjoy the sea view and dolphins leaping in front of you without anyone else around. It’s quite unlikely you’ll meet another person on your walk there. Besides, don’t miss the opportunity to talk to the locals with their great Scot’s dialect of Doric - they’ll be happy to tell you more about some hidden gems.

Unfrequented golden beach in Scotland
Cullen, Scotland
Source: Clydecoast - Ain wirk, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5817252

10. Nunavut, Canada

Suggested by Travelnunavut

Going to the Arctic Circle is a trip of a lifetime for real adventurers. If you are considering planning a vacation in Nunavut, summer is the most appropriate time for it! If you go there, your bravery will be rewarded with crystal-clear icebergs, the company of polar bears or even drifting on a piece of ice in the middle of the ocean. You should pack for that kind of trip really thoroughly. 

  • Apart from warm clothes, take boots designed for extremely severe weather. It's an item No. 1. 
  • Don’t forget balaclava, which will protect you from arctic winds. 
  • Extra food, for instance energy bars will help you recharge your batteries
  • Hand and foot warmers won’t be a nuisance
  • Battery chargers for your phone, camera and laptop may save your life.

Don’t hesitate to ask recommendation from friends or colleagues who have already passed through arctic snows - first-hand experience is priceless.   

Exceptional Arctic Circle experience in Canada
Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada
Source: Photo by Bill Williams, https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/northern-lights-dance-above-iqaluit/

Remember, your stunning off the beaten path travel destinations are just waiting to be explored!    


7 Budget-Friendly Eastern Europe Countries

By Annie Button

Whilst it would be ideal to explore as many places as possible, we understand that a budget doesn’t always make that a possibility. We’ve created a list of seven of our favorite budget-friendly Eastern European countries, making the choice easier for you when you do have the money to get away.

Looking at the best things to do on a budget we’ll be starting off the journey in Bulgaria in the south, traveling through Romania, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, and concluding our journey in Poland. Even today, closely integrated with the economies of Western Europe, these countries remain excellent destinations for the budget-conscious traveler.

7. Bulgaria

Source: Pixabay

In 2007, the Belogradchik Cliffs were among the leading nominations in a competition to select the “New Seven Wonders of the World”. They missed out on a place in the final but are still recognized as one of Bulgaria’s most spectacular attractions. Sculpted by natural forces over for than 200 million years, they are just 20 kilometers from the equally spectacular Magura Cave.  

6. Romania

Source: Pixabay

Included on the UNESCO World Heritage list, the Danube
Delta is the second largest river delta in Europe and considered to be the
best-preserved on the continent.

Most of it is located in Romania’s Tulcea county, where the river splits into three separate channels, the Chilia, Sulina, and Sfântu Gheorghe arms, creating – according to Lonely Planet – a constantly evolving 4,187-square meter wetland of marshes, floating reed islets and sandbars. The river has one of the largest single expanses of reed beds in the world, with the region providing sanctuary for 300 species of bird and 160 species of fish.

5. Croatia

Source: Pixabay

Visiting the beach is a cost-effective travel option anywhere in the world. Croatia was the readers’ choice winner of Travel + Leisure’s “Destination of the Year” in 2016, it has some of the most picturesque coastlines in Europe.

For Game of Thrones fans, the ramparts of Lovrijenac
Fortress (the fictional Red Keep in King’s Landing) in Dubrovnik will bring
back memories of the scene from King Joffrey’s name day celebration; while
Diocletian's Palace in Split housed Daenarys’ throne room.

4. Hungary

Source: Pixabay

If you’d prefer a taste of the city life then Budapest is great for doing it all on a budget, if you’re interested in traveling on a bike or tandem. You can admire UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a verdant city park, the “Museum  Mile” cultural avenue, and diverse architectural styles, before restoring your weary legs in a thermal spring.  

Budapest is believed to be the only capital city in the world with thermal springs. “Some 125 springs produce 70 million liters of thermal water a day, with temperatures ranging up to 58 Celsius,” notes Budapest.com. “Some of these waters have medicinal effects due to their medically valuable mineral contents.”

3. Slovakia

Source: Pixabay

Along with previously mention destinations, Slovakia is considered one of the cheapest European destinations to travel to.  As a land-locked, mostly mountainous nation, Slovakia is ideal for travelers wanting to enjoy the snowy slopes. Traveling here in the winter means that you can take advantage of relatively cheap snow sports in the High Tatras Mountains. Whereas, in the summer you can hike the mountains and explore Slovakia’s historic cities, castles, and churches. The easiest way to access the High Tatras is by car, once you’re there then you can use the budget-friendly bus system to travel from town to town.

