To blog or not to blog



David Whitley wonders whether the modern day travel diary is worth keeping.


When friends (or people that I once met and mystifyingly haven’t blocked on Facebook yet), go off travelling, there is one thing I see time and time again. “We’re off!” they will cry with unnervingly overzealous enthusiasm and an unnecessary exclamation mark. “And you can keep up with our adventures on our new blog.”


What then happens is that you get about three weeks of dedication to keeping said blog maintained, often with exceptionally tedious recollections of events that are interesting only to the writer and his or her mother. Then there’s silence. And four months later comes the follow up. “Oh no, has it really been four months? Sorry! I guess we’ve been having too much fun!!!” It’ll then descend into a cursory re-cap, spilling exclamation marks around as if there’s a barrel-full of them that has to be used before the world can have another ration. And then there will be a couple of months of silence again.


I understand why people decide they’re going to blog about their travels, and everyone has a slightly different reason. Some are under the deluded impression that they can make money from their blog and that said money will fund their travels. If this is you, give it up now – nobody makes a good income from a travel blog. If they did, everyone would be doing it and the world would come crashing down because everyone’s travelling and writing about it rather than doing real work.


Others blog to keep people at home in touch with what they’re doing. A noble aim, but flawed, as no-one will read the blog beyond the first three posts unless it’s really good. The folks would much prefer a phone call or personal e-mail. The third reason is that people use blogs in a way that their ancestors used diaries in the old days. Blogging regularly about your travels is a way of recording the moments and thoughts for the future. The blog is something you can look back on to bring the memories back. It’s subtly different to a diary – it’s for the world to see rather than just yourself, so you may hold certain information back – but the basic premise is similar.


To me, this third reason is the most valid one for keeping a blog on the road. But you have to be the right sort of person to do it. It’s something that takes a fair bit of dedication, regularly pulling yourself aside from what’s going on to sit in an internet café or hammer away at the laptop. It’s something that suits people with a more reflective nature, or who enjoy the craft of writing it. That’s not everyone, and there’s one key question you should ask yourself before setting up a blog to chart your travels. That is: “Am I doing this because I want to or because I feel I ought to?”


If the latter, forget about it – go out there and enjoy yourself. The memories will still be there in years to come, and you’d probably never look back at what you’ve written anyway.


Do you keep a blog whilst travelling? If so, why did you start it? And if you’re planning to go off on your RTW, do you agree with David’s thoughts on keeping a blog? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


*Photo courtesy of Mark Eveleigh


Annoying Oz


If you’re going to Australia, it pays to be pre-warned about the country’s idiosyncrasies – so here’s what to brace yourself for.Australia is a great country, but that doesn’t mean to say everything about it is perfect. Though Australian culture may be similar to British or Irish culture in many ways, there are still a few differences that you only really start noticing once you’re over there. Some will charm – such as the willingness of people to give directions or the wonders of drive-through booze shops – but others will irritate. And, in no particular order, here are ten of the things that are almost certain to get on your wick.

A constant diet of rugby league/ AFL
Australia is a nation split by sporting codes. To a certain extent, cricket and rugby union cross the divide, but most states will identify themselves as either AFL or rugby league territory. Of the two, AFL (Australian Rules Football) is the most fascinating. It bears some resemblance to Gaelic football, and attracts gigantic crowds – sometimes up to 80 or 90,000 – yet the rest of the world couldn’t care less about it. It’s a fast moving game, worth at least one visit to see. Victoria is the game’s unquestioned hub.

Queensland and – in particular – New South Wales, are rugby league territory. For the uninitiated, imagine a load of Neanderthals constantly running into each other while the fans pretend they’re watching a sport of genuine international significance. You’re about there.What will get you riled up is that Australia’s newspapers can often feature little else but stories about AFL (in Melbourne) and rugby league (in Sydney).

If you want a pathetically one-eyed, regional focus on the world’s events, watch the Australian news. Coverage always tends towards the “One Australian and 473 other people have been killed in a bomb attack” approach. The country also shows itself up by fawning in the most feeble way imaginable every time someone relatively famous from overseas is kind enough to set foot in the country. Paris Hilton can drop by to plug something or other and it’ll be treated as if it was a Papal visit.

Combining the American approach to having five minute long ad breaks every ten minutes with the programming budget of a small, relatively unpopulated nation, Australian TV is almost unremittingly awful. At best, you’ll constantly cringe, at worst you’ll want to throw bricks at it. There are a few decent homegrown programmes, but they’re very rare. Otherwise it’s a diet of painfully unfunny talk show hosts, ads and every derivation of CSI you can possibly dream up.

