Airbnb Reviewed

What is Airbnb?

Airbnb is a website which allows you to book short to mid-term accommodation in cities and towns around the world. However instead of staying in hotels or hostels, the accommodation on offer is beds or rooms in people’s homes or even entire private properties. Likewise if you have a room or a whole flat that is not being used, you can become a host and offer it on Airbnb where travellers can book to stay with you.


How does it work?

Searching for Properties

Like a normal accommodation booking site, you can search for properties and have a range of options to filter the results by price, location etc. You simply enter the dates you want to travel and your destination and you get a list of possible results and a map showing you the location of them.

The most important filter is the ‘room type’ which allows you to choose between a private room, shared room or entire home. For the first two options typically you will be staying in a flat/house with the host and whoever else lives there and possibly a few other Airbnb travellers. With the other option you will have the entire property to yourself but in this case you are more likely to be expected to pay a deposit, which will be returned at the end of your stay as long as you don’t trash the place. This should be detailed in the listing, where you can also see reviews from other people who’ve stayed there.

Some properties have a minimum stay but most can be rented for anything from one night to several months. The price you initially see will be a daily rate but if you are booking for longer than a week, you should see a reduction as most hosts offer weekly and monthly reductions.

Booking somewhere

To book on Airbnb, you need to set up a free account (see next section). The main difference with Airbnb from reserving a hotel or hostel is the actual booking procedure. Once you’ve found somewhere you like, you send a ‘request to book’, where you’re asked to provide a few details about your stay. The host then will typically reply quite quickly, in most cases within 24 hours either accepting or declining your request. Some hosts prefer people with a previous booking history and reviews while others will accept almost anyone. Of course you can also send the host a message prior to the request to book if you have any questions.

Once you send a request to book, you have to enter your payment details which will be charged in full for the period of the booking (unless it’s more than one month) once it is accepted. However this money is held by Airbnb until 24 hours after your check-in date so if the property doesn’t meet your expectations and is different from the listing you should be eligible for a refund.

They have also recently introduced an ‘Instant Book’ feature. If a property has ‘Instant Book’ turned on, you can book without needing to wait for the host to respond, which should speed up the process and is useful for bookings in the very near future.

Checking In

Once you’ve made a booking, the contact details of your host will be made available and they are obliged to contact you to sort out the check-in time. You can’t just show up at any time like you would to a hotel or hostel, so it’s important to communicate with your host. They should at the very least send you the exact address and arrange with you an arrival time. In some cases you won’t share a common language with your host but the Airbnb messaging system automatically translates which should make life a bit easier. The main thing is to agree on a time and be clear about the address.

On arrival, you should be given a key, brief tour of the flat and the opportunity to ask any questions about the property, local area, things to see etc.

After your Stay

Following your stay both parties have some time in which to review the other. You can provide a rating for numerous things such as cleanliness, value, location etc and can write a summary of your experience, although none of this is compulsory. Likewise they can give a review of you, which unless you tear the place down, should make life easier booking other properties in the future as with a couple of positive reviews, you will seem more trustworthy.


Sign Up & Get Free Travel Credit

To book through Airbnb, you need to set-up an account, which doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t take very long. One of the good things about them is that by recommending friends both they and you get €30 free credit (or the equivalent in your currency).

Use this link to sign up & get €30 free Airbnb credit

Once you’ve got the hang of how Airbnb works and if you have a bed or room free in your apartment you can start hosting. It’s a good way to make some extra cash whilst meeting people from around the world.

Use this link to start hosting and receive €47 free credit after your first booking!


Airbnb Reviewed

Advantages of using Airbnb

Airbnb is a nice option for people sick of staying in hotels and hostels all the time. It enables you to experience life in a real home in the country of your visit which can be interesting and often you’ll get the chance to get to know your host and they’ll be able to share their local knowledge on cool places to see and things to do. In some ways an Airbnb stay is somewhere in between the one you get with staying in a hostel/hotel and the one you get when Couchsurfing. If staying on a stranger’s couch doesn’t appeal, but getting a more ‘local experience’ than a hostel/hotel can provide does, then it’s a good option.

Perhaps the people who will benefit most from Airbnb are those looking for short to medium-term options of anything from say 4 days up to a few months. If you’ve more than a few days in your destination, you have a bit more time to take it easy and really get to know a place and the ‘local experience’ that an Airbnb booking provides suddenly becomes an appealing option while the ability to do your own cooking is another big plus on staying in somewhere without self-catering facilities and will save you money on eating out.

Airbnb also works really well for anyone moving to a new city as it enables you to take a room for a few weeks while you look for your own flat. Staying in a hotel for this period of time can get very expensive while spending weeks on end in the same dorm isn’t ideal so Airbnb is a really nice compromise. Likewise it works well for those who are spending just a few weeks or months either studying abroad or on a short work placement. It takes the hassle out of looking for accommodation and you don’t have to sign up for any form of longer term contract which landlords often require.

The booking system and website is quite simple once you are used to it and although hosts are free to set their own prices, typically you can get good value using it. Certainly a bed or room booked on Airbnb is likely to offer better value than one booked in a hotel or hostel and most cities have quite a wide range of options.

