The Anti-Tourist

I like to beat new paths for myself.

One of the most fulfilling things in life is the ability to travel by sea, air or land and arrive at a completely different location. We might not be able to travel across planets (yet), but being able to fly from the United States all the way to China is the next closest thing. The incredibly different lifestyles across the globe feel like each country, or at least continent, is a planet on its own.

Culture is an incredibly personal and unique thing to countries, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t travel to another country at least a couple of times in your life. If you really want to spread your wings and gain enlightenment in your lifetime, then the only way to possibly do that is to travel more often, learn new things, and soak in the wonderful cultures of the world.


Travel essentials

There are a couple of travel essentials that no one should be on holiday without. For instance, if you want to record your memories then you’re going to need at least a smartphone with a decent lens. If you prefer a dedicated camera, then those work as well, but do keep in mind that with recent smartphone technology, your phone camera is probably just as good as your pocket camera.

You’re also going to need essential documents such as a passport and a visa. The visa is only needed for specific countries, for instance, if you’re travelling from London to the United States. There are some costs involved, but visas usually last a fairly long time and it’s a great reason to get out and travel more often. However, if you’d prefer not to apply for a visa, then there are other options such as www.official-esta.com which will allow you to apply for a visa waiver. It costs less, it’s fast, and much less stress than applying for a visa.


Step out of your comfort zone

The further away the location, the more likely you are to learn something new and experience something magical. If you know the language, then you won’t feel as though there’s a large cultural barrier between you and the locals. If you really want to immerse yourself in culture and discover weird and wonderful things, then head over to www.lonelyplanet.com and buy a phrasebook to take with you and travel to a country which you have no idea about.

The further you step out of your comfort zone, the wider your wings will spread and the more open you will be to accepting new ideas, embracing new cultures and sampling new foods. Travelling is fun because of the fact you can connect with people all over the world who are completely different to you culturally, meaning you’ll always find new things to do and make new memories which can be captured on your camera. If you really want to experience something amazing, then you’re going to have to dive into the deep end and pick a unique location.
The cluster of countries in Europe make it a fantastic continent to visit if you want to experience as much diversity in one trip as possible. Most countries are easily connected by public transport and infrastructure, and thanks to EU agreements, borders are almost a thing of the past. By way of preparation, however, always check up sites like ETIAS before traveling to make sure you've got all the documents you need.

Visiting and truly enjoying over thirty different countries is no joke, and there is definitely a lot to take in. I'd never recommend going for the whole thing in one go - it's just too much travelling (did I really say that?!), and will make you feel burnt out by the end of it all. So without further ado, here are my favourite cities to visit in Europe - these are the ones I would check out if I were visiting Europe for the first time. Take it as an excuse to plan follow-up trips ;)

1. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, is possibly the definition of cool, and a safe bet if you're looking to have fun, walk around beautifully designed spaces and enjoy natural settings, which are just a few minutes away from the urban hub. The highlight of a place like Copenhagen, however, is its people. Consistently ranking among the happiest in the world, their hygge lifestyle is laid back, cosy and fun all at once.

(Credit: The Telegraph)

2. Edinburgh, Scotland

Dubbed as 'the Athens of the North', Scotland's capital is such a lively melting pot of innovative events and liberal thought, set against a backdrop of an ancient city steeped in decades of history. From the Old Town’s jumble of medieval buildings piled along the Royal Mile to the New Town’s neat grid of neoclassical structures, the city's landscape is as varied as its people. 

(Credit: The Telegraph)

3. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik was definitely one of the highlights of my Croatian/Greek road trip. A tiny walled city on top of the Croatian cliffs, Dubrovnik is as representative of Europe's volatile history as they can get. And if real life wars aren't enough for you, the city also doubled as King's Landing in the infamous Game of Thrones. Relive Queen Cersei's walk of shame, Eddard Stark's final moments, all the while enjoying the Mediterranean sea breeze.


4. Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Oh, Amsterdam. Will I ever stop slathering praises on this magical city? (probably not) This relatively small city packs in a punch. It can feel urban and fast-paced, but turn a corner and it's suddenly a laid-back, bohemian street party. From canals to huge parks, a liberal lifestyle and a culture of acceptance, you really can't go wrong with Amsterdam.