2. Czech-republic

Source: Pixabay

Just about everyone seems to have visited Prague these
days, which is not to say it isn’t one of Europe’s most enthralling cities, but
you can find yourself being caught out on occasions with “tourist prices”.

Best, instead, to head to Central Bohemia, just a one-hour journey from Prague and also offering a magnificent panorama of castles and chateaux – and a pleasant river lifestyle. What you should definitely see is Karlštejn Castle, established by Czech king and Roman emperor Charles IV to store royal treasures, holy relic collections and the crown jewels; and the UNESCO-listed town of Kutná Hora.  

1. Poland

Source: Pixabay

Poland is rich in culture and home to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Fifteen to be exact. The historic center of Kraków and the Białowieża Forest are not only beautiful places to explore, but they can also be budget-friendly.

Along with many historical sites to explore, Poland is home to unique and hearty cuisine. Something worth sampling is the national dish of shadowy which is like a pork chop and is customarily coated with egg and breadcrumbs, fried in oil with onion, and served with sides of beetroot or sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. Or, for non-meat-eaters, you could try jellied carp, a traditional dish in Poland at Christmas.

Thanks to Annie Button for writing this article! Follow her on Twitter @anniebutton1994


The World's Largest Tomato Fight - La Tomatina 2015

By Douglas Deming

The co-founders of QuestOrganizer (Ela and Douglas) are on the move from our previous workplace of Málaga to Poland then our new home of San Francisco.

On our way we are taking a road trip across Europe and typical fashion of Questers we are making a few stops on the way. One of them was La Tomatina. It is in the city of Buñol and many people from all over the world have flocked to Valencia where buses take tourists and trucks containing around 145,000kg of fresh tomatoes will deliver locura (more than loco) to this small Spanish city.

How to get to La Tomatina

There are several options depending on your preference of ease. You can book a tour that will provide you all you need: transport, t-shirts, goggles, accommodation, and tickets to the all night after-party. We went with a simple option and for 37 euros we bought ahead of time a bus ticket including confirmed entry ($10 city tax to Buñol) as we were not sure if they would sell tickets at the event (they sell tickets at La Tomatina if you go in 2016).

Our Experience

We saw the many foreigners in Valencia the night before and it is a beautiful city. We then caught our 7:30am bus to Buñol which took about 30 mins to arrive to the industrial ruins and small quaint Spanish town.

Many local vendors sell beer and sangria and other entrepreneurs sell 1 euro goggles which will break before the fight. There is also Paella and many other options to eat and it seemed the local people really embrace the touristic boom and attention this festival brings.

After choosing the entrance that would have the most tomatoes, and in turn the most people. We slowly started our way to try and peek at the craziest participants who attempt to climb a greased pole that is crowned with a Spanish ham. When the first participant reaches the prized jamon the tomato fight begins. Above there are locals spraying hoses out of their balconies and a few overly ripe tomatoes at the giant crowd below. However the crowd returns the tomatoes and appreciates the cool water as we all patiently wait the gun shot to begin the real chaos.

 

Trucks begin to pass through the already fully crowded street where people have stopped pushing through for 20 minutes as it is seen as impassable. The crowd is forced backwards down the street and to the sides where there now is definitely no sign of empty space left.

The fight was crazy, and we can report that tomatoes do not leave a bruise when thrown at full force. It soon became a tomato soup below our feet and that is the reason for the multiple trucks with participant reloading the battle with new whole tomatoes to again toss at the target of choosing. Many people flocked to the side for relief or to the center to be the target of all others. It ended quickly with the smell of tomato in the air. We then followed the direction of the locals to go down to the river for a rinse, but there are also many locals who will hose off passersby as a kind gesture of thanking people for visiting, or maybe to stop the mess from spreading.

In summary, this is an event that I would recommend to anyone who is prepared to get a little messy, but not as a solo destination as it only lasts an hour.

 


7 Awesome Reasons why You Should Travel to Australia

By Marie Nieves

When visiting Australia, the worst thing you can do is staying at one place the entire time. Not because certain cities are uninteresting or not worth seeing, but because there is so much out there – literally out there! Here are seven reasons why you should come here.