Overattentive shop assistants
If you’re the sort of person that likes to browse without being disturbed, the Australian shopping experience is not for you. You’ll be leapt on with a “how can I help you today?” as soon as you walk through the door. Of course, the person doing this is unlikely to know anything useful about the stock – they’ve just been told to be attentive.

Obsession with house prices
Auction (incorrectly pronounced as ‘ock-tion’) prices are what passes for news in these parts. A house in a relatively uninteresting suburb sold for 5% more than a similar house did two months ago – hold the front page. Alas, this attitude leads estate agents to think they’re genuine celebrities, and doing you a favour by behaving like egregious arseholes on a constant basis.

Bacon, sausages and chocolate
On the whole, most Australian produce is of a higher standard than its British counterpart. But there are some notable exceptions. Those who like a meaty breakfast will probably be facing disappointment – Australian bacon and sausages tend to lack any taste whatsoever, as any expat living over there will tell you between the tears. Chocolate is another bugbear – it just doesn’t taste right. The usual argument for this is that they have to put special preservatives in to stop it melting in the shops, but nobody’s quite sure whether this is an urban myth or not.

Beetroot with everything
A far greater culinary crime is Australia’s obsession with ruining perfectly good food by putting a slice of beetroot on it. This is particularly the case for burgers, for which beetroot is no more suited to than custard or iron spikes. You’ll get your burger, sink your teeth in, recoil in revulsion and then realise that a beetroot slice has infected it. Remove said beetroot, and everything else will have been stained by it. It’s best to loudly bellow “NO BEETROOT ON MINE PLEASE” as soon as you enter the shop/ restaurant.

There are plenty of great pubs in Australia, but too many fall into a sadly identikit mould. You’ll find a basic range of fairly nasty beers, a food menu that’s chicken parmagiana or steak and little attempt to disguise that the real money is made from gambling rather than drinks. A large section will be devoted to the TAB (sports betting and horse racing on multiple screens) whilst the real goldmine is the poker machines. The area with the pokies (as they’re universally known) is invariably a tragic scene, with people thoughtlessly pouring their money into a game without skill, hoping against odds and logic for a payout.

Forget the sharks, crocs and snakes – it’s the flies that will drive you to the brink of insanity.

Casual racism

Australia has a perhaps unfair reputation for being a massively racist place. Like everywhere, racism certainly exists, but it is arguably overplayed. What you will probably discover, however, is a higher degree of casual racism. It’ll not be naked aggression, just a series of ignorant throwaway comments about all Asians being bad drivers or Aboriginal people being workshy. In many ways, Australia is like your slightly embarrassing granddad; it hasn’t learned that some lazy opinions are best not voiced and it would sooner stick to them than assess the evidence. It by no means affects the whole population; it’s just slightly more prevalent.



Movies on your RTW



Castind a net into his mind, Stuart from and catches up with movies that mean different  things in different places


Kickboxer in Bangkok
Many of you hipster kids might not believe this, but Jean-Claude Van Damme, the Belgian ex-pornstar with issues, currently advertising Coors Lite (a particularly tasteless American ale) was a pretty famous kick ass movie star in the late 80s and 90s. His films followed a format that, a bit like lego, was interchangeable and could be followed by a 6 year old. And often were. Still a guilty pleasure of mine whilst first-time backpacking in Thailand was catching up on JCs non-challenging oeuvre over a steaming plate of Thai Holy Basil Chicken and an ice cold Singha or two. I came to admire his kick ass moves, his non-acting acting and the way he always seemed to get the girl. But for me Jean-Claude Van Damme will always be 
synonymous with Bangkok 1990.


Braveheart in Arequipa
Now it's a little known fact that Sadaam Hussein's favourite film was Braveheart. You can kind of see it in his latter TV appearances, when holding a sword on high in public appearances and waving it with a small slightly shy smile; but it could be argued he lost out by not going with the full face painting malarkey. Still, deluded sociopath that he was, he obviously saw himself as the small guy (Scotland) against the real bastards everywhere (England). Which made watching Mel Gibson's masterpiece in a lovely old cinema in Arequipa in Southern Peru in 1996 really rather strange. As I walked out I was surrounded by wee lachrymose Andean folk. Everyone crying. So was the lady from of all places, Cheltenham, that I was with: And between sobs, they were all muttering Muy Bien, "Freedom" and smiling to each other. It was weird. Now initially I didn't think it was that good a movie but I've changed my mind. It is. With universal messages for your well-hanged psycho dictator and Peruvians alike. "You may take our lives, but you'll never take our freedom!". Plus never trust an English King. Or a dodgy pack of Scots Nobles.