Airbnb Problems

Airbnb does have its down-sides though and there are circumstances when there are probably better options. For short-term bookings of just a day or two for example, booking through Airbnb can seem like more hassle than its really worth. If time is of the essence, it’s probably simpler just to do a quick reservation in a hotel or hostel in a central location and get out exploring rather than go through the effort of conversing with a host and trying to find his/her apartment.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of Airbnb is the chances that your booking could be cancelled, potentially at the last minute. This is relatively rare but when you are dealing with individuals rather than a big place with lots of staff, one problem or change of plans for the hosts could lead to your booking being cancelled. Hosts are discouraged from doing this and have to pay a cancellation fee and you can see on their profile pages if they are regularly cancelling bookings. Ordinarily you can simply book into another place if this happens however at busy periods such as New Year or during local festivals, you can be left with precious few options as the better places typically sell out at such times. Therefore at times like that, perhaps Airbnb isn’t such a good idea and if you do go for it, be sure to book with a host that has lots of positive reviews and seems reliable.

Other people have reported Airbnb’s customer service is quite poor in the event of problems with your booking. We’ve never had any issues with a reservation so have had no need to deal with them but there are reviews floating around the internet that suggest its an issue that could be improved on.

One other disadvantage is the need to pay for your booking in full at the time of reservation whereas most hostel booking sites allow you to just pay a small percentage as a deposit and the rest on arrival.


Overall Verdict

Airbnb will never be the definitive solution to booking accommodation but there and again will anything? The key to finding the best solution for your trip is having a variety options and Airbnb certainly offers an interesting alternative to the hordes of hotel and hostel booking sites out there which essentially all do the same thing. Once you get used to the way the site works, it’s quite simple to use and there are certainly times when booking through Airbnb is the best approach to take.

Sign up for an Airbnb account today & claim your free travel credit


 


Note – This is NOT a sponsored post. It is an honest review of the pros and cons of using Airbnb. If you set up an account by clicking on any of the links in this article, you receive €30 free travel credit to spend on your first booking and so do we. It’s a win-win deal and one you can repeat by inviting friends with your own invite link that you’ll get when you sign-up. No BS. Thanks.

 


This article was published in November 2016.


Top 10 Cities for Watching Football (Soccer)

Note these cities are in no particular order! They are all great places to take in some football for different reasons and each offer unique experiences, which are hard to rank.

Best Cities for Watching Football


1. Dortmund

Dortmund - One of the best cities for football
The Yellow Wall

Truth be told, Dortmund isn’t one of the world’s great travel destinations but the experience of taking in a match at Westfalenstadion is a must for any hardcore footy fan. The enormous single tier Südtribüne (South Bank) is the largest terrace in European football with 24,000 packing it on matchdays and creating the famous Yellow Wall, which generates an incredible atmosphere. British supporters, who long for the days of standing at games arrive in their thousands every matchday to experience it and it is certainly one of the continents growing football tourism venues. The on-field action isn’t bad either with Borussia playing an attacking brand of football that usually produces plenty of goals. With fellow Bundesliga clubs Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen, FC Köln and Borussia Monchengladbach not far away you might even be able to squeeze two games into your trip.

2. Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires football
A mini Maradona looks out colourful La Boca

The Argentine capital is home to more professional football clubs than any other city in the world and to say the sport is taken very seriously here, would be an enormous understatement. 16 of the 30 teams in the Argentine top flight are based in Greater Buenos Aires with Boca Juniors and River Plate the most famous within the city itself. River fans may think otherwise but a trip to La Bombonera in the colourful working class district of La Boca is a real highlight. It is one of the iconic football stadiums and produces an incredible matchday atmosphere with club legend Diego Maradona often in attendance in his own private box. For the ultimate South American football experience make sure you’re in town for the Superclásico when River Plate and Boca Juniors meet in perhaps the biggest local derby in world football.

3. Glasgow

Visiting the Old Firm Derby
Rival fans at the Old Firm Derby

Forget London, Liverpool or Manchester, British football’s most passionate supporters can be found North of the border in Glasgow. Scottish football may have fallen on hard times and that is especially true of Rangers, who are still fighting their way back having been relegated 3 divisions for severe financial troubles. However the Old Firm Derby will be back in the top flight before too long and Rangers against Celtic is unquestionably the biggest rivalry in British football with deep political and religious divides providing a sometimes ugly under-current. Glasgow is a city that lives and breathes football and it’s another city that avid football fans need to tick off their list.

4. Barcelona

The Nou Camp from the sky
More than a club – FC Barcelona

The Camp Nou almost certainly receives more tourists each matchday than any other football stadium in the world and that can take the edge off the atmosphere a little bit. Apart from El Clasico against Real Madrid or big European games, it certainly isn’t anything like as intense as some of the other clubs on this list but when you’re watching one of the great football sides of the modern era and in Leo Messi, one of the best players to have ever graced the game it is certainly worth the entry fee, which can be as low as 20 Euros for most matches. A stadium tour of the 99,000 capacity Camp Nou and visit to the wonderful museum can take up an afternoon too and with an abundance of budget airlines flying into Barcelona from around Europe it’s a very easy place to get to. Oh and it’s a great city too!