5. Florence, Italy

Florence is the first place I ever traveled to solo - and it stole my heart so badly I had to return for another three times after! I think I can safely say that Florence embodies the true Italian Renaissance spirit. The city is easily walkable, and its many galleries and boutiques can be found dotted around the great city - there is a great deal to take in. Opera, restaurants and a burgeoning nightlife scene also bring Florence to life at night.


Five gorgeous European cities, all incredibly different from each other, easily accessible and, depending on your travel style, relatively budget friendly. There are obviously so many other cities that you shouldn't miss out on, but these five are just special for me.

What are your favourite cities? Why did you like them so much?
At some point in our lives, we've all considered packing our bags, quitting our 9 to 5, and just escaping to a tropical destination. It's all going well, until you realize you still need the $$$ to live pretty much anywhere in the world - awkward. In comes volunteering - a great way of exploring far away lands while giving back to the people you're meeting. Here's what you'll need to think about if you're considering volunteering in Thailand.

maya-bay-thailand.jpeg


Choosing which kind of volunteering is best for you
When you choose to be a volunteer in Thailand, any job you choose will bring you happiness and that sense of community. However, the options must be considered. You can, for example:
Teach English (very popular, so make sure you have all the documentation necessary);
Teach computing, or IT;
Coach a sport;
Take part in horticultural projects;
Teach at schools for children with special needs;
And many other localised projects.  

The Paperwork

You will need to prepare in advance all the paperwork before you even consider landing and living in Thailand. As a volunteer you will be going through a company, and that company will give you all the necessary forms and signatures to send to the Royal Thai Embassy in your given country.

Be warned: anything other than complete paperwork will see your application delayed or rejected. You simply must have the right visa, and as a volunteer, you will need the volunteer visa.

Political and Cultural Frisson
Thailand has of late come under increasing political pressure. The death of the late King Rama the ninth has created a tense atmosphere in Thailand. Until the end of 2016, Thailand was in mourning, so it is prudent to check for the latest updates on etiquette surrounding this issue and that of the political nuances that are prevalent in the country.

Life as you know it
Despite all this, your life as a volunteer will change dramatically, and probably for the better. Depending on where you'll be located, you will have access to mountains, the prettiest beaches, and crazy cities. From driving around on a small motorbike along empty beautiful lanes to drinking shots with strangers, and of course the gloriously cheap food and the sunny climate - the exotic nature of the place will add to your adventure, together with the feel good factor of volunteering. A day doing good can only be followed by an evening feeling good.

Another great reward is the friendships made. Living in a shared house will mean less privacy, but it will also mean you'll create permanent bonds with other volunteers. The best part of it all is the faces of the people you'll be helping. These faces you will never forget, and will warm your heart forever.
Japan: where do I even start with Japan? Traveling there has been on my bucket list for ages, so once I knew I was going, even though for a short while, I knew I had to make the most of it. 


From sleeping in a traditional ryokan to spending our yen in the brightest and loudest arcade halls, from tasting some of the best ramen I've ever had to enjoying sesame seed ice cream (in the middle of November), our week in Japan was action-packed, fun and completely incredible. The itinerary below has been tried and tested and is perfect for first timers in Japan. 

Note: When traveling, I like to pack my days full, so this itinerary may be a bit tiring for the uninitiated. However, if you're like me and you love seeing as much as possible in the little time you have, make sure you pack some comfy walking shoes with you and enjoy the ride! 

Day 1: Konnichiwa, Japan! 

We flew into Narita airport with Turkish Airlines in the evening. Although this airport is the one which most international flights fly into, it isn't exactly close to Tokyo. Check out in advance which option suits you best to get to and from Narita into the city here

Upon arrival, we headed to Akihabara station, where we had booked a Willer Express overnight bus to Kyoto. Overnight buses are great for a number of reasons: they're cheaper than the JR Express, they're efficient, safe, clean and comfortable, and they'll save you one night of accommodation. We left Akihabara at around 10pm and woke up in Kyoto at around 7am - perfect! 

