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Where’s the best area to stay in New York?

New York, New York, the city so good they named it twice.

But if you’re only going there once, it’s good to have a plan.

I’ve received a lot of questions lately asking about where to stay in NYC. Where’s best for sightseeing, where’s best for a first trip, when you’re travelling with a family and so on.

And most of that boils down to what you want to see and how happy you are to travel around the not-all-that-big-when-it-comes-to-it Big Apple.

Getting Around New York

One of the best things about Manhattan is that its grid-like structure with numbered road names makes it easy to work out where things are and how far you have to go to get there.

The worst thing is that that means you have to stop to cross the road every 20 seconds or so.

No problem for many, intensely annoying for some. In our marriage, it’s one of the few times that I get to be the Zen one who doesn’t mind at all, while Mr Travel Lab and our NYC mate fizzed and frazzled themselves every time WALK and DON’T WALK appeared.

It’s a moment I shall treasure, particularly the next time I’m in the Quiet Carriage on the train and someone opens a packet of crisps.

(In fact, that was short lived. I’m on the train right now and someone’s just done it while I’ve been typing. Arrgggh!!!! Petty problem hell!!! It’s even driven me to use multiple exclamation marks, a blasphemy of some kind around here.)

Anyway… I digress.

The grid-like system means that it’s very easy to work out where something is.

The subway system on the other hand is less clear. It’s almost enough to make you yearn for the colour-coded London Underground and definitely hot enough to make you yearn for a hot shower.

Those iconic yellow cabs can obviously also get you from A to B but it’s not always a given. I’ve been in several where I’ve had to give directions and ended up yearning for that shower anyway.

The ferries give some great views, as does a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge but I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

Where to stay in New York for a first visit

Most of the first time attractions are within walking distance if you have comfy shoes and, well, a slight sense of adventure.

If you have a fitbit, too, now’s the time to invite a friend to a challenge. You will be smug beyond your wildest dreams as your step count grows and grows.

Time Square, Macy’s, the Flatiron, Central Park, Carnegie Hall, the Chrysler Building, Museum of Modern Art, Trump Tower (!) and the Empire State Building all cluster roughly around the Midtown area.

For the Statue of Liberty, you’ll need to take a ferry. This ties in nicely with a trip south to Battery Park City where you’ll find Wall Street, new architectural stars like the Oculus, and the poignant 9-11 Memorial & Museum within reach.

Alternative Options in New York

If you have the energy (and time) you can also venture onto the Brooklyn Bridge and walk across to DUMBO, Brooklyn.

The area is a little more open here than on the rest of the island (apart from Central Park) so it’s another potential base to consider if you’re looking for somewhere to stay as a family.

But in essence, almost anywhere will be fine. The travel distances aren’t too great. But Midtown makes those top attractions easier, with a detour south for a few key highlights.

After that first visit? Well, then there’s plenty to talk about and lots of unusual things to see and do. Which I shall write more about soon ;-)

Until then, enjoy some of the best photos spots in New York over here.


How to Escape the Grid in New York City

For a longer walk without the regular breaks in the sidewalk, you may enjoy:

The High Line

Running above Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, the High Line is a 1.45 mile former rail track that’s now a kind of open-air museum. Gives a really different view of the city.

Central Park

It is possible to walk the length of Central Park but it is longer than your average park, running from 59th to 110th Street. You have been warned!

The Hudson River Park

You can walk with the Hudson River on your side between Battery Place and West 59th and marvel at how residents try to be green in the concrete jungle.

Originally from Inside the Travel Lab.

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Visiting Aerospace Bristol: Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

It’s a familiar scene from a nostalgic age: vintage suitcases stacked one atop the other, one at a nonchalant angle to symbolise our dreams of travelling the world.

What makes these suitcases different are the seats just above: separated by the thinnest of metal layers and topped with thin carpet and studded lights.

This isn’t art; it’s a slice through the fuselage of a commercial passenger plane.

And the fragility of this reality forces me to stop, inhale, and stare.

Aerospace Bristol: A New Museum and Last Home for Concorde

I’m standing in hangar one of Aerospace Bristol, my littlest travel companion scurrying ahead of me.

The place opened in 2017 and given my love of all things travel, not to mention half my family working within the aviation industry, I’d been itching to get in and have a look around.

Its location doesn’t make much sense for tourists, around seven miles out of town, but in aviation terms, it makes sense to be close to Filton airfield.

It’s celebrated for hosting Concorde’s final landing, but, as hangar one explains, Filton itself has been heavily involved in aviation since the pre-War days of 1910.

Biplanes, Harrier Jump Jets…Concorde?

