How to (re)create the feeling of travel at home

How much time do you spend travelling every year? Two weeks? Three? Four if you’re lucky?

What about the other 48+ weeks? How can you experience what you love about your holidays and travel in everyday life?

Here are some top tips for creating – or recreating – the feeling of travel at home.

Be a tourist at home

Yes, it’s a cliché.

Godamn it, just wear your Bermuda shorts, hang your expensive camera off your neck and walk really slowly. And give it a rest about the cliché thing 😉

Or … go on that walking tour of your city. Pack a picnic for a day out in the countryside. Head into the gallery you’ve walked past on your way to work for the last two years (note to self: I need to do this!) Visit a neighbouring town on market day and starting taking pictures of fruit and vegetable displays!

travel at home: vegetable photographs!

Who can resist a photo of a prize cauliflower? These bad boys were on show at the Lealholm Show in Yorkshire.

Whatever works for you, it’s all good.

Travel at home on public transport*

*Don’t take this advice when you need to get a Benny bookshelf home from IKEA.

travel at home

Many a tale has eminated from a Mexican combi van. Why not at home too?

The bus, the train, the tram, a ferry … they give you three things a solo journey in the car can’t:

  1. You can take in the scenery/countryside. Unless you’re in a commuter train. In which case you’ll be too busy smelling someone’s armpit whilst contorted into a position a yogi would be proud of.
  2. The chance to meet new people. Y’know, in the way you do when you’re on holiday.
  3. The potential for a travel story to tell. Most of mine seem to involve random strangers offering me food/alcohol. Yup, even in the UK.

Of course, going sans car also gives you the opportunity to vigorously bemoan the price of public transport in your own country: ‘£5!? Are you kidding? I’m only going 10 miles! I could get all the way across Nicaragua for that!’

Find travel events and exhibitions

I spent my Saturday evening looking at pictures of elephants in Namibia and hearing tales from the guy who took them.

travel at home: events and exhibitions

Elephants! These ones are from South Africa.

How? Good old Eventbrite! International sites such as Eventbrite, Meetup, Twitter, plus local freebie magazines and websites are a full-on catalogue of “what’s on” information.

travel at home in York

My version of travel at home: in York, proudly wearing a Yorkshire flat cap at the Tour de Yorkshire cycle race

You can find photography exhibitions such as the Travel Photographer of the Year, literary events or business festivals featuring talks by explorers such Sir Ranulph Fiennes, themed events and shows such as the Banff Mountain film festival, talks by folks who’ve lived, worked, explored, or snapped pictures in exotic locales … including Namibian-elephant-photography types. They’re all happening at a location near(ish) you.

You just need to put in the Google time to recreate your travel vibe or inspire your next adventure!

Can’t find anything suitable? Create your own! Meetup allows you to create your own groups.

Travel at home through your tastebuds

Can you find your favourite travel taste back home?

I get quite excited by anywhere that sells churros and chocolate; churros being long strips of sugary doughnut awesomeness. They’re the Spanish equivalent of a 2am kebab.

Travel at home: churros and chocolate

Churros and Chocolate. Photo by Esther Levy via Trover.com

My life was almost complete when a local cocktail bar started serving pisco sours (thanks to Chile and Peru for that particular discovery).

I also get slightly upset if Thai food uses Western aubergine (eggplant) rather than Thai aubergine. Note to self: Western aubergine is not evil and I am not the food police.

Why not go on your own authentic food hunt?

If anyone can find good Mexican food (not of the Texmex variety) in the UK, please tell me where 🙂

Let the written word be an inspiration…

Travel blogs, works by authors such as Paul Theroux, Rolf Potts or Bill Bryson, books set in locations near and far (Our Man in Havana, A Town Like Alice).

Hemingway reminds me of Florida and Cuba when I "travel at home"

Hemingway reminds me of Florida and Cuba when I “travel at home”

The written word can bring worlds from far away into our hands and imaginations.

And … it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune … Apps like Overdrive allow you to download books for free from your local library.

You can also support your favourite travel bloggers by using links on their sites to buy your books online 🙂

Look at pretty pictures on Instagram!

I have to admit, I’ve become a bit of an Instagram-o-holic.

Not only are there some awe-inspiring photos to give you destination-planning wanderlust, there are more formats, light techniques and angles on show to give you photography ideas and tips for when you get there.