1. Big Cities

Australia has always been special since most of its population is concentrated in certain small regions where big cities worth visiting are located. When staying in Sydney, for example, you will be mesmerized by the harbor, the Opera House and the nearby bridge, as well as the Royal National Park and other attractions. It surely offers as much as other most popular tourists destinations, but with so much less tourists.

2. Festivals

Tim Parkinson2
Rainbow Serpent Festival at Beaufort, Australia. Photo by: Tim Parkinson
For those who like partying and enjoying culture, various festivals are the way to go. From music festival in Canberra to the Biennale of Sydney where you can see the best contemporary art has to offer, there is something for everyone. I enjoyed the Writers’ Festival in Sydney the most – with names like Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan, Irvine Welsh and even Alice Walker visiting last year, you cannot go wrong if literature is your thing.

3. Food

Photo by: AnneCN
Photo by: AnneCN
Australia’s cuisine includes plenty of meat – even infamous kangaroo meat which is more popular with the tourists than the locals – and tasty dressings from berries and vegetables found in the bush. While the Australian cuisine is now more international-oriented with influences from all over the world, the absolutely best thing to try are deserts: oats/coconuts-based Anzac biscuits and the Pavlova, a meringue cake garnished with fruits.

4. Wellness and Spa

Daniela5
Photo by: Daniela
A visit to a wellness center is a relaxing and enjoyable activity – there is nothing better than being pampered and massaged after a long day of sightseeing. With a wide offer including everything from spa treatments to physical therapies – I could stay at the facial treatment all day long, if you ask me – a mental health retreat at the Gold Coast represents the opposite of city rush and is definitely a health tourist destination worth visiting.

5. National Parks and Nature

Kondalilla falls. Photo by: Andrii Slonchak
Kondalilla falls. Photo by: Andrii Slonchak
Australia is so much more than big cities and when it comes to national parks, Queensland is full of them. Noosa, Tewantin, Mapleton Falls and Conondale National Park present a different Australia from what one expects and after going there and experiencing the untouched nature they offer just once, you are going to want to come back – trust me!

6. Beaches

 Bondi Beach. Photo by: Bluenose Girl
Bondi Beach. Photo by: Bluenose Girl
Sometimes you just want to lie under the Sun and do nothing, and that is why beaches are ideal for a relaxing holiday. Whether you want to swim, dive, surf or get a tan, you will find plenty of options at numerous beaches of the Sunshine Coast. Ultimately, they are the best way to relax after a couple of tiring day spent parading through Sydney.

7. Islands

Kangaroo Island. Photo by: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble
Kangaroo Island. Photo by: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble
This continent has over eight thousand islands including Tasmania, Melville Island, Kangaroo Island and the famous New Year Island – a reserve for endangered wild animals. While not all are suitable for a soothing afternoon swim, many can become a part of your vacation and only after visiting them can you grasp this country’s entire beauty.

In Conclusion

After a fortnight in Australia – a week in Sydney and a week in the Sunshine Coast – I was left with nothing by awe for this place. Its size ensures versatility and those who, unlike me, like to spend their holiday physically active will have a blast here. On the other hand, beaches, culture and good food ensures a good time for more peaceful types of tourists as well.
This Article was brought to you by Marie Nieves. Follow her on Twitter and G+.

Why Great Lent in Greece is Great for Vegan Travellers

By Wendy Werneth

The traditional Greek diet uses fresh fruits and vegetables and the Greek Orthodox religion has shaped the local cuisine. That's why Lent is full of vegan food and it's a good time for vegeterian or vegan travellers to visit Greece!

Find a Flight to Greece                                                                          Sample Flight to Greece in April

If I asked you to describe Greek food, the phrase "vegan-friendly" would probably not be the first thing that popped into your head. For most people, Greek food means gyros (the meat you see roasting on a revolving spit in kebab joints the world over), souvlaki (barbecued pieces of meat on a skewer), and plenty of dairy products such as feta cheese, Greek yoghurt or tzatziki. Doesn't exactly sound like a veggie paradise, does it? Well, the good news for vegan travellers is that this couldn't be further from the truth! The traditional Greek diet actually uses meat very sparingly, while fresh fruits and vegetables are found in abundance. While this is true of a number of Mediterranean countries, in Greece it is even more the case, due to the role that the Greek Orthodox religion has played in shaping the way Greeks eat.