5. Istanbul

Watching football in Istanbul
Pre-match atmosphere at Galatasaray

The Istanbul football experience is unlike anything else in Europe. Fans often arrive and start unveiling flags, flares, banners and chanting as much as 3 hours early with the atmosphere reaching boiling point by kick-off. The city is home to 3 major clubs in Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahçe, who play on the Asian side of the city at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium. Traditionaly Galatasaray against Fener is the biggest rivalry in Turkish football but the 3 clubs tend to dominate the domestic game and all are regulars in European competitions. Visiting fans and teams at Galatasaray’s old Ali Sami Yen Stadium used to be welcomed with ‘Welcome to Hell’ banners and although all the clubs now have new modern stadiums, Istanbul is still widely regarded as having the most intimidating atmospheres in European football and a visit is not for the feint-hearted.

6. São Paulo

Sao Paulo fans
Corinthians fans and a fairly large flag

Rio de Janeiro may be the first city that springs to mind when you put the words football and Brazil together. However the São Paulo clubs are traditionally the more successful and even the Campeonato Paulista (São Paulo State Championship), which precedes the Brazilian Serie A, is an incredibly tough competition. Brazilian clubs play an enormous amount of football which only very briefly pauses for a few weeks around Christmas and with so many clubs you won’t find it hard to find a match to attend in the city. The National Football Museum is also excellent and is located at Pacaembu Stadium. Corinthians, São Paulo FC and Palmeiras are the biggest teams but if you head 35 miles out of town to the coast, you find Santos, which acts like a conveyor belt of the world’s best footballers with the likes of Pele and Neymar having risen through the clubs academy.

7. Rosario

Rosario Central supporters
Rosario Central fans and an enormous flag!

Rosario is another Argentine city that is fanatical about football and is home to Newell’s Old Boys and Rosario Central, who both provide the biggest challenge to the virtual monopoly that the capital region holds on football in the country. The two clubs both attract large crowds to their old-fashioned English style stadiums, with fans right on top of the action. If you’ve already made it to games in a lot of the places on our countdown of the best cities for watching football and want something old-school then head to Rosario, which is a real throwback to how football was decades ago in Europe. You might be the only tourist but you’re sure to get an unforgettable match-day experience.

8. Hamburg

St Pauli flag
The iconic skull and crossbones flag of St Pauli.

Hamburger SV might be the city’s most successful club with a bigger stadium and regular Bundesliga action but it is Hamburg’s other club, FC St. Pauli that is of most interest here. Over the decades it has developed a real cult following and despite only playing in the 2nd tier of German football, it boasts fans from all over the world. The matchday experience is more akin to a rock concert with Hells Bells by AC/DC greeting the teams onto the field and a crowd that is a little bit punk-rock. The club is very left-wing and supporters pride themsevles as being strong opponents to racism, sexism, fascism and homophobia. A visit to the Millerntor-Stadion is certainly a refreshing change in a sport that is often slow to take a stance against some of those issues.

9. Sevilla

Real Betis fans
Real Betis fans at the Seville derby

Sevilla is perhaps a surprise inclusion but anyone who has taken in a game at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan or Estadio Benito Villamarín will testify to the fact that attending a game of football in the city is a special experience. It is the only city in Spain outside the capital to have two Primera Division clubs that both regularly attract crowds of over 30,000. If you’re in town for the Seville derby between Sevilla FC and Real Betis, you will experience Spanish football’s most fiercely contested local derby but regular matchdays are also pretty lively affairs. Another interesting facet to football in the Andalucian capital can be the kick-off times which are sometimes as late as 11:00pm to avoid the heat in what is mainland Europe’s hottest town. Check out this Spanish football blog for more on soccer in the country including a handy guide to catching a game in Seville.

10. Rio de Janeiro

Rio beach soccer
A beach football game in Rio

Last but by no means least Rio de Janeiro makes it in as one of the best cities around the world for watching football or soccer for the benefit our American friends. The iconic Maracanã hosted the World Cup final in 2014 and hosts domestic action virtually every week throughout the year with Flamengo and Fluminese playing most of their home games at the ground. In Rio though you don’t even need to be at a stadium to take in skillful footy action. Just head to the Copacabana beach or indeed any of the beaches that circle this amazing city and it won’t be long before you encounter a game of beach soccer and witness locals demonstrating the slickest of skills.


 

These sort of lists are always controversial. If you think we’ve missed a city out, let us know by commenting below and explaining why it is a great city to watch football!

 


This article was published in October 2015.


The World’s Weirdest Tourist Attraction: San Pedro Prison, La Paz

The World’s Weirdest Tourist Attraction: San Pedro Prison

san pedro prison bolivia

San Pedro Prison is one of the biggest in Bolivia and the common destination for people convicted of breaking the countries drug laws. It is found in the heart of the countries administrative capital, La Paz, which is on our South America backpacking route. Its fame amongst backpackers grew in the 1990’s when English inmate Thomas Mcfadden started offering tours of the prison. It quickly became an essential part of the backpacking scene in South America.