We walk and toddle past biplanes, a Harrier jump jet and other impressive-looking pieces of kit. Despite my days spent studying Double Maths, I feel ever so slightly out of my depth.

Baby lab is undeterred, thrilling in the freedom of a flat floor with safe boundaries. The sheer size of the exhibits also spares everyone the “don’t touch” routine and her little toddling feet dance with a freedom that mirrors mankind’s desire to take to the skies in the first place.

For me, though, with an eye on the time, I’m here to meet Concorde.

Duty propels me to try my best with the rest but my eyes flicker back and forth, back and forth. I’m furtively seeking the sleek white wings of the fastest commercial airliner in the world.

Until I see the suitcases.

Interested in aviation history?

Don’t miss this article on the Hiroshima flight from Utah. 

Safe To Fly?

It’s a brilliantly simple idea: cut through a plane, show people what it’s like.

It’s at once familiar – and at the same time, very, very strange.

It’s so… gaspingly thin and insubstantial. And those aren’t the kind of words you want to hear when it comes to matters like airport safety.

I must have sat on seats like that, trodden over the carpet and fumbled around with the safety briefing on a plane like this hundreds upon hundreds of times.

Knowing, yet never knowing, how little separated me from the wing, the luggage, and, well, the hard surface of the ground.

At sea level. Never mind at thirty thousand feet in the sky.

Ach, well. It’s not going to stop me now. Air travel is the safest form of travel.

Right? Rinse and repeat in my head. Air travel is the safest form of travel… The safest form of travel…

And then it’s time.

Boarding Concorde at Aerospace Bristol

We walk across the tarmac in the golden winter sun, the Top Gun theme tune blazing through, ahem, my mind.

Boarding tickets checked, we are ushered through the doors.

And there she is.

Simply there. Tall, proud, sleek, long, white and quite, quite beautiful.

I’m not usually one to coo over cold machinery but the story of Concorde is one to melt a robot’s icy heart.

As a turbojet powered supersonic passenger airliner, Concorde made a splash in the history books (even though you wouldn’t have heard it until after it had gone.)

It was one of only two supersonic passenger planes ever developed (the Russian Tupolev Tu-144 was the other one) with a maximum airspeed of more than twice the speed of sound. That’s Mach 2.04 or 1,354 mph or 2,180 km/h depending on your currency of choice.

Yet the human element of the story is just as captivating.

Concorde: A Twin Dream

Concorde was a twin endeavour between two nations with centuries upon centuries of strife. The name itself signifies harmony, friendship and partnership, although ironically the language used became an obstacle in its own right.

This joint endeavour between the UK and France produced the first ever supersonic passenger flight in 1969, picking up customers in 1976 and continuing to whizz folk about the earth until its final flight, which landed here in Filton, in 2003.

And how did I hear about most of these facts?

Through a rather impressive sound and light show played on the side of Concorde herself.

The rest of the museum indulges in both the fashion and the fame of Concorde.

Celebrity photos, cabin crew uniforms and champagne bottles catalogue her jet set life but the highlight comes from stepping aboard the plane herself.

It’s narrower inside than I would have imagined, the cockpit crammed with dials, switches and sliders like the shelves of an old-fashioned sweet shop.

Along with a pilot and co-pilot, Concorde required a full time Flight Engineer to enable the plane to fly. As shocking as this sounds now, this, of course, was how most planes used to fly. There was just too much information for one person to keep track of during a flight.

Today, though, autopilot is just a way of life instead of just a phrase and the very thought of flying without it seems outdated.

In fact, that’s perhaps the most surprising thing of all, to see how material from the early naughties already looks primed to be in a museum.

Not that any of this deep thinking troubles baby Lab? She just merrily toddles on.

Born Into a World of Autopilot

At the tender age of 15 months, she has already been on board Concorde, even if it’s one that will never fly.

To her, planes will always have autopilot and for all I know by the time she reaches my age, Concorde will seem more like Bristol’s other engineering masterpiece, the SS Great Britain. A relic from a far forgotten age.

For her, perhaps supersonic flight will be the norm, or perhaps an entirely new way of getting around will have by then have been found.

She will look upon that cross section of the plane as I did the berths on the ship and wonder just how people managed to put up with the cramped conditions in order to get from A to B.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Right here, right now, we’re in the presence of Concorde, surrounded by volunteers who love her.

Goodbye Concorde Alpha Foxtrot, the last Concorde to be built and the last to fly.

I love the spirit of exploration, design and friendship that you embodied and it’s been my absolute pleasure to be able to visit and get to know you.