I’m currently lusting after the Spanish region of Andalucia. Again. And sunsets over water pretty much anywhere. I’m drooling over these accounts:

@andy_roxby – Yorkshire. Beautiful Yorkshire

@jsftravel – Travel pics from around the world

@esejapan – true inspiration on my recent Croatia trip

@ludesfleurs – colours, colours, colours

@ig_andalucia_ dreaming of Andalucia, Spain

Plus, you can follow me … @thegapyearedit, of course!

How to travel at home: summed up

By expanding our mindset around “what we usually do when we’re at home”, experiencing the travel vibe doesn’t have to be limited to the moment from which we step off a plane.

Don’t be fooled into thinking all the magic happens somewhere else. Some of it is right there, on your doorstep.

How do you (re)create the feeling of travel at home? Share your tips below 🙂

How to spend 24 hours in Madrid

With only 24 hours in this pulsating city, this guide helps you get to the beating heart of Madrid, Spain’s capital.

A Modern-Art Morning

Get your modern-art fix at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, housing four floors of works by famous names such as Miró, Dalí, and Picasso. The 1937 work, “Guernica,” shows Picasso’s disdain for the bombing of the Basque town during the Spanish Civil War. It’s a powerful piece with a powerful message.

If you prefer your art of the 11th–19th century persuasion, then the world-class Museo del Prado, home to pieces by Goya, Rubens, and others, is for you.

Garden Calm

Across the Paseo del Prado from Reina Sofía, the Real Jardin Botanico awaits. The gardens are a perfect place for a stroll around three terraces, elaborate fountains, and colourful carpets of florals.

An alternative is the 295-acre Parque del Retiro, home to pathways for pedestrians, cyclists, and rollerbladers, and a majestic lake. Savour a coffee and watch the boating action, or go ahead and take part!

24 hours in madrid: Parque del Retiro

Parque del Retiro. Photo by Javier Travelandphotos via Trover.com

Bigging it up in Plaza Mayor

Calle de Atocha leads to the city’s Plaza Mayor, so-called for good reason. It’s pretty much impossible to capture the whole of this gigantic plaza in just one photo — but you can certainly try.

24 hours in Madrid: Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor. Photo by Yagiza Neo via Trover.com

With buildings dating from 1590, an impressive bronze statue, and stylish arcades, sit and soak up the life and atmosphere from one of the many cafes.

Lunch at the Market

From Plaza Mayor, it’s a short hop to the Mercado de San Miguel. The glass-and-steel façade, coupled with the culinary delights offered inside, make it a perfect stop for assorted lunchtime delicacies, washed down with a glass of wine. Enjoy!

24 hours in Madrid: Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel. Photo by Jessica Bowler via Trover.com

Afternoon Architecture

After lunch, take your pick from Madrid’s architectural gems. Whether it’s the Gran Via with its boomtown buildings of the 1920s and ’30s, a tour around the 250-year old Palacio Real, or a step back in time to the 16th-century Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales — choose your period of history and Madrid will deliver the goods.

An Evening of Tapas and Churros

You can’t leave Spain without sampling tapas. If you don’t know your patatas bravas from your albondigas, you might want to try a tapas tour. A word of warning … locals eat late in Spain. For the late-night munchies, the Spanish fail-safe equivalent of a doner kebab is the doughnut-like churro, dipped in chocolate. Worry about the calories when you get home.

24 hours in Madrid: churros and chocolate

Churros and Chocolate. Photo by Esther Levy via Trover.com

Tips for Travel in Madrid

There are plenty of hotels in the heart of Madrid’s action. For affordable options, you can browse here.

To get around the sites, the metro (subway) is easy, fast, and a good value. For more on the metro, visit the Madrid Metro website.

Madrid in Summary

Madrid is a city where world-class art can be found as easily in a garden or square as in a gallery, where a culture of outdoor eating and living prevails, and where heat can be used to refer to the summer temperature or the nightlife. Get out there and enjoy it!

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#312783″]This post was brought to you in conjunction with the #‎HipmunkCityLove project. All views are my own, and are based on my personal experience of visiting Madrid.[/typography]

Barcelona: where ships, sculpture and the sea meet the city

Walking down the famed pedestrian walkway of Las Ramblas in Barcelona, the smell of salty sea air starts to pervade.

Heading south-east, the old architecture of the city peters out, as the cityscape turns to the seascape of Port Vell at the Columbus Monument, smack in the middle of a wide breezy plaza.