NOTE – This article is now over 5 years old and some of the info may no longer be accurate.

How does San Pedro differ from normal prisons?

San Pedro is not a normal prison by any stretch of the imagination. For starters prisoners must buy their cells when they enter the prison, that’s after they’ve paid the entrance fee! There are many different sections ranging from terrible conditions in the poorer parts where inmates are crammed in 3 or 4 to a tiny cell to parts which are more like posh apartment blocks and house convicted businessmen and politicians. The wives and children of many of the inmates actually live with their husbands inside the prison. Every inmate must earn their living as nothing comes for free so many run shops, restaurants and most famously cocaine laboratories. Unlike most prisons, guards rarely enter the main part of San Pedro, so prisoners are for the most part left to look after themselves.

Backpackers in San Pedro Prison

backpackers in San Pedro PrisonThousands of backpackers have entered the prison since the tours first started, intrigued by what is unquestionably one of the oddest tourist attractions in the world. Even Lonely Planet at one point included San Pedro in its South America guides. Many visitors are shocked and fascinated in equal measure by the tour which normally includes visits to the different sections, the cell of the guide and the infamous swimming pool where many inmates have been murdered. Another draw for some travellers is the opportunity to take cocaine which is ridiculously cheap and perhaps what the prison is most famous for. Many inmates are coke addicts and given that is produced onsite, the cocaine in San Pedro is amongst the purest in the world. In the 1990’s many visitors would stay overnight in the prison which hosts some pretty wild parties!

Isn’t it a Bit Dangerous?

Not really because bodyguards are employed by the guides to protect you and if anything bad ever happened to a backpacker then word would quickly get out to the hostels and people would stop coming which would be bad for the prison economy. It’s a good idea to buy something from the shops or dine in one of the prison restaurants which are often better than what you get on the outside anyway. It is rare for visitors to be allowed to stay overnight when the prison is more dangerous but some backpackers have in the past chosen to do this. As far as we are aware there have been no serious incidents involving people on the tours.

Do the San Pedro Prison Tours Still Exist?

san pedro prison cellThere are conflicting reports about the current situation with the tours. Backpackers in San Pedro Prison are certainly a less common sight than 10 years ago but like many things in Bolivia, if you’ve got money you can make things happen. There are recent reports of a total ban thanks to a Hollywood movie due to be released about San Pedro. The authorities don’t like to admit that the tours ever take place (they definitely do) so any sort of publicity like this tends to make it harder to visit.

Your best bet is to talk to fellow travellers in South America and especially La Paz and try to go as a large group if you are in any way concerned about the safety of it. Head to the San Pedro Plaza and hang around for a bit. You may well be approached about tours but be wary of conmen. If that fails head to the main gate of the prison where there is a steady flow of comings and goings and see what you can do. Tours are likely to cost in the region of $25 (which includes a bribe to the guards to get you in).


MFT RECOMMENDS – Hostel Perla Negra, La Paz 

This place is good for a few nights kip in La Paz. Near the bus terminal and excellent staff who are knowledgeable on the city.


Marching PowderRead Marching Powder by Rusty Young for a fascinating insight into life in the prison through the eyes of Thomas Mcfadden, an Englishman convicted of drug trafficking at La Paz Airport in the 1990’s.

 

Photos of San Pedro in 2009 and courtesy of Brenski on flickr.



This article was published in November 2011.

We don’t know the current state of affairs with regards to the tours but in Bolivia, where there is a will, there is usually a way. Please comment below if you have more up-to-date info.

Get our Backpackers Guide to South America 2017-2018 for a more detailed look at budget travel in the region.


Vaccinations for a Backpacking Trip

Vaccinations for a Backpacking Trip

The issue of what vaccinations you need before a backpacking trip is something that seems to divide opinion even amongst medical professionals.

yellow feverObviously what vaccinations you need is dependent on where you are going and it’s worth going to your local doctor surgery at least a month before you travel to enquire about which vaccinations they think you need. It is certainly worth taking the strongly recommended ones as there are many serious diseases out there that you don’t want to catch.

They may also try and encourage you to have several other vaccinations which are often not totally necessary so this is where you are in a bit of a grey area and it comes more down to personal judgement. We are not medical professionals so we cannot say you should or shouldn’t get this but we can give you a fair indication as to what vaccinations travellers tend to opt for.

On this page are some of the most common diseases travellers get vaccinated or take precautions against ahead of a backpacking trip (You may well find you are already protected against some of them from vaccinations you had when you were younger).


For visits to developing countries, backpackers tend to always get vaccinated against the following two diseases:

Hepatitis A – This is a liver infection that can occur by eating food or drinking water that has become contaminated by infected people. It is pretty common in countries where hygiene is not all it should be. You normally receive one injection and then a booster dose 6 or 12 months later and you will be protected for 10 years.

Typhoid – You can take pills for this instead but if you’re going on a long trip and aren’t freaked out by needles you may as well get the single jab which protects you for 3 years. The disease is potentially life threatening and most common in Southern Asia. It is also normally passed on through food/water supply so is a major risk in many developing countries.