Until the next invention,

How to Visit Aerospace Bristol

It’s easiest to get here by car, either as a quick detour from the M4 or as part of a city break in Bristol. The pretty, gritty, hilly city of Bristol is a great place for a weekend break, with many different flavours, and I WILL write up more about that soon. So check back for more tips.

Aerospace Bristol is very accessible, with ramps and lifts and a cafe half way through the museum for refreshments and a rest. However, it does involve a fair amount of walking through hangar one. To see Concorde only would involve less time on your feet.

Tickets can be booked online for “speedy boarding,” although you can drop in as well.

Aerospace Bristol Ticket Prices 2018
  • Adult (Age 18 and over): £15
  • Child (Age 4 – 17): £8
  • Senior (Age 65+): £13
  • Student (With valid student ID): £13
  • Child (Age under 4): FREE
  • Dedicated carers (accompanying a paying visitor who is disabled): FREE
  • Family of 4 (2 adults & 2 children): £39
  • Family of 3 (1 adult & 2 children): £26
  • Grand family of 4 (2 seniors & 2 children): £36
  • Grand family of 3 (1 senior & 2 children): £24.50
  • Extra child (Age 4 – 17): £7
    Add an extra child to your family ticket
Aerospace Bristol Opening Times

Aerospace Bristol is open 7 days a week, including Bank Holidays, except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.*


From 26 February 2018: 10am – 5pm
Last entry: 4pm (one hour before closing)


Disclosure – I visited Aerospace Bristol using a media pass, which allows complimentary entry for review purposes. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like and chose my own itinerary.

So what do you think? Would you like to visit Concorde? Would you have ever flown on her?

Originally from Inside the Travel Lab.

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Travel apps can simplify your life but they can also be gimmicky, clunky and clog up your phone. Here’s a tried and thoroughly tested list of the best travel apps out there.

The World Before Travel Apps

It’s hard to believe that when I started travelling, not only did we not have apps but we barely had mobile phones. Paper was the name of the game: books, maps and waiting to get paper tickets through the post.

Now, you can hold the entire philosophical works of mankind in the palm of your hand as long as you’ve a power supply and an internet connection.

A train timetable or two is useful as well.

I’m often asked what’s the one thing that I’d never travel without and these days the answer has to be my phone.

Why? Because it’s a sneaky way to take plenty of things with you, to organise your travels and to keep you vaguely sane through the inevitable lost luggage and delayed flights events.

Rigorously Tested List of Travel Apps

I’ve been keeping this list of best travel apps for years, and with the arrival of a new year it’s time to take a fresh look. Which apps still deserve their place on the list? And which have fallen from favour.

Ah, the intoxicating power rush of it all ;-)

But in all seriousness, here are the travel apps that I actually use, all the time. And that’s what makes them, in my mind, the best travel apps out there.

Hope you find this useful – and happy travels!

Anything I’ve missed? Pop it in the comments below…

7 of the Best Travel Apps
1) The Best Travel App for Organising Travel Documents: Evernote

Look at any list of the best travel apps and you’ll see plenty of pretty things that claim to organise your trip documents for you. However, though the software is good, I haven’t found one that’s quite there yet.

And there’s no point in having something that kind of organises most of your important travel documents. Probably.

It needs to be reliable: and that’s where I would recommend Evernote.

It May Not Be Pretty But It Is Useful

Unlike the others, it doesn’t claim to target travellers and it doesn’t even look that pretty.

What it does do is let you organise stuff. Easily.

I luse Evernote for all sorts of different tasks.

Essentially, it consists of notebooks with notes that can be in photo, text or audio form.

Notebooks can be available offline and you can send information into Evernote by email, screenshot and photo while on the road.

Hotel reservations? Email straight to Evernote. Airline tickets > Evernote. Backup copy of passport, driving license and the state of the car you hired when you picked it up? Evernote, evernote, evernote.

Automatic Geolocation and Text Scanning

What’s more, it stores geolocation info as you add notes on the move.

So if you are in a city and see something you want to come back to, you can add an audio note there and then and it will store the point on the map for you. Or say you discover a bottle of wine you enjoy? Take a snapshot of the label and you can search the text in Evernote when you get home. Genius.

2) The Best Travel App for Finding Flights: Skyscanner

If the time I spent on Skyscanner converted into time spent at the gym, I’d be a contender for an Olympic medal by now.

Unlike so many other competitors, Skyscanner allows you to search for flights on a flexible basis.

Coming back a different way? No problem.

Want to know where you can fly from an airport? That’s easy. Want to change your dates or simply find the cheapest day to fly? Done, done and done.

The app then takes you to the airline’s website so you can book over there – and typically, you don’t need to enter the information again. Brilliant.