The vista from here is a world away from the Gaudí architecture for which Barcelona is famed.

Stroll over the sea

At Port Vell, Las Ramblas migrates into the Rambla de Mar in a fusion of architectural modernity at an over-sea wooden pedestrian walkway. Stroll over the water to cinemas and Barcelona’s L’aquàrium.

Port Vell. Barcelona sculpture sea

Port Vell. Photo by Meghan Hernandez via Trover.com

Inside, there are 14 aquariums showcasing the best of the Mediterranean, including sand tiger sharks and sandbar sharks.

I see ships! And sculpture …

Turning east from the Columbus Monument you can slalom around palm trees whilst admiring the multi-million dollar super-yachts of the Marina Port Vell, regenerated for the sailing events of the 1992 Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, a block inland on Passeig Colom, modern sculpture adorns the park-like boulevard. It’s here you can shake claws with Gambrinus, Javier Mariscal’s lobster/prawn statue, and outstare the infamous Barcelona Face, designed by artist Roy Lichtenstein for the 1992 Olympic Games.

Barcelona Face. Barcelona sculpture sea

Barcelona Face. Photo by KM via Trover.com

The sculptures make for stark and beautiful photo opportunities against the blue sky.

Saunter to some seafood

La Barceloneta. Barcelona sculpture sea seafood

La Barceloneta. Photo by Renee O via Trover.com

Beyond the Port Vell marina, the road and footpaths bear south to La Barceloneta, the former fisherman’s quarter and onetime slum; now home to restored 18th century homes and numerous seafood restaurants.

If you’re looking for a place to sample real-life lobster/prawns, complete with a view of the marina or the golden sands of Playa de la Barceloneta, then this is it.

Hotels in Barcelona

For a sunset with sangria, you could do far worse than soaking up a view of the whole shebang from the deck at the iconic W Hotel. Perched at the tip of La Barceloneta, The W in the epitome of modern city chic, with its sail-inspired glass design shimmering over the city; and a 26th floor bar, Eclipse, delivering Eurotune beats to a hip and happening crowd.

For a serious 5-star treat you can stay at the W. Browse your options here for accommodation choices from hostels to boutique and business-style hotels.

Transport in Barcelona

With stops at Drassanes (for Port Vell) and Barceloneta, Barcelona’s metro makes for a simple way to get around. Be prepared for signs in Catalan first, then Spanish, then (maybe) English. A phrase book or a few words of Spanish can come in handy.

For a two-wheeled alternative, you could also try a Segway tour.

Barcelona’s seaside sights: summed up

Regenerated and spruced up for the 1992 Olympic Games, Barcelona’s seaside sights make up an integral part of the city. From sharks to ships, seafood to sand, take your time to stroll around this eminently walkable area of this proudly Catalan city.

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#312783″]This post was brought to you in conjunction with the #‎HipmunkCityLove project. All views are my own, and are based on my personal experiences of visiting Barcelona.[/typography]

My top 9 travel tips for Nicaragua

Grab a cuppa coffee – or a fine batido (smoothie) – and read my top 9 travel tips for Nicaragua, an often-overlooked slice of Central America …

Nicaragua has a spirit you can feel. World-class wildlife and a growing eco-tourism movement combine with a cacophony of noise, and locals who aren’t afraid to talk politics. It makes for a destination with more fire and passion than the country’s plethora of volcanoes.

The environment – travel tips for Nicaragua

1. Wildlife: embrace the wild side

There’s a whole lot of wildlife going on in Nicaragua, making it a paradise for nature lovers and photographers. Monkeys, colourful parakeets and magpies with long blue tail feathers, bats, random trees with spikes, cacti, something that looks like a giant guinea pig whose name I haven’t learnt yet …

Stop and listen for a while when you’re out walking. The forest is a magical place, full of life. I saw a skunk in the wild there. Or at least I think it was a skunk – I wasn’t getting too close to check 🙂

And let’s not forget the landscape for all that wildlife. Volcanoes abound!

my 9 top travel tips for Nicaragua - Volcan Telica crater - volcano Nicaragua

Yup, that is the smoking crater of a volcano – this one’s Volcan Telica, near León.

Who knew Nicaragua was such a wildlife and nature haven? Which brings me onto number two …

2. Show the eco-tourism movement some love

With a growing eco-tourism movement comes a choice of eco-friendly places to stay. Think solar panels, composting toilets, recycling practices, and filtered water refills; all coupled with blissful vista’d locations.

my top 9 travel tips for Nicaragua - Esteli

Eco-friendly fincas boast views like this!