(Visit your doctors surgery at least 2 weeks before travelling to get your Typhoid and Hep A vaccinations.)


Other diseases you may require jabs for:

This depends on the countries you plan to visit, the total length of your trip and the nature of it (e.g. if you’re planning multi-day treks into the jungle where you’ll be more than 24 hours from a medical facility you are likely to need more vaccinations).

Hepatitis B- This one is similar to Hep A but requires 3 doses and is caught in different ways such as through infected needles, by having sex or coming into contact with the blood of an infected person. It is sometimes recommended if you are planning a long trip (over 3 months) in an area where Hep B is prevalent. It is worth visiting your doctor over a month before your trip to see if they reckon you’ll be needing it. This is because the course of jabs is spread over 3 weeks.

Yellow Fever- This is a viral infection that is passed onto humans via certain types of mosquitoes. The only infected countries are in South America and Africa. If you are planning to visit a country with a yellow fever problem you should get vaccinated. You may even be required to show a certificate of vaccination if you are arriving in a new country from an infected area. One jab will provide you with 10 years of cover but you will almost certainly have to pay for it.

Map of Yellow Fever infected area

Diphtheria- This is an often fatal respiratory infection and is common in Western Europe as well as less developed regions. You would probably have been vaccinated against this as an infant but may require another jab because they only cover you for 10 years.

Rabies-
People catch rabies normally by being bitten by an infected dog or bat and it is still a deadly disease, even occasionally in the United States. You may well be encouraged to have this course of jabs, but most travellers tend not to bother. What is crucially important (whether you have or haven’t had the jab) is that if you are bitten by an animal on your travels you seek immediate first aid. Having the vaccination will mean if you are bitten, you will have slightly more time to seek first aid and the post-bite treatment should be quicker. If you envisage yourself ever being over 24 hours travel from a doctor/hospital then you may want to consider this but most backpackers don’t get the rabies jab.

Japanese Encephalitis- A viral disease that is also the result of those blooming mosquitoes. It normally results in nothing more than mild flu-like problems however very occasionally it can lead to serious brain damage. The disease is only really prevalent during certain times of the year in parts of Asia. You may be advised to have the vaccination if you are travelling for more than a month in a badly affected area.

Malaria- This disease which starts with fever like symptoms is one of the leading causes of death in the world causing around 2 million fatalities (mostly Africans who cannot afford treatment) each year. You can catch malaria by being bitten by certain types of mosquitoes in tropical areas. There are several different pills you can take to help lower the risk of catching the disease. It is important to speak to a health professional before making your choice as not all malaria tablets work in all parts of the world (resistance has built up in some areas making certain pills ineffective). You can also use mosquito nets and repellents to help protect you and they are still advisable even if you’re taking pills. It can take up to a year before you start getting symptoms so if you get ill once you return home, it is important to mention to your doctors that you have recently visited malaria infected regions (see below). There is no vaccination against Malaria.

malaria map of the world


Remember – Although most vaccinations are very effective, few guarantee you total immunity from the diseases. Common sense precautions you should bear in mind on your travels include:

Get travel insurance – Read more on our suggested travel insurance for backpacking trips.

Avoid touching stray animals.

Always practice safe sex, use condoms.

Don’t drink tap water unless you know for sure it’s okay to drink.

Take precautions against mosquito bites.

Seek medical advice if you are worried you may have become infected with any of these diseases.

We should also point out that although the list of dangerous tropical diseases may seem endless, very few travellers get seriously ill and they shouldn’t put you off visiting poor undeveloped countries.

Fit for Travel (NHS) has much more detailed info on travel health and vaccinations.


How much do Vaccinations cost?

The answer to this depends on where you are from and varies wildly. Some of these vaccinations are available for free in some countries but often they can be very expensive. If it’s your first trip abroad to a developing part of the world, chances are you will need several vaccinations so costs can really rise.

One of our readers helpfully shared these costs of vaccinations in the USA:

Concentra Travel Clinic: Hep A $98. Typhoid $83 PLUS $50 pp “consult fee” (Yellow fever $189).

CVS: Hep A $145 (adult); $118 (kids). Typhoid $142 NO consult fee.

Walgreens: Hep A $114. Typhoid $88 NO consult fee.

Raleigh Public Health Dept: Hep A $95 Typhoid $95 PLUS $50 pp consult fee.

Durham Public Health Dept: Hep A $74 (Adults) & $33 (kids). Do not have Typhoid shot or pills.

Walmart: Hep A $68 (14 y.o. & up; will not give to kids) Typhoid $95.

Walmart WITH SINGLECARE.COM COUPON (anyone can download this from website): Hep A $61 Typhoid $60.


This page was last updated in May 2017.


Why you need Travel Insurance for Backpacking Trips

Getting Travel Insurance for your Backpacking Trip

guy jumps off cliff


Why you need Travel Insurance

There a lots of things that people tell you to get that you don’t really need for a backpacking trip. However travel insurance is something that you need to sort out before you even think about stepping on an aeroplane out of your homeland. Most of you probably are well aware of the reasons why but the foolhardy hardcore adventuring traveller who believes they can handle any conceivable situation that could occur while travelling may wish to read on.