3) The Best Travel App for Last Minute Stays: Hotel Tonight

I use a broad smorgasbord of websites when it comes to looking for and booking hotel stays but when time is tight, Hotel Tonight is my go to every time.

It is so EASY to use and it let’s you search for hotels not just for tonight but also for the next few days.

Apparently half of all hotel bookings occur within the seven days before the stay, so I’m not (ahem) the only last minute merchant out there.

4) The Best Travel App Concierge: Fancy Hands

Again, I’ve tried and tested so many concierge or assistant apps but the non-travel focused Fancy Hands remains the clear winner.

You can submit tasks by email, text, or audio and one of a faceless team of assistants will deal with your query, 24 hours a day. Each task is allocated 20 minutes – if it takes them longer than that then they will ask if you want to use another task. They can make phone calls on your behalf and make purchases on your credit card (with agreement) to a value of up to 200 USD.

Perfect for trip research, reporting delays, finding alternative routes, buying tickets and searching for parking options while you drive around. The list is so long I should probably write another post about it.

5) The Best Travel App for Reading Articles Offline: Pocket

I’m at the stage when I can hardly remember how my life used to function before I found Pocket. Enter the URL of a web page into Pocket and it will store the article and pictures there for you so that you can read it offline. Perfect for loading up with travel articles and background reading for any train or plane journey en route to your destination.

6) The Best Travel App to Avoid Jetlag: Sleepstream

I’ve written about Sleepstream before, over here on How to Sleep on a Plane.

Essentially, sleep doesn’t come easily to me and I only wish I’d discovered this app back when I was a tired and harried junior doctor changing shifts every other day. Sleepstream plays a variety of soothing soundtracks to drown out the background noise of crying babies, outside roadworks, chattering passengers and so on. (Obviously, don’t use it to drown out the sound of your own crying baby.)

You can even put it on a timer to prevent all your battery juice draining away. A real sanity saver.

7) The Best Travel App for Spending Well: Xe Currency

Yes, we should all remember to look up the exchange rate in advance and we should all be able to perform simple sums in our heads. But…Well, we should all be able to cook our own food too and that doesn’t stop us from going out to restaurants…(In case that was too cryptic, Xe currency does all the currency brainwork for you.)

8) The Best Travel App for Reading All Those Books You Meant to Read: iBooks & Kindle

I alluded to this at the start, but really. I am still amazed by this. You can have almost any book in the world available to read on your phone. No heavy hardbacks, no time-consuming choice (this always used to slow me down in the bad old packing days.) No having to leave books behind in order to fit in souvenirs/accommodate the confusing law of physics that says that somehow-the-same-pile-of-stuff-will-never-fit-back-into-your-suitcase-the-way-it-did-when-you-first-packed-it-at-home.

9) The Best Travel App for Getting Around: Google Maps

I won’t win any awards for originality here but Google Maps remains the best in my mind. If you haven’t tried it for a while, it now offers you transport routes across cities too and in about 20 routes across London, it’s got it right every time. Just enter where you want to go, filter how you want to get there, and you’re off.

Just book after book at your fingertips, on your phone.

Travel Apps That Almost Made the List – Maybe Next Year?
The Best Travel App for Managing Business Expenses: Receipts by Wave

OK, so the only reason this didn’t make the list is because it’s only really useful for business travellers, not everyone. But it has changed my accounting life by syncing up to the (free) online tool which lets you create flexible reports when you get back home.

Snap a pic while on the road and you can remember what those cyrillic words on the receipt represent.

January and tax time becomes far less painful…

The Best Travel App for Getting Off the Beaten Track: Spotted by Locals

I love these guys and the work they do. Over 67 cities now have their own Spotted by Locals entry, an offline guide with unusual points of interest and places to eat and drink that skip the tourist crowds. I’ve used them in off the radar places like Sophia in Bulgaria as well as possibly the most visited place on earth: Rome.

So why don’t they make the top list? Just because of the 67 cities. Once you cover the world, guys, your’e in ;-)

The Best Travel App for a Daytime Snooze: Dayuse.com

This app claims to let you get up to 75% off hotel stays by only staying in the day. Useful in between flights and perhaps for napping children? I haven’t tested it yet, though, and that’s why it didn’t make the list.

So that’s it, that’s my list of the 9 best travel apps. And already I am thinking of more…But before I get to that, what do you think?

What do you think are the best travel apps out there?

** A few of these links earn this website money at no extra cost to you. It helps me to keep the show on the road so thank you for your support! As ever, as always, I only include things I think you’ll genuinely find useful. Otherwise, there’s just no point.

Originally from Inside the Travel Lab.