Day 2: Waking up in Kyoto

Once we left the bus station, we made our way to the Ryokan we were staying at - although not the cheapest, we decided to splurge a little for our one night in Kyoto to get a traditionally Japanese experience. The first thing we did after getting our rooms was to try out the rooftop onsen - for info on etiquette and how to properly bathe in an onsen, check this out


To get around, we bought a one-day bus ticket from the JR Kyoto Station for just 500 yen. Buses are the best way to get around in Kyoto, since the network is vast and reaches pretty much all the spaces you'd want to visit in town. The tourist offices are friendly, helpful and will provide you with a network map - incredibly useful to plan your day with minimum waste!

Now you've got your day pass, you're all set for a full day of exploring - kicking off the day with Kinkaku-ji, the temple of the golden pavilion. This shrine is one of Kyoto's oldest, and is surrounded by beautiful forests.

A few minutes away by bus, you'll find Ryoan-ji Temple, with its traditional Japanese flat gardens. The rock garden is its main attraction, but the whole place is gorgeous and tranquil.

After Ryoan-ji, we headed west to Arashiyama to have lunch in the old town by, walk by the river and through the magical bamboo grove. This last one is always busy, but walking through gigantic bamboos is still an amazing experience!

Once the sun starts to set, head back to town for dinner, and make your way to Pontocho alley and the Gion area, and enjoy geishas strolling past. 


Day 3: A full day in Kyoto

We woke up as early as we could (the mattress beds were really comfortable) and made our way to Fushimi Inari Shrine for its legendary orange gates going all around a pretty steep hill. This place is busy pretty much all day long, but if you want some peace and quiet try hiking further up the hill.


From there, take a bus to Kiyomizu-dera Temple for a great view over the whole city and an incredibly fun atmosphere. From school children on an outing to visitors and locals in traditional costume, the place is packed, but it's the kind of packed that makes you happy to be part of the crowd. While you're there, enjoy some delicious sesame seed and matcha ice cream - it's amazing, I promise!

We then walked on to Yasaka Shrine and the surrounding gardens, then onto town again for dinner and a spot of shopping. We left Kyoto (very reluctantly) at around 10pm, once again with Willer Express, and woke up at Shinjuku bright and early the following day.


Day 4: Arriving in Tokyo

Since this was our first time in Tokyo, we checked in at the APA Hotel in Shinjuku Gyoenmae - literally just 5 minutes away from Shinjuku station and Shinjuku Gyoen and very well priced for the facilities offered. We moved around Tokyo by train, but found that it was cheaper and equally efficient to buy a ticket every time we needed one, rather than buying the JR Pass.

We spent the morning getting a feel of our surroundings in Shinjuku, then headed off to Ueno for lunch. Ueno Park is huge and houses museums, temples and shrines in its 300 acres, so plan ahead what you really want to see and stick to it.

After lunch we headed to Akihabara, where our geeky anime souls ran wild. The rest of the day flew by, and we headed back to Shinjuku laden with collectibles and giddy with excitement - if you're an anime fan, this is the one district you cannot miss out on!

A photo posted by Desiree' ✌️ (@antitouristdes) on

Day 5: Exploring Tokyo 

On this day, we spent our morning at the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya. Although right next to the busy city centre, you'll feel miles away beneath the swishing trees surrounding the Shinto shrine. Once you've reached your zen, head down to Takeshita Street for the direct opposite - an explosion of colour, chaos and the quirkiest shops you'll see. This street is well known for its Harajuku fashion and everything kawaii.


One train stop away from Takeshita Street, you'll find the iconic Shibuya crossing, the busiest intersection in the world. Enjoy the rush, then head to Starbucks for a prime view of the street.

Day 6: An afternoon at Mount Takao   

As the week drew to a close, we slowed down the pace and spent our morning in Shinjuku, grabbed lunch and headed off to Mount Takao, an hour's train ride away.

Mount Takao is the closest natural area to Tokyo, and is absolutely gorgeous, especially in autumn. If you're keen on hiking, there are eight hiking trails to choose from here, ranging from easy and short trails to trickier trails for more experienced hikers.