The Orthodox calendar includes more than 180 "fasting" days, when the faithful follow a nearly vegan diet and abstain from eating any land animals, eggs, dairy products or fish (though they still eat honey and some aquatic animals such as shrimp or octopus). As you might imagine, this has had a huge influence on the development of Greek cuisine, which includes an incredible variety of naturally vegan dishes. And, while these dishes are widely available in restaurants year round, the best time to look for them is during the seven-week period leading up to Orthodox Easter, which is the most important fasting period and is known as the "Great 40 Days", the "Great Lent" or the "Great Fast". During this time, restaurants are likely to offer even more nistisimo ("fasting") foods than usual. Below is just a sampling of the dishes you can expect to find.

  • Aginares a la Polita: a stew made with artichokes, carrots, and potatoes and flavoured with lemon and dill. aginares a la polita
  • Briám: an oven-baked dish similar to ratatouille in Southern France. The vegetables used can vary but always include potatoes and zucchini.Briam
  • Gemista: tomatoes or red bell peppers stuffed with a rice and herb mixture. Occasionally contains minced meat but is usually vegan.gemista
  • Imam Baildi: A whole braised eggplant stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes and simmered in olive oil until soft enough to melt in your mouth. Delicious!Imam Baildi

And don't overlook the mezedhes (appetizers) at the front of the menu. It is quite common to make a meal out of a selection of these small dishes. Here are some to look out for:

  • Tomatokeftedes: tomato fritters with mint, fried in olive oil.tomatokeftedes
  • Gigantes: giant white beans cooked in tomato sauce and various herbs.gigantes
  • Melitzanosalata – a cold eggplant dip similar to baba ghanoush.melitzanosalata
  • Dolmadhes – grapevine leaves stuffed with rice and herbsdolmadhes
  • Skordalia – a dip made with mashed potatoes and lots of garlic skordalia2

And that's just to name a few! While all these dishes are usually vegan, recipes can vary from one restaurant to another, so ask to be sure.

While the above dishes are commonly found throughout the country, there is also plenty of regional variety in Greek cuisine. The island of Crete, for example, is particularly famous for its local dishes and cooking style. If you're heading that way, be sure to look out for Kolokythoanthoi.These are similar to dolmadhes, except that the vine leaves are replaced with the more delicate zucchini flower, which is stuffed with rice and herbs. Just be sure to ask your server to hold the yoghurt, which is normally served on the side.dolmadhes and kolokythoanthoi

Another vegetarian Cretan dish that can easily be veganized is dakos (sometimes spelled ntakos). To make dakos, you begin with a couple of slices of paximadi – a rusk or hard, dried bread made from barley that is a local specialty in itself. These are moistened with a few tablespoons of water and then topped with chopped tomatoes, olive oil, olives and herbs. Feta or mizithra cheese is normally also part of the topping, but it's no problem to ask for dakos without it.dakos without cheese.

Santorini – an island whose sunsets are wildly popular among travellers to Greece – is also known for the high quality of its local agricultural products, thanks to the fertile volcanic soil. Some of the more famous produce items include capers, cherry tomatoes, white eggplant and a legume with the scientific name of lathyrus clymenum that is not cultivated anywhere else in the world. The latter is the main ingredient in a popular meze dish called fava. This name can be misleading, because it actually bears no relation to fava beans (otherwise known as broad beans). Rather, the lathyrus clymenum is a type of pea that is similar to the yellow split peas used to make dhal in India. In Santorini then, fava is a dip made from puréed yellow split peas.fava

Now, with all these naturally vegan dishes found in traditional Greek cuisine, there's not much reason to seek out vegetarian restaurants in Greece. Which is just as well, because you won't find many. As vegan-friendly as Greece is, the concept of veganism (or even vegetarianism) is not that widely known, and if you say to someone that you are vegan they are unlikely to understand you. So vegans, remember the magic word – nistisimo! As long as you ask for nistisimo ("fasting") food and make it clear that you do not eat any seafood (or honey, if that's the case), then you should be good to go. And if you aren't vegan, don't let that stop you from trying some of these delicious Greek specialties! They have been pleasing the tastebuds of Greek meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters alike for generations.

This awesome text was brought to you by Wendy - author of The Nomadic Vegan Blog

 


Best Archeological Sites in Peru

By Ela Bader

The mysterious Peruvian land was once a home for many ancient civilizations which left traces in the form of cities, temples, labyrinths, bridges and perplexing statues. Nowadays, they are admired for the complex and magnificent architecture. Here is a list of the most interesting archaeological sites in Peru (from my experience of backpacking through a large part of this country).