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Torres del Paine – another example of beautiful ice and snow in Patagonia

Hiking and Ice Climbing in Patagonia

I know before I unzip the tent that I will find ice outside. I know, because there was ice there last night. Ice on the path, ice hanging like swords from the trees  and ice, simply ice, forming the glacier.

Patagonia promised me an adventure and Parque Nacional Los Glaciales delivered.

I joined a small group yesterday, plucked from the simple town of El Calafate, with its lines of wooden cabanas and hotchpotch of people from around the globe. Following our education at the park’s entrance (don’t pee in the streams because everyone drinks from the water) we set off at a pace, striding through pebbled boulders, dark pines and slippery paths.

Our guide, a lean man wearing a T-shirt, didn’t have time for slackers.

“It is too cold to stop,” he said, as an American paused to take a photo. Hibernating beneath fleeces, thermal underwear and a surprisingly itchy hat, I wondered about giving tips on outdoor clothing. In the end I decided against it.

Even he layered up, however, when we reached the glacial stream. The water gushed with unsettling ferocity, a young buck of a river looking to make his mark on the world.

I glanced around for a bridge and realised that the adventure would start earlier than expected. Some well-practiced threading of equipment (on the guide’s part, not mine) suspended a cable across this churning gash in the rocks.

Before I knew it, I was in the harness and clipping on. It’s easier to go first, right?

Crossing a Glacial River

My frozen hands clutched the cable, I stepped towards the torrent, flicked my legs up – and missed.

Never mind. I’d have to make do without. One, two, one two, hand after hand, keep on going. I must be doing this wrong, though. Where the hell did my legs go?

All I can see is the flat sky above and the domineering line of the cable. One, two, one, two. Don’t look down, don’t listen.

That second instruction is impossible. The water drenches my senses, a raging, deafening rampage.

I have a strange flashback to swimming backstroke at school: the sensory deprivation, the rhythmic movement.

My head thuds into a rock.

The pain from not looking where I’m going.

I’ve arrived intact, even if my dignity hasn’t. As I watched the others flail across, lungs sharp with the freshness that only cold air provides, I allowed myself to feel a little proud.

In Patagonia on the ice: wearing crampons

The next day, we needed crampons. It wasn’t my first time (I had all of one day’s experience) but it felt as familiar as strapping cheese graters to my wrists and walking down the street on my hands.

Crampon teeth sink into the ice to offer more security, the base straps on to my boot. Many of the ridges are narrower than my foot. If I fall, it won’t be to ground. It’ll be into that crevasse with its death-blue tinge and promise of an icy coffin.

My bravery at the bridge is soon forgotten.

The British policewoman strides along. The American photographer makes great progress. The guide has all but disappeared.

If I don’t hurry, I’ll lose the safe path and have to fend for myself.

Shaken by Falling and Ice

All I can imagine is falling and I’m shaken, really shaken. I need to focus on something else because this cannot possibly help.

By some miracle, I catch up. We must have finished because aside from this lily pad of ice, a solid glacial wall stretches up, up and up for thirty metres or more

Then the ice axes appear.

“I’ll go first,” I hear someone say and then I realise it was me.  Some part of the tangled miasma that calls itself my brain has responded without my permission. Shamed after the feeble performance on horizontal ice, it suddenly thinks that vertical would be better.

I brace myself. Groin-chafing harness – check. Rope – check. Rudimentary instructions and total lack of experience – check.

Vertical Ice: Bringing out the axe in Patagonia

The technique, as far as I can make out, is to sling each axe into the wall and then kick the foot spears into the ice afterwards. And repeat. Within seconds my lungs burn, my shoulders shriek and my conscious mind tries to concentrate on anything other than the fact that I am clinging to H2O with less than a centimetre of cheap, damaged metal.

This time I really can’t hear anything, except for the crunch, the swish and the slunch of my poorly orchestrated movements.

My toes turn numb and all I can see is the ice. White, sparkling, incandescent ice. But suddenly, my axe finds air, flailing, empty air.

I have arrived. I have climbed the wall.

I look over my shoulder at the insect-like people below, my hands trembling with adrenaline and exertion.

Complete. Conquered. Cowered.

I fall slowly, softly down on the ropes until my feet reach solid ground.

Ground? No, it’s the ice I’m thankful for.

Stunning Hosteria Pehoe in Chile Torres del Paine

How to Arrange Travel in Patagonia

Where is Patagonia?

Patagonia is the southernmost part of Argentina and Chile, named after the legendary Big Foot creatures who roamed here.

There are many different tour companies that can help you arrange a trip to Patagonia. Alternatively, you can travel there independently and just join guided tours when you need ice climbing expertise.