We went for the lazy way out and went up on the chair lift (not for the fainthearted) and walked around the top to Yakuoin Temple. There's also a monkey park up there! Make sure you don't miss the last cable car down (around 5pm), and make your way back in town for dinner.

Day 7: Travel back home

Definitely the saddest day of the whole week - we decided to kick back in preparation for the thirteen hour flight ahead by buying some goodies from the closest 7/11 and chill out in Shinjuku Gyoen, the district's largest and prettiest garden. We also snuck in a quick visit to central Tokyo and some last minute curry from Sukiya before racing to the airport.



Leave some time for Narita airport - it has some lovely shops for last minute gifts. My favourite shop was a tiny square in the departures lounge called The Traveler's Factory, which can only be found in the airport. I'd have spent hours in there if I could!

TIPS

- The itinerary above is ideal for first timers with seven days or less. If you're limited on time, I really wouldn't include more things and places to see - always make sure you leave enough time to actually enjoy where you're at!

- If you're lucky enough to have more than one week in Japan, definitely invest in the JR Pass and spread out - visit Osaka, the north area of Japan and its smaller islands.

Ready to fly to Japan? What's on your must-do list? Let us now in the comments below! 
A while ago, I posted an article on how Japan is one of the best countries to visit in Asia, especially if it’s your first time touring the continent. Last November I actually managed to go to Japan and I can confirm that the country is one of the greatest destinations in the world, let alone Asia!

Japan's culture is more incredible than I could ever describe, but beyond touring temples and tasting the best Udon noodles in town, you'll also feel right at home if you're an animal lover. Take a look at these activities around Japan if like the amazing people of Japan, you're obsessed with all things cute and fluffy.

1. Watch monkeys enjoying the hot springs



The Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi is known for its hot springs, however it’s not the visitors that get to bathe in them. Japanese Macaques are the attractions here, which come down from the mountains every winter to warm themselves up in the hot springs. Also known as Snow Monkeys, Atlas Obscura explained that they’re believed to be emissaries of the mountain gods, so it’s easy to understand why they’re not driven away by the locals and instead respected enough to be allowed to enjoy the steamy waters.

Watching the monkeys relax in the hot springs is a one of a kind experience and is certainly worth adding to your bucket list. According to many insiders, it’s best to go during these winter months and visit in the morning to catch all the action.

2. Feed koi in traditional Japanese gardens


Traditional Japanese gardens almost always have koi ponds, which not only look beautiful, but also add to the overall structure of these Zen gardens. One of the greatest ways to relax is to visit the gardens to admire the landscape and, of course, to interact with the koi in the ponds. Japan's National Tourism Organization recommend several spots where you can enjoy unwinding in peaceful gardens as well as watching and feeding the beautiful koi, such as the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto as well as Koraku-en in Okayama, a massive garden which has large ponds and even hills. This artificial recreation area is so vast that it took 14 years to complete.

Japanese carp or ‘koi’ are an important part of Japanese culture, so much so that they’re associated with various characteristics including good fortune, perseverance, calmness and strength. Koi is now famous around the world and due to these positive qualities, their portrayal even exceeded the biological aspect and digital versions of koi have begun to appear through various mediums. For instance, Game Skinny mentioned that Zen Koi uses the calming effect of interacting with the fish, which is similar to the effect the live wallpaper emits. Equally, the renowned gaming portal Slingo also has a Lucky Koi game which plays on the good fortune tied to the fish putting a modern spin on it ideal for gamers to enjoy. Such iterations prove the persistence and popularity of koi in the minds and hearts of people even outside of Japan.

3. Set your crazy cat self free



For cat lovers, look no further than Japan’s ‘nekojima’ or cat islands. Tsunagu Japan listed Aoshima Island in Ehime as one of Japan’s most unusual places to visit, wherein cats are the main inhabitants. If you can't make it that far, All about Japan mentions at least 10 other cat islands in the country aside from Aoshima. You just need to visit one to get an idea of the sheer cat cuteness on offer.