Young Guns 2 in LA
A film filmed exclusively with annoying actors, a poor script and a truly diabolical (Oscar nominated) soundtrack. I suppose I did have jetlag, but I was truly excited. An original first-time Los Angeles experience - catch a drink and a late movie with my cool LA cousins. The drink was cool, the cousins cooler but really the movie was shite. I'm trying desperately to remember anything good about it. I can't remember one scene. My jaundiced feelings towards it veer between annoyance at the flabby script and direction, to anger at an opportunity missed. Still I don't blame Los Angeles for Estevez, Sutherland and Slater's overblown performance. If they've taught me one thing, it's life is too short for watching bad movies in the cinema. That's what DVDs are for.

The Hunt for Red October in Sydney

Now this is a not-bad film that's actually aged rather well. It's an odd movie truth that some books by complete nut-job right-wingers, can translate rather well into movies. This film came out after the fall of the Commies, but was written when the Iron Curtain was well and truly up. Still with a sharpish script rewrite and with some deft acting from Scotland's finest ever actor, Sean Connery, adopting an unusual Lithuanian accent with slight hints of Leith, whilst managing to turn in one of his best post-Bond performances, it works. Still twas odd walking out after into Sydney CBD, in the rain, for a quick fallafel (sub) whilst thinking about the deeper meaning of the Silent Submarine War in the Atlantic. Then realising there really wasn't one. And that sometimes, when far away from home, made-up submarine wars do seem all rather irrelevant. 

Killing Fields in Siem Reap

I'd read the books, watched the documentaries and the film before I first visited Cambodia. But I watched it again in Siem Reap at Smileys Guest House evening showing. It's a great and important film but it was sad. Truth be told I just can't think of another film so linked in with a country and its recent political history; to a point where it almost defines that country to outsidersWith the benefit of hindsight Phnom Penh might be a more appropriate city to watch it, maybe after visiting the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Prison here. But worth saying, again and again, Cambodia is a wonderful (and much changed) country worth visiting. And Angkor is still special.


Do you agree with Stuart? He is being harsh on JC? Share your favourite movies or thoughts by leaving a comment below.


by Stuart from

When not to photograph


David Whitley debates whether sometimes we should put the camera down and just enjoy the moment without playing photographer.

In any major tourist destination, you’ll end up running what I call the photography gauntlet. I’d hate to think how much time the human race has wasted waiting for other people to take pictures. The etiquette of such situations is a bit of a grey area. When someone is standing at one side of the path, with the photographer at the other, everybody has to stop and stand around like a plum until the snapshot session is finished. 

But when does it become OK to think: “Sod this,” and just stride across, probably getting your unwanted head into the photo? Who should be patient – is it the people trying to get the picture or everyone else?

At times, I think we can be too obsessive about taking pictures. Yes, it’s nice to have them as mementos a few years down the line, but nobody ever says their favourite part of the trip was taking photos. Show me someone who says taking loads of photos of the Sydney Opera House was their favourite part of a trip to Australia and I’ll show you a big, fat liar.

Sometimes the desire to capture the moment can prevent us from actually enjoying it. This is particularly true of safaris or whale-watching tours. It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at everything through a viewfinder. The constant urge to get the right shot stops you watching – getting the elephant into shot becomes more important than watching what it’s doing. Taking photos becomes a task, the whole enterprise measured as a success or failure by how good the resulting pictures are. Put the camera down, and it’s a relief not to have to measure the success of the outing. You can just enjoy it as an observer, watching the nuances and interactions, without the need to obsessively capture scenes.

Slavery to the camera becomes worst on a group tour. The more people in the group, the longer you have to wait while everyone takes a picture of everything. It gets even worse if you’ve got the sort of simpletons in the group who are so insistent that everyone has to be bezzie mates forever that every stop has to be marked by a group photo.

Group photos are awful. No-one really wants to be in them, and the rictus grins have to be maintained for seemingly hours as exactly the same photo is taken with twenty cameras. This is bad enough once, but when it’s done at every stop you just want to run away and hide behind a tree.

There’s nothing wrong with photography as a hobby, and I understand that some people get great pleasure from taking photos. But the rest of us who are doing it because we feel we ought to? Perhaps it’s time to think before we snap.


Do we take too many pictures? If so, when is the right time to put the camera down? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. 


Booze of the world




David Whitley takes an alcoholic trip around the globe to discover some of the hard liquor you’re likely to encounter on your RTW trip.