Driving in Patagonia

However, on this occasion, we arranged our flights independently and then hired a car when we arrived (we spent a few days in Buenos Aires first.) Driving is pretty straightforward in Patagonia, the roads are empty with good tarmac and the signs are good.

When is the best time to travel to Patagonia?

The biggest obstacle is the weather. It’s only really a good idea to head to Patagonia between late November and early March. It’s a long way from most English speaking spots so leave yourself at least two weeks to make the most of the area.

How to get your bearings in Patagonia & Patagonian Highlights

El Calafate and Ushuaia serve as the base towns for the wild outdoors. Torres del Paine and Parque Nacional Los Glaciales are outstanding places to spend a few days. The Perito Mereno Glacier also lives within reach of the El Calafate (it’s the glacier with the arch that collapsed that you have probably seen on many an advert about global warming.)

Beyond the ice, there are curious relics of colonial history in the form of Bristolian farms and communities with a rich Welsh heritage.

Where to stay in Patagonia?

Don’t panic, despite this article, you don’t have to camp. There are number of fresh wooden cabanas dotted along Patagonia that feel very luxurious. Don’t miss the beautiful lakeside Hosteria Pehoe in Torres del Paine, beloved of instagram feeds and offering impossibly scenic views.

However, it is worth camping in the parks for at least one night. Nothing beats seeing this world-class landscape as the sun comes up.

So what do you think? Would you like to visit Patagonia? And would you go ice climbing if you did?

Originally from Inside the Travel Lab.

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If words like authentic and off the beaten track delight you, then you’ll love the rustic luxury of Villa Vager in the Peloponnese, Greece.

This Villa Vager Review forms part of a series on The Big Greek Road Hop: Driving the Peloponnese. Find more about exploring this beautiful part of Greece over here. 

Villa Vager Review: Mountainous Greece

High in Arcadia in the foothills of Mount Mainalon, on roads so winding the Sat Nav can’t cope, you’ll find the perfect antidote to over processed coastal Greece: a restored farmhouse and family home surrounded by scented pine.

The stone walls are honeyed and weather worn. The views sweep left and right across olive groves and rocky peaks dotted with fir. And the people who run it, the Vagers of the Villa’s name, are warm, friendly and very much down to earth.

Great for Day Trips Across the Peloponnese

Although the spot seems perfect for a retreat of some kind – there are only nine rooms – the location itself in the middle of the Peloponnese makes it a great base for a series of day trips into ancient beaches and culture.

Head west for Olympia, east to the glittering coast and former Greek capital of Nafplio.

Gorgeous Nafplio in the Peloponnese

It’s only about an hour to the ancient ruins of Mycenae and Mystras to the south, where Byzantine architecture clings to the rocky Mount Taygetos in a gesture of defiance against the concept of vertigo itself.

Then again, you can just stay put in Vitina and exercise your adrenals by zipping around the mountains on a quadbike.

All with a relaxed, home made breakfast kind of affair at the warm and welcoming Villa Vager.

Villa Vager Review: The Vibe

Luxurious converted farmhouse with a warm welcome and a family run feel. Great landscapes and terraces made for drinking coffee and soaking in the sun.

Villa Vager Review: The Rooms

We stayed in the Elatos Suite on the ground floor, a mix of period furniture with designs in relief and modern touches like a fully functioning shower and angular glass lights. Small touches like under floor heating made the stay particularly luxurious, while the desk and wifi meant I was also able to get some work done.

The eight other rooms and suites have similar white and stone walls with lace and patterned fabric touches but some have fireplaces for a real sense of rustic charm.

Villa Vager Review: The Location

On the highest hill in the quiet Greek village of Vitina, a small place with a town square just a short walk away. Despite the remote feel, the roads connect Vitina to several of the main cultural sights of the Peloponnese making Villa Vager a great base for exploring the region.

Just over two hours from Athens and a great base for exploring the cultural sights of the Peloponnese.

Villa Vager Review: The Food

Homemade stone-baked pizza available on site, otherwise it’s a short walk into the village for a range of authentic Greek dishes. Think plenty of souvlaki, feta and wonderfully fresh Mediterranean salads.

Villa Vager Review: Child friendly?

Very much so in the original sense of the phrase: people are very friendly towards children. The steps and layout of the lounge may make it a challenge for mobile toddlers. We had our first bad experience with travel with a baby here as Rosa fell ill with a rash and cried all night long. Awful for her and probably awful for the other guests and owners. The staff were still wonderful and welcoming, though, and an early morning stroll into town saved our sanity while the rhythm of the dawn walk seemed to soothe her.