It’s also good to know that vets and caretakers regularly monitor the locations, so the furry felines are treated with the love and care they deserve. After all, cats are signs of good luck in the eyes of the Japanese. The ‘beckoning cat’ figurine or ‘Chinese lucky cat’ actually originated in Japan. It just so happened that Chinese merchants often used them as well in their shops to watch over them.

4. Feed the friendliest deer in the world



Nara is Japan's old capital, but beyond its UNESCO recognised heritage, Nara Park is where you should be heading for an afternoon with Bambi's Japanese relatives. Deer used to be considered sacred, and even today they are designated national treasures, so treat them with all the care and respect they deserve. The deer in Nara Park are wild, but all incredibly friendly and looking for crackers and food - so go prepared. 

5. Visit Tokyo's owl cafes


Fukuro, or owl cafes are all the rage in Japan, and you can find many of them in Tokyo. Most cafes let you pet them, perch them on your arm, or just enjoy their company, but as always, make sure you treat the fuzzballs with respect and care! Most cafes are incredibly busy, so make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment. 

One of the many beautiful things about Japan is their respect for all animals - from the owls they drink tea with to the animals roaming freely in Japan's beautiful wildlife. It's definitely not just Hello Kitty they care about! 

Bombings. Hijacked airplanes. Mass shootings. Terrorist attacks. These past few years have seen a rise in tension on the international scene. This year has been particularly bad, with war still raging in Aleppo, shootings in the US and Europe struggling with hate attacks. 

All this makes you wonder - should you really travel around with the world in this situation? 

I'll be honest, I usually book flights headfirst, and don't let this stuff get to me. Sure, I take precautions, but the events we see everyday on the news rarely affect my travel plans. However, sometimes it does make me stop and think about things for a minute. Should I avoid that country? Should I wait a bit to see how the political situation develops? 

Is it safe to travel? 

The question you should be asking yourself is - are you safer where you are? I don't mean to make you paranoid, but the truth of the matter is that attacks can happen anywhere in the world right now. I'm fairly sure that the people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice this summer were not feeling particularly at risk, and neither were the people enjoying themselves at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Sure, some countries are experiencing more instability than others, but as we've seen this year, anything can happen anywhere. Feeling safe is an incredibly subjective matter and it depends entirely on our own experiences and opinions. Maybe avoid backpacking through warzones, but don't let this issue hold you back. 


Is it really that dangerous out there? 

Now, I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the media has a huge role in shaping our opinion on current international affairs, and sometimes, we have to take the news with a good pinch of salt. 

Journalism is going through a tough time. Online is taking over and revenue is going down, resulting in less resources and newsrooms doing all they can to attract volatile readers to their sites. The technique adopted by many is the despised clickbait. When clicks = money, who cares if a story is slightly exaggerated, or even at times false? It is known that tragedies and disasters attract our attention more than happy stories - schadenfreude is real and the media exploits it as much as it can to get more views. 

A few months before I went to Istanbul earlier this year, the failed coup had just happened and Ataturk airport had been bombed. The news was full of how the city had become a dangerous hell hole for residents and visitors alike, and governments were (and still are) issuing warnings to avoid traveling to Turkey. What did I find when I landed in Istanbul? The same gorgeous city I had visited before, the same friendly smiles and helpful people, the same memorable experiences. The place was sadly a little more empty and the airport security a little more armed, but not much else had changed. 

My point? Don't let news reports scare you from seeing things for yourself.

Consider what you're missing out on 


Throughout my years of travel, I've done countless things which I know I would never have been able to do had I stayed in my tiny neighborhood. I met some incredible people with the most amazing stories to tell, I saw for myself the wonders of Renaissance architecture in Europe, I partied until dawn in the Greek islands, I witnessed Sufi dancing ceremonies, I biked around Turkish coastlines and crossed rickety bridges on the Northern Irish cliffs, and made more memories than I can recount.

Had I decided to wait or to put it off, all these places would have remained stuck in the books I read or the shows I watched. Is a little risk worth all this? A hundred times yes.


In short, my message is, don't let fear stop you from exploring all the wonderful, beautiful places our world has to offer. Obviously, be cautious and sensible, but do not miss out on opportunities that will undoubtedly change you for the better. Here's to a more peaceful and even more adventurous 2017!