There are many many things that can go wrong on a backpacking trip. You’ve probably heard numerous horror stories and if you haven’t your parents or grandparents sure have and will be quick to let you know about them once they hear you’re off gallivanting around some jungle on the other side the world. You shouldn’t let these stories put you off travelling as most problematic situations are avoidable with good common sense. That said you can just be unlucky and the peace of mind of having travel insurance means you don’t need to worry about things going wrong as help will be there if you need it.

Theft is one of the most common problems that travel insurance can help with. Clearly in many countries, foreigners are a symbol of wealth and an attractive target for thieves. In addition budget hostels are often not the safest places to leave your belongings lying around and in our experience other travellers can be the thieves as well as the victims. Imagine waking up to discover someone has legged it off with your backpack. It’s not a pleasant thought and is very unlikely but without travel insurance it would be a disaster of biblical proportions.

Illness is another factor that having good travel insurance can help with. You can fall ill at home, so obviously you can fall ill when you’re away and it’s often much more likely in unfamiliar countries and climates. This ridiculously obvious statement may be clear to you but what you might not realise is how much it costs to get decent healthcare in many countries. At home you might be able to stroll into the doctors or hospital and get free treatment. However in many undeveloped struggling third world countries (and the United States) you can actually be refused treatment if you don’t have the funds to pay for it. Clearly this isn’t a situation anyone would ever want to find themselves in and having an insurance company willing to foot the bill is a massive weight off your shoulders should you ever be unlucky enough to get ill on your travels.

On a similar theme independent travellers tend to have an appetite for adventurous and often dangerous sports and activities. ‘Health and Safety’ isn’t really a concept that seems to even exist in some countries so injuries are not uncommon if you’re into that sort of thing. Although most are relatively minor, the risk of infection is quite high so proper treatment is important. Backpackers also tend to have a thirst for alcohol which needless to say often doesn’t end so well and drunken injuries are common place.

In conclusion get some travel insurance, use basic common sense and enjoy your trip. In the unlikely event of anything going wrong you’re covered.

girls in bikini tubing in laos

Drunken Tubing in Laos. Possibly the best advert for travel insurance!


Best Companies for Backpacker Travel Insurance

There are a huge number of travel insurance companies out there but very few who specialise in travel insurance for backpacking trips. If you dig deep enough you can find travel insurance that won’t cost the earth and will cover you for all kinds of travel mishaps in all four corners of the world. Booking travel insurance is actually a relatively simple process and in a few clicks you can rest easy knowing that you are covered if anything should go wrong. We recommend a couple of companies that provide excellent travel insurance for backpackers.


1. World Nomads

They understand independent travellers much better than a lot of the bigger companies out there and provide excellent assistance should you need it. Their policies cover you for medical assistance and evacuation if you have an accident or fall ill abroad and extend to a range of adventure activities that many travel insurance companies steer well clear of covering.


2. Columbus Direct

They have won lots of awards for providing great travel insurance and receive excellent reviews with 95% of customers happy with their service. Again because they offer deals targeted towards backpackers and more adventurous travellers you are covered for a lot more activities than your regular holiday insurance provider gives.



This page was last updated in May 2015.


Top 10 Music Festivals in Europe

TOP 10 Music Festivals in Europe

NOTE – This article was published in 2012. Therefore prices and dates may well have changed since!

Glastonbury Festival, UK

glastoMusic:
Various
Venue: The English Countryside. (Pilton in Somerset to be precise)
Price: £200 for full ticket
When: Late June

Glasto is legendary and a ‘must-do’ for any music festival lover. Famous for mud, hippies and various themed segments, you’ll never be short of bands to see or things to do as you’ll sprawl around this vast site. It’s probably the biggest music festival on the planet and attracts thousands of artists from various genres. Recent headliners include Jay-Z and Beyonce but it is still predominately a Rock festival.

Sonar, Spain

Music: Mostly Electronic, but always a few acts to mix things up a bit
Venue: 2012 saw the main venue move to a giant warehouse/exhibition centre place just outside Barcelona city-centre.
Price: 160 EUR for access to the whole festival
When: Mid-June

One of Europe’s finest cities has achieved what most of the others have failed to achieve and organise a damn good music festival. Attend Sonar by Day for up and coming acts or Sonar by Night for an array of top DJ’s and bands mostly from the world of electronica. If you’re hardcore you can do both and rave pretty much non-stop from Thursday through to 8am on Sunday morning. There’s also a load of ‘off-sonar’ parties and events (often free) if your budget doesn’t stretch for the full €160 abono ticket.

Iceland Airwaves

iceland airwavesMusic: New and upcoming Artists plus lots of Icelandic bands
Venue: Various venues around the small and uber-cool capital Reykjavik
Price: 16,500kr (roughly 100 Euros)
When: Late October/November

Airwaves was first held on an airplane hanger back in 1999 and has since grown into a really special event lasting 5 days. The festival takes place during the onset of the dark Icelandic winter which adds a special vibe to the event. It’s a fascinating place to visit anyway and for a small city it has plenty of brilliant bars and clubs and boasts a vibrant live music scene making it the perfect setting to check out spanking new music.