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Make a Trip to the Peloponnese Happen with Original Travel

Original Travel (020 3582 4990/www.originaltravel.co.uk) offers a week-long holiday to the Peloponnese from £1,120 per person. Pricing includes flights, car hire, three nights at Villa Vager and four nights at The Kinsterna.

Disclosure – we stayed at Villa Vager on a complimentary basis for review purposes. As ever, as always, we kept the right to write what we like, otherwise there’s just no point. We received flight support from Original Travel, a creative company who can arrange bespoke tours through the Peloponnese and beyond.

Read more about driving around the Peloponnese here.

Why not pin now, read later?

Originally from Inside the Travel Lab.

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Whale Watching in Tenerife

For some reason, we often associate with whale watching with far flung destinations or long ocean voyages. But it’s perfectly possible, indeed highly likely, to be able to go whale watching in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, not far from the shore.

Here we talk about whale watching in Tenerife: what it’s like and how you can do it too.

What It’s Like To Go Whale Watching in Tenerife

Pedro Martina’s sun-worn face lights up as he grabs my shoulder and points into the distance.

“Three of them are under the water now,” he says as I scour the shades of blue. “One baby and two adultos… and further behind them I can see two more.”

A Different Kind of Whale Hunting in Tenerife

It’s certainly not the first time Pedro has hunted whales, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him. Despite a seafaring tradition of more than three generations plus hauling tourists along the waves every day, he still wears that expression of childlike wonder.

He’s right, of course, and I stare, mesmerized as sleek-skinned pilot whales rise out of the water. At first glance, they look like giant dolphins, with their glistening dorsal fins, curved leaps and semi-wicked glints in their eyes. Water falls off them like diamonds, yet their chunky body shape suggests that someone got their proportions wrong.

It’s only when we find a school of dolphins half an hour later that the difference becomes clear.

What’s the Difference Between Pilot Whales and Dolphins?

Dolphins are sprightlier, bouncier, faster. They are also much, much smaller.

Pilot Whales, I learn, are 6 metres long at birth and can grow to weigh 3 tons. In a happy change from many whale-related stories, they are not critically endangered, nor even under threat.

The same cannot be said for the fishing business that Pedro grew up with in Puerto de Santiago.

Endangered Fishermen and a Family Tradition

His grandfather practiced line-caught tuna fishing, a dolphin-friendly but backbreaking method of heaving the hulk of a tuna fish onto a small boat by means of a single line. Days started at four in the morning and drove on until eight at night for all but two months of the year. Now that tradition has gone.

“Contamination,” says Pedro, when I ask. “And trawler nets.”

Changing Times in Tenerife

We both gaze across the perfect sky and cliffs that frame the Atlantic Ocean. Would Pedro have preferred to be a fisherman?

He pauses for a moment. “Fishing is hard work, very hard work. It is also very good for the body, good for the form.” He pats his stomach and bellows with laughter.

Seagulls swoop from overhead to snatch food from his crewmate’s outstretched hands.

“We have to change,” Pedro tells me. “Everything has to change. It is typical, it is life.”

He hands me a whale-watching certificate, smiles and then saunters down to encourage the seagulls.

Pedro is the captain of Nashira Uno. The Maritima Acantilados group organizes Whale & Dolphin Cruises from Los Gigantes in Tenerife.


Tel: +34 922 86 19 18

Website: maritimaacantilados.com

Alternative luxury whale watching charters (untested) – http://www.tenerifesailingcharters.com/

When is the best time of year to go whale watching in Tenerife?

Tenerife offers year round chances to spot whales and dolphins.

What is the Tenerife dolphin and whale watching boat trip like?

This is a relaxed, easy-going affair. Bring water, a hat and sunscreen plus any camera equipment you like.

What else is there to do in Tenerife?

Tenerife has fascinating archaeological pyramids, a volcano to climb and incredible beaches to lounge on. Most unusually, it is blessed with beaches where the sand is black. These are usually pretty quiet as the big resorts have built up around the white sand places.

Despite its bad reputation for mass tourism, I found Tenerife to be a place of transcendent beauty and surprise. No, seriously! You just need to know the right place to stay…

Where should I stay in Tenerife?

The chic-est spot is probably the small village of Garachico on the northern coast of the island. I’d recommend the boutique Hotel San Roque, an elegant, historic place bursting with colour, privacy and calm. 

Why not Pin Now, Read Later?

Disclosure – some of the links on this website may earn me some money at no extra cost to you. However, I only recommend places that I would, well, recommend. Otherwise it starts getting a bit weird…

Originally from Inside the Travel Lab.

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Where is hot in February? Please, show me some heat!
Don't despair. Read on to find the best places to go in February for a spot of winter sun.