In many respects, Nicaragua seems to be going through an upsurge in environmental awareness (aside from an annoying habit of lazily-tossing rubbish from bus windows). Whether this is the result of improved education, opposition against the environmental and social impacts of the Nicaraguan Canal project, or something else entirely, who knows?

As visitors we can lead by example, and stay in some truly unique places at the same time.

3. Pack earplugs

Nicaragua is a country that gets up early. After a month, the best lie-in I’ve managed is 7.45am. It messes with my “not a morning person” sensibilities, but I’ve learnt to embrace it. Cockerels (roosters), buses pomping their horns, parrots, dogs … all will do their best to wake you up before 7am. I can’t emphasise this Nicaragua travel tip enough – take earplugs 🙂

9 travel tips for Nicaragua - mind the chickens

Chickens. They may well wake you up.

Getting around – Nicaragua travel tips

4. Buses – catch ‘em from where they originate

Many inter-city journeys in Nicaragua are only a couple of hours long, so don’t discount the good old chicken bus. They’re also very handy for days out.

The attendant will collect your fare, and – if you’re travelling from the buses’ originating point to its final destination – will fix your luggage to the roof rack.

My top tip – catch a bus at its origin point if you can – doubly true if you have luggage. That way you’ll get a seat.

Popular inter-city destinations are also served by minibuses, which will cost a little bit more (we’re talking about $0.50).

The pros: you’ll definitely get a seat, and they don’t stop at every lamppost.
The con: they don’t all have luggage racks so your rucksack may end up on your knees.

5. Get ready to share your taxi

Taxis in Nicaragua are collective, and will pick up and drop off passengers heading in (vaguely) the same direction en-route. Don’t let the prospect of getting into/sharing a cab with complete strangers freak you out, although local advice would suggest avoiding it in Managua. Journeys are very cheap (10-20 cordobas, or around $0.40-$0.80 per city journey).

[box type=”info”]I used the Lonely Planet Guide to Nicaragua for my two-month journey through this beautiful country. Help the site by buying the guide through this link, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

Food and drink – travel tips for Nicaragua

6. Eat the local food

OK, so you’re probably not visiting Nicaragua for the cuisine. But there’s some hearty local food to be enjoyed.

A “Nica” breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans mixed together), scrambled eggs, plantain and cheese is a top Nicaragua travel tip recommendation of mine, and makes a fine way to start the day.

You’ll find plenty of other typical local foods on offer, at a fraction of the price of more western cuisine: Roast chicken – goooooood. Fried plaintain crisps (chips) – gooooooood! Random sweet breads sold by ladies at bus stations – goooooood. Bags of unidentifiable fruit pieces served with a dash of chili, lime and salt – delish! Give the local food a go!

7. Get your smoothie on and/or relax in coffee heaven

You can always find a freshly squeezed fruit smoothie, known as a batido in Nicaragua.

You can get ‘em made with juice (jugo)/water, milk (leche), and sometimes with ice-cream (helado) too. In markets, street stands, juice bars, and on café and restaurant menus, fruity goodness is never too far away.

I now have a serious batido addiction.

Nicaragua is also home to some damn fine coffee. My best cup so far? At the Coffee Museum in Matagalpa, the northern highlands.

my top 9 travel tips for Nicaragua - drink the coffee

Selva Negra near Matagalpa is a working finca, complete with coffee plantations

Local people – Nicaragua travel tips

8. Learn some Spanish

Here’s a plea from the heart: For the love of God, learn some Spanish (the country has plenty of Spanish language schools such as La Mariposa, where I spent two weeks). English isn’t widely spoken, although some guides / accommodations will speak it.

Be warned though, slang is prevalent. Even the newspaper had words that confounded my dictionary. “Chele/chela” is used a lot to describe pale skin, of anyone or anything. I met a guy with a gorgeous white horse called La Chela.

In a nutshell, knowing at least some “tourist Spanish”, particularly if you’re travelling independently, is pretty much essential.

9. Say “hola”, have a chat and maybe even meet some former revolutionaries!

Being friendly costs nothing, and a quick “hola” can go a long way. For the most part, people are friendly, although solo female travellers may be on the receiving end of random declarations of love from men they haven’t even had a conversation with (I just ignored these).

my top 9 travel tips for Nicaragua - meet some revolutionaries!