The city of Pisco is a generally underwhelming port on Peru’s south coast, but it has given its name to the country’s most famous firewater. Pisco is a white grape brandy renowned more for its punch than smoothness of taste. It has a consistency similar to sambuca, and some brands go down a lot easier than others when tackled neat. Those wanting to coat the pill should try it in the form of pisco sour. This pseudo-cocktail combines pisco with egg white, syrup, lemon and a dash of bitters, and it has effectively become Peru’s national drink. 






What the pisco sour is to Peru and Tennent’s Super is to the Glaswegian tramp, the Caipirinha is to Brazil. It is not, as many people seem to think, made with rum. It’s actually made with cachaca, which is similar to rum, but is made from fermented sugar cane juice rather than molasses. It doesn’t have to be drunk as part of a cocktail, although the white, unaged cachaca is best tackled that way. The older it is, the better it tends to be – and some of the gold cachacas can be drunk straight. Otherwise, the caipirinha is pretty simple – just cachaca, sugar and lime.




Central America and the Caribbean


There’s no contest here – only one spirit gets a look-in at being king in this part of the world. And that’s rum, lovely rum. Just about every country in the region has its own distillery, and once you go tasting, you quickly realise that there’s a lot more to life than Bacardi. Top drops to look out for include Barbancourt from Haiti and El Dorado from Venezuela. But the best of the bunch has to be the divine amber nectar produced by the Zacapa distillery in Guatemala. Anyone daring to sully the majestic 23-year-old aged rum with Coke should be taken outside and summarily executed.






Australia has its own rum, and whilst no-one in their right mind would claim Bundaberg Rum is amongst the finest in the world, it has a special place in the Australian psyche. Bundy has long been advertised by a mischievous polar bear, and its effects are legendarily boisterous. Or fighty, if you’re being impolite. Bundy and coke is the Aussie roughnecked, blue-collared version of a bourbon and coke in the southern US. A man’s drink that can’t shed the reputation of those who choose to drink it.




Pacific Islands


It’s called something slightly different everywhere you go in the South Pacific – Kava in Fiji, Ava in Samoa, for example – but it’s much the same thing. The roots of the kava plant (a relation of the pepper bush) are mashed up in water to provide a murky, muddy concoction. It basically tastes of muddy water with a tiny added tingle, but it has supposedly narcotic qualities. You’d have to drink a hell of a lot to feel any more than a numb tongue, but it’s the social function rather than the taste that’s important here. Men – and it is usually men – drink kava either ceremonially or with an unwitting sense of ceremony. Join them, and that’s when conversational doors open.






In the rest of the world, except perhaps Poland, vodka is treated as a mixer drink to be livened up with fruit juice or fizzy pop. In Russia, it is mixed with more vodka. And disturbingly frequently. Russians tend to elevate hard-drinking to an artform, and vodka is traditionally the weapon of choice. It generally has two effects – violence or inhibition loosening. If you’re on the Trans-Siberian Railway for six days, a few bottles of vodka are likely to be the key to making friends and learning about the country.






If ever you want proof that Mexico isn’t really part of Central America, it’s that tequila is the national drink rather than rum. Made mainly in the northern city of the same name, tequila comes from the agave plant – and if you’re wanting proper tequila, it should be 100% agave with nothing added. Cheaper brands often throw in all manner of extras to try and disguise poor quality. Tequila anejo has been aged for at least a year and tends to go down smoothest.


Being the staple of all good dangerous drinking games, tequila has perhaps a rowdier reputation than it deserved. It doesn’t have to be drunk in shots while you snort salt and pour lemon juice in your eye. As for the worm (a supposed aphrodisiac), that’s supposed to go in mezcal, not tequila.






Thai whiskey is to a fine Scotch what Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow is to LA Confidential. It’s generally drunk because it’s cheap and, outside the tremendously dodgy home-distilled versions, it tends to be lower in alcohol content. More to the point, it’s actually closer to rum, made from a filthy combination of sugar cane and rice. You’ll not avoid it in Thailand – you may even develop a taste for it, but quality is rarely the key criterion.






The Japanese love their beer and whisky, but the local drop is what we call sake. In Japan, that’s the term for alcoholic beverages in general, but foreigners generally mean the rice wine that the country knocks back with gusto.It’s not actually a wine – the brewing process is closer to that of a beer. But it’s stronger than both wine and beer – generally between 18 and 20% unless it’s watered down. A special type of rice - that tastes horrible if you eat it – is used for making sake.It is usually served in small cups, and often with meals in the same way we’d serve wine in the west.

Any others  to share? Let us know below....