Yes, I agree. It's been one long, cold and rather dreary January. Perhaps it feels this way because January is always like this. Or perhaps it's because my boiler broke. Or perhaps it's because , let's face it, I usually zoom away to somewhere warm when the colder weather wanders into town and this year I haven't (I know, sniff, poor old me, life of woe etc.)

Whatever the reason. It's not about me. It's about January.

But you know what wintery J-month? Soon, it will be February.

Haha, yes, February. That short, bouncy month that treats itself to the occasional leap year and which... wait... which is STILL COLD in the northern hemisphere. 

Darn it. (And the rest.)

But this time we're prepared, people. This time we are drawing up a list in advance. 

And this time, you will know the answer to the question: where is hot in February?

The answer is here...

Psst - and just in case you aren't too bothered about the sun, check out this more wide-ranging guide on the best places to travel in February 2018.

Where is hot in February? The Top 10 Places Right Here
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    The Grenadines
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    Florida Keys, USA
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    British Virgin Islands
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Read About February's Hot Spots

A list is all well and good but you need detail in order to make a good decision, right?

Here's an ever so brief summary of the top ten but do click on the links and photos to read more about each spot.  Happy travels!

What about travel to the Caribbean and hurricane damage?

Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit some parts of the Caribbean hard. But some were completely unaffected and others are back in full swing already. 

Each Caribbean destination included here should be open for business but if you're at all in doubt, check out this brilliant resource from Travel Weekly.

Where's hot in February?
Barbados in February

Easy direct flights from the UK with a range of luxury and uber-luxe accommodation. Check out where on the island you are staying as some beaches are windy, rocky and even resemble Scotland (no, this is not a joke. ) 

Barbados is one of the big fish in the Caribbean with plenty to do outside the resorts. Or, of course, you can just lie back in the sun.

Oman in February

Oman remains one of my favourite countries in the world for its unspoiled landscape and friendly welcome. Expect beautiful beaches with warm seas although the sand isn't always that white. 

Hire a car and head into the desert, pass camels, pick dates and wander around cool, cream castles and crowded souks. Stay at one of my favourite hotels in the world: The Chedi in Muscat. 

St Vincent and the Grenadines in February

Smaller and more scattered than Jamaica and Barbados, SVG is still no stranger to liming (having a good time.)

But that's what makes it special. The pace is slower, your presence more traveller, less commodity.

You'll need to travel in a smaller plane, typically changing at Barbados to reach SVG. February is usually warm and one of the driest months on the islands. 

Jordan in February

The year round heat of the Middle East just about lingers on the coast at Aqaba and the Dead Sea but nights in Amman, Petra and the desert can be cold, cold, cold. So... know before you go. Bear in mind that summer at these sites can be stiflingly hot so if you want some sunshine on the coast but don't want to sleep beneath the stars then this could be the time to go for you to visit Jordan.

Florida Keys in February

Miami and the Keys are still warm in February but not quite as hot and humid as they'll be later in the year. Miami offers chic, beachside hotels and clubs while hire a car and drive virtually on the water to reach the most colourful key of all: Key West.

Borneo in February

Malaysian Borneo offers up plenty of activities beyond its perfectly pristine beaches (white sand - check, clear blue water, check, palms, oh yes.) 

For Borneo is home to the endangered orangutan, Mount Kinabalu and a monkey with the most curious looking nose you have ever seen. 

Cuba in February

Cuba offers balmy evenings and comfortable days in its intoxicating capital, Havana. Listen out for salsa and son, drink rum, watch old cars drive by and ruminate on the events that made this Caribbean island so different to all the rest. 

Thailand in February

Both January and February see the lowest rainfall in Thailand with a rich mix of cultural and beach-lazing activities available on both the west and east coasts. Flights into Bangkok are regular and easy or alternatively you can fly direct to the resorts if all you are looking for this February is sun. 

Singapore in February

This compact city-state offers sunshine all year round but in February the showers are easing off and it's not TOO hot just yet either. Combine colonial architecture with blinging spaceship hotels and artificial trees with remote island treks. Far from off the beaten track, you'll find plenty of things to do in Singapore.

Aruba in February

Aruba offers a different Caribbean experience to the others on the list so far. Instead of lush and green, she wears her colours red and rusty. Aruba has frequent connections to Amsterdam and the US and well developed hotels along her coastline. She also features the cute little boutique Boardwalk Hotel, a Pelican Beach and some mysterious cave paintings found in a rocky park. 

What About Winter Sun in Europe?

Ah, I hate to be a heart-breaker but it's simply not guaranteed. I've had some glorious sunshine days in France, Germany and even the UK but nothing even remotely approaching reliable heat, even when I lived in Seville