These guys, in the Museum of the Revolution in Leon, are more than happy to talk politics!

A good natter isn’t hard to come by. People here are good conversationalists – they have opinions about politics, the Nicaraguan Canal project, different countries, and aren’t afraid to discuss them. You might even meet some former revolutionaries! This all helps to get under the skin of Nicaragua a little more, and to confound a few perceptions.

From the coffee-picker who had studied English via a correspondence course with the University of Birmingham in the UK, to the retired biologist expressing his views on Margaret Thatcher before picking me some fresh mandarins, just two more examples of how the spirit of Nicaragua is very much alive and kicking.

What would you add to these 9 travel tips for Nicaragua? Have you travelled there, or considered it?

11 tips for travel in Mexico

Bags of culture. Decent public transport. Good value. Chatty residents. All these make Mexico one of my favourite destinations. Here are 11 tips for travel in Mexico beyond the all-inclusive resorts.

Getting around – 11 tips for travel in Mexico

1. Combis

11 tips for travel in Mexico: combi vans in Taxco

VW combi vans ply their trade in Taxco

Collectivos / combi vans are a steal for local transport (think camper van of the VW or Toyota Hiace variety). They ply set routes, and will stop at every lamppost along that route if that’s where their passengers are.

They’ll pomp their horn when approaching you if they think you’re in need of a lift. Flag one with your arm parallel to the road and with a downward motion. A bit like you’re a one-winged flapping bird. It works.

11 tips for travel in Mexico: VW beetle taxis

Beetle taxis. These white ones are in Taxco. Mexico City’s are green.

2. VWs

There are old VWs everywhere, particularly in the south and the capital. Beetles are a fave and are abound in Taxco and Mexico City. Don’t hail one as your taxi in the latter though – calling a cab there or taking the tube (subway) is a better bet on the safety front. Hailing’s the norm everywhere else. In the south negotiate the price first. Further north (in places such as Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Aguascalientes), meters are used.

3. Time

Time is a bit of an alien concept. A 10am bus can depart at 10.20am or 9.50am (probably the former).

Food and drink – 11 tips for travel in Mexico

4. Tortillas

All meals are accompanied by tortillas, including breakfast. Scrambled egg with tortilla, anyone? They’ll be your new favourite carb.

5. Unusual food options

If you fancy a bit of off-piste food, then ant larvae and chillied grasshoppers are amongst the local specialties. Mole poblano (mole means sauce, poblano means it’s a specialty of the city of Pueblo), is a less scary local food prospect. Apparently there are 17 ingredients it its sauce, including the famed Mexican chocolate. Yum.

6. Juice!

You can always find a freshly squeezed fruit juice. The markets are a good bet. Don’t be surprised if it’s presented to you in a plastic bag with a straw if you ask for it “to go”.

Wildlife – 11 tips for travel in Mexico

7. Lizards

Hotel and hostel rooms all have a small resident lizard. They’re quite cute.

11 tips for travel in Mexico: iguana

Fortunately the lizards you’ll find in your hotel room will be smaller than this iguana

8. Cockerels

Cockerels. Godamn those cockerels (roosters) with no concept of when dawn is. Owning one is a macho thing, apparently. Take earplugs, particularly in more rural towns and villages.

Local people – 11 tips for travel in Mexico

9. Height

On the Yucátan peninsula, you may well be a giant by local Mayan standards. At five foot ten I am practically Godzilla. Trying to blend in is futile (though you can help by not dressing as though you’re on the beach. Unless you’re on the beach).

10. Pack a phrase book

People are chatty, and often just want to practice their English. Or have a natter to you in Spanish (a few words go a long way). Mexico’s a country where you soon learn to get over yourself when it comes to talking to random strangers.

11. Family affair

Mexicans enjoy their family time and value family life. Go where the locals go on their Sunday family day out – there are a myriad of cultural outings and day-trip opportunities from every town – and get chatting!

Check out this suggested itinerary for how to spend a month in Mexico.

In my opinion Mexico gets an undeserved bad press. Like most countries there are places (and parts of cities) to avoid, but the majority of Mexico – particularly areas frequented by tourists – is safe to explore. You can check out your government’s foreign office website (this is the UK’s) for the latest travel advice.

What do you think of these 11 tips? What would you add?