Read our article on the cost of travel in Iceland!

Leeds/Reading Festivals, UK

Music: Indie/Rock
Venue: Parks in Leeds and Reading
Price: £200 including camping
When: Late August

For those of you, not in the know about English geography, Leeds is a city in Northern England and Reading is in the South-East not far from London. The festivals run on the same weekend each year and have a pretty much identical line-up with bands playing Leeds one day and Reading the next (or vice-versa). It’s nowhere near as varied or as bizarre as Glastonbury but if you dig Indie music, then you’ll struggle to find a better line-up anywhere in the world.

Exit Festival, Serbia

exit festival in serbiaMusic: Electro/Rock mix with a bit of metal and hip-hop.
Venue: An old fortress in Novi Sad, Northern Serbia.
Price: 11,000 RSD (95 EUR)
When: July

The setting is perhaps the best of any of the European summer festivals and the music isn’t bad either. It’s still a relatively young event but has grown to become one of the largest on the continent with a varied schedule on the numerous different stages and represents great value for money. The festival could easily be fitted into a summer backpacking trip in the Balkans, a very underrated region.

Benicassim, Spain

Music: Pop, Rock, Dance.
Venue: Seaside resort not far from Valencia.
Price: 125 EUR (with camping)
When: Mid July

A big hit with regulars on the UK festival scene. This is thanks to a line-up that can compete with any of the main British festivals with the added benefit of beaches and nice weather. It is Spain’s biggest music festival but don’t expect much local representation in the line-up.

Sziget Festival, Hungary

sziget festival in hungaryMusic: Extremely Varied.
Venue: Obudai Island, Budapest
Price: 225 EUR for week including camping
When: August

This weeklong event is pretty damn enormous with 20 different stages set in woodlands by the River Danube. With so many stages, there is music to suit all tastes with everything from pop and punk to psychedelic rock and reggae on the bill. The event takes places north of the city centre but if you can’t take anymore music head into the city and explore one of Europe’s most diverse capital cities.

Roskilde, Denmark

Music: Varied including rock, reggae, hip-hop, metal, electronic and much more.
Venue:
Lakeside town of Roskilde near Copenhagen.
Price: 1790 DK (£190)
When: early July

Pretty much anyone who’s anyone in the world of music has played this Danish festival over the years with the likes of Bob Marley, Nirvana, R.E.M and Radiohead all former headliners. The festival officially lasts four days but the campsite opens well before the 3000+ artists arrive and there is plenty besides the music. Take a dip in the swimming lake, visit the cinema or for the exhibitionists amongst you take part in the naked run!

Open’er, Poland

Music: Mostly rock or electronic but with some more experimental acts too.
Venue: Baltic coastal city of Gdynia
Price: 410 PLN including camping. (100 EUR)
When: early July

This 4 day event takes place in an important port city in Northern Poland. On the face of it, a strange place to hold a music festival but somehow it works. Tickets are excellent value and much cheaper than comparable events in Western Europe. It promotes itself as an eco-friendly event and also boasts fashion and art stages to go with the tunes.

Tomorrowland, Belgium

tomorrowlad festival in belgiumMusic: Dance/Electro
Venue: Green recreational area in the wonderfully named town of Boom.
Price: 172 EUR
When: Late July

Only 7 years old but this festival attracts around 180,000 people and sold out within 2 hours in 2012. Over 400 of the worlds top DJ’s come to the 3 day event which is turning out to be a massive hit with fans of electronic music. Camping is available also.

 

pics thanks to carlhiett.co.uk, visitflanders, zsoolt, happyjed1 & exit_festival on flickr.

 


This article was published in March 2012.


Visiting the Secret State – How to Travel in North Korea

Visiting the Secret State – How to travel in North Korea

pyongyang airport

Note – This article was published in February 2013. Things may have changed since!

Can you visit?

In a nutshell, yes you can visit but travel in North Korea is not like it is anywhere else on the planet.

Unless you fancy illegally crossing at heavily patrolled borders where officers have shoot on sight instructions, independent travel in this highly secretive state is impossible. The only options are ‘guided’ tours where you will be supervised and monitored at all times by at least two ‘tour guides’. Their objective is to showcase the country in the best possible light and they will only take you to places they want you to see. Even if you opt for an individual tour as opposed to a group one you will still be allocated two guides and a driver.

From time to time the tours are stopped when tensions on the peninsular are particularly high. Tour companies, mostly based in China such as Koryo Tours run the trips and as of April 2013 contrary to media rumours they seem to still be running. Most cost in the region of 1000-1500 Euros with trips varying from 3 days to a couple of weeks or more. In recent times they have began to include previously off-limits areas of the country meaning visitors get to see more of the real North Korea.

Koryo Tours have an informative website and a large range of tour options for visiting North Korea

Young Pioneer Tours offer similar trips and are slightly cheaper.