Choquequirao

Situated at an elevation of 3000 meters in the Andean mountains and surrounded by mighty rivers, this ruin complex is comparable to Machu Picchu in terms of immense size and sophisticated architecture. Nonetheless, it is far less visited. An intense two day hike through steep mountains is the only way to get to this impressive site and only few people a day make it there. If you're lucky you may even have the site just for yourself (contrary to Machu Picchu where you have to share it with roughly 2000 other visitors). The hike there is a lifetime adventure but be prepared for difficulties. The trails are zigzagging sharply up and down and there is no flat surface. It was the most difficult hike I've done so far but how rewarding! The majestic Andes surround you at every step and the mighty river is flowing between the mountains providing epic views during the whole hike.

 

Chavín de Huántar

This ruin complex was once a pilgrimage site for the individuals from Chavin civilization. Constructed between 1500 and 300 BC it consists of a massive temple, plaza and the labyrinth. It was a ceremonial center which offered a spiritual and psychedelic experience. Participants were given hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus, then entered the complicated underground labyrinth accompanied by sounds of trumpets and water running below their feet (the site hosted a complex canal system). All that to confuse a person walking in the labyrinth and enhance the spiritual experience. To get the atmosphere even more, try a two days hike in Cordilliera Blanca just as ancient Chavin pilgrims did some 3000 years ago. Locals selling souvenirs at the site sometimes offer tours of the site accompanied with San Pedro cactus consumption.

 

Nazca

Seen only from the plane or high hills, Nazca lines form various designs such as spider, birds, monkey, tree,  possible astronaut. These lines were drawn by moving the black rocks and reveling the light color sand underneath. Due to the lack of rain the lines stayed intact for 2000 years. Multipule theories about why the lines came into existence range from contact with aliens to astronomical purpose, but the version I heard when visiting the site was that Nazca people created them for the gods, who could see them only from the sky. If you're in the area don't miss the Nazca cemetery with its creepy open graves... Many bones that lay aroung the graves were left behind by plundering thieves who robbed the bodies from gold and other valuables they were buried with.

Chan Chan

The largest Pre-Colombian city in South America, Chan Chan was created by Chimu civilization. The site contains various adobe constructions covered with intricate designs. The scale of the site is breathtaking, and the designs on the adobe walls are a reminiscence of a grand civilization that once inhabited those lands. Unlike other ruins in Peru, Chan Chan was constructed very close to the Pacific Ocean. The proximity of the water had influence on the daily activities of citizens of Chan Chan. Those are depicted in various carvings of fish, crabs, turtles, and fishing nets. Another characteristic that makes Chan Chan unique is that the site has many ramps and no stairs.  To increase the farming Chimu civilization created the canal system.  It improved the farming for some time but was later destroyed by flood. A small lake is remaining from those ancient times and it looks like an oasis surrounded by yellow sand of this desert. Unfortunately, a vast part of Cha Chan was destroyed by the centuries of rain and only small part of this once monumental city remains.

Moray

The alien looking Moray can be easily visited thanks to it's proximity to Cuzco. Numerous levels of terraces are aligned in the valley creating  a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and the bottom. Archaeologists suggest that Moray was an Inca agricultural experiment station. Each level has a different micro-climate, making it ideal for crop testing.  According to our guide, Incas planted different species of potatoes, plantains and other vegetables on different levels. This was done to distinguish which species will do better in cold and hot temperatures. The ones that adopted the best were distributed to different parts of Inca empire to make the most out of their sophisticated agriculture.

DSC_0700         DSC_0759


Machu  Picchu

This very popular tourist attraction was left to the end of the list on purpose. Amazing as it is, it attracts a big number of tourists, therefore it offers a completely different experience then the previously mentioned sites. Regardless of the crowds, it remains a marvelous monument of Inca's architecture and their love for the highlands. It is situated on a mountain ridge which offers magnificent views as well as mystic fog invading the site at different times of  the day. If you travel on a budget it's worth to consider walking to Aguas Calientes (the closest town to Machu Picchu) instead of taking an expensive train. It's  a good idea to arrange the tickets a day in advance as the entrance to viewpoints Huayna Picchu and Montana Machu Picchu are limited.

The story of Machu Picchu is intriguing and is it's purpose is still unknown. The popular version is that Machu Picchu was a holiday resort for elite Incas.  The Incas started building it around 1430AD in this hidden location which prevented it from being destroyed by Spanish conquistadors during their invasion on the Inca Empire.