What experiences made you want to travel? What's holding you back right now? 

Here in Malta, we're pretty blessed with national and public holidays all year round. These paid holidays are a worker's paradise, so it's a major bummer when those days off end up landing on weekends.

Next year, however, is looking great for travel addicts with limited days of leave, with a whopping THIRTEEN public holidays happening during the week. Plan ahead and book that leave before anyone else, and get ready to enjoy yourself in 2017! Lord knows we need a great year after the hot mess 2016 has turned out to be...

I've drawn up a handy list of these holidays below, take a look and share them with your travel buddies (or anyone who enjoys a long weekend lazing around really, no judging here): 

Friday 10th February - St Paul's Shipwreck
Friday 31st March - Freedom Day
Friday 14th April - Good Friday
Monday 1st May - Workers Day
Wednesday 7th June - Sette Giugno
Thursday 29th June - Feast of St Peter and St Paul (Imnarja)
Tuesday 15th August - Feast of the Assumption
Friday 8th September - Victory Day
Thursday 21st September - Independence Day
Friday 8th December - Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Wednesday 13th December - Republic Day
Monday 25th December - Christmas Day

See you at the airport.

Are you gearing up for 2017? Share this post with anyone who needs some motivation after the holidays! 
Your annual round up of the essentials, the quirky and the simply beautiful items to put under the tree for the traveler in your life (or yourself really, go ahead, spoil yourself).

For the writer: the Travel Journal


Just like shower ideas, inspiration can hit you anywhere when on the road. That's when this handy journal comes in! 

For the Insta-crazy: the Sprocket


This babe of a printer has been on my wishlist ever since HP announced it to the world. Compact, white and rose-gold, quick and easy to use? Take all my damn money already. 

For the home owner: a dreamy Bellerby globe


Bellerby & Co. Globemakers are world famous for their handmade globes, which can take weeks to complete. Their craftmanship is unrivalled, and their globes are the perfect addition to any room. 

For the proud chef: Epicurean Journeys


Traveling is pretty much useless if you can't widen your cooking horizons! From chilli to risotto, this collection takes you around the world - from your kitchen. 

For the shopping addict: the luggage scale


Simply an essential for anyone who's ever struggled with weight limits on airplanes. Trust me, they'll be forever grateful for this one. 

For the traveling parents: mini-sized games


Bored kids during any lengthy journey are a recipe for disaster. Travel-sized board games or card games can keep them occupied for hours - personally, I'd go for the fast-paced and hilariously designed Exploding Kittens, or go for a classic like Line-Up 4! 

For the one who's always connected: an extra battery pack


I mentioned this one in last year's wishlist and actually got it, so I can tell you from experience that a good battery pack can be a lifesaver! You just never know what could happen when on the road. 

For the one who plays it safe: the scarf with a secret pocket


This scarf is useful in so many ways. Hands full at a bustling airport? You can keep your passport and documents wrapped around your neck, ready to be whipped out a moment's notice. Walking through shadier areas? Scrap the bag and keep your essentials close with this scarf. 

For the bearded gentleman in your life: the grooming travel kit



Hey, a beard requires 24/7 maintenance, and this kit makes sure he's always looking dapper! 

For the electronic globetrotter: a universal adapter


So, so useful. I've got this exact version and it's the perfect size to carry around! 

For the gadget obsessed: a drone


Drones creep me out and fascinate me at the same time, but there's no denying that they're the future for amateur photography. This budget friendly version is the perfect first shot at flying a drone without breaking the bank. 

For the one who loves branding: a personalised travel tag


Personalised gifts always show a little more thought, and this elegant piece will go down well with anyone! 

For the travel buddy: travel-themed friendship bracelets


Whether you're rooms or continents apart, never forget that unbreakable bond. 

For that quick getaway: a weekender bag


I'm a sucker for a good leather bag, and this beauty just stole my heart (and all my cash). 

Share this post with a friend who's stuck with their Christmas shopping, or with someone who needs to get a not-so-subtle hint!