The Sights

Capital Pyongyang has been described as a thriving metropolis by the North Korean government. It is not. The streets are practically deserted and visiting the city is a quite bizarre experience. Only a select few North Koreans (those from a high class and deemed extremely loyal to the state) are allowed to live here and most others find it impossible to get a permit to visit. Even for North Koreans it is impossible to freely travel around their own country and many have barely moved more than 20km from their hometown

Pyongyang is a surreal place and in no way reflective of a typical North Korean city. The main sights are pretty much all related to Kim-Il Sung and Kim-Jong-Il with no doubt Kim-Jong Un statues and monuments coming soon. The giant 100-story Ryugyong Hotel dominates the skyline but when the economy crashed in 1992 so did the funding and it is still to be completed. The Arch of Triumph celebrates Korean liberation from Japan in 1945 and is a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris only bigger.

north korea showOther sights include the North Korean Film Studio and rather oddly a funfair. For all it’s aggressive anti-imperialist rhetoric, the North Korean powers that be are desperate to put on a show for foreign visitors. Intricately planned shows often including thousands of performers are regularly put on for tourists and for the leaders of the Communist party. The Rungnado May Day Stadium hosts the performances (right) and is reportedly the largest in the world holding 150,000 spectators. It is also used for major sporting events with the odd execution thrown in for good measure.

The few westerners that do visit Pyongyang are normally put up in an otherwise empty hotel in the middle of a lake, to prevent anyone wandering off in attempt to freely explore the city. In any case unless you happen to look and dress North Korean, the sight of a foreigner wandering around alone is likely to quickly draw attention. The fact is you are likely to be caught and arrested potentially on espionage charges so it’s best to do as your guides say (as frustrating as that may be).

The country does however boast a few hidden gems and is probably more scenic than it’s southern neighbour. Depending on the current situation Kumgangsan is visitable on tours from South Korea. Literally it means Diamond Mountains and boasts many impressive peaks, lagoons and sizeable waterfalls.

north korea borderThe North Korean side of the DMZ (a 4km wide de-militarised zone that separates the two Koreans which technically remain at war) is another popular place to visit and a common inclusion in the official tours. The DMZ can be easily visited from the South but the perspective is very different when you approach from the North Korean side. The village of Panmunjeom which happened to lie on the front line when the truce was signed has been deserted ever since and serves as a bizarre reminder of the dark days of the Cold War. 1km east is a jointly policed zone which is the only thing that resembles an actual border point. For the most part South and North Korean soldiers stare at each other not daring to step foot over the line that separates the two countries. Soldiers on the two sides of the border used to communicate by phone but in March 2013 the DPRK cut off the lines effectively ending any formal contact between the two Koreas.

At the other end of the country close to the Chinese border is Mount Paektu, the tallest mountain on the Korean peninsular with a huge crater lake (below) at the top. It is supposedly the mythical birthplace of the Kims who have controlled the country since the Korean War. In a land where religion has no place, founding father Kim Il-sung is the closest thing North Koreans have to a God and the state media frequently speak of super-human achievements by him and his son, Kim Jong-Il.

Mount paektu north korea

Is it dangerous to visit?

Bizarrely North Korea is probably one of the safest countries in the world to visit. The risk of a traffic accident is low as the roads are deserted because virtually no-one owns a car. In a land where image is everything yet nothing is at seems, every effort is put on to ensure foreigners are treated well and stay safe on their visits to the country. Should anything happen to a tourist it would be a PR disaster for the government.

The other slight concern that you may have heard about is the possibility of nuclear war. North Korea has a huge military and a sizeable weapons collection but very few remaining allies. It would in all likelihood be totally annihilated should they decide to launch into any military action against South Korea, USA or Japan. Despite recent declarations of war and aggressive threats to its enemies, Kim Jong-Un and his cronies are surely aware of this and it seems probable that his bark is significantly louder than his bite.To cut a long story short, while the new leader appears to be something of a fruitcake, a war is still very unlikely to break out any time soon.

Should you travel to North Korea?

North korea wandering swallowThis is a difficult one. North Korea’s human rights record is frankly horrendous, people have been starving to death for almost two decades and yet in a ridiculous attempt to prove otherwise vast amounts of food are often put on for visitors while children living in the streets go hungry. Little is known about what goes on in North Korean prison and labour camps but whole families have been sent away to these Soviet styled gulags. North Korean defectors who make it South Korea do so with the knowledge that any family members left behind will probably be sent away to the camps and will potentially spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

Many people are passionate about the state of North Korea and some foreigners have visited on numerous occasions. They believe it is important to visit and the few journalists who have snuck their way in feel they are bringing greater attention the humanitarian situation inside the country. One of those is Barbara Demick who wrote the excellent ‘Nothing to Envy’ which follows the life stories of six North Korean defectors and is well worth a read to understand life in this most isolated of states.

Before choosing to visit it is worth learning a bit about what is probably the most difficult country in the world to understand. Although extremely secretive it is clear some terrible things have happened in the country and the Kim Dynasty are arguably the worst dictators in modern times.

That said atrocities are committed all over the world, many in countries that attract millions of tourists each year. It is ultimately a personal choice, but those who opt to visit North Korea are in for a truly unique and unforgettable experience.

pic of border by kalleboo on flickr

 


This article was published in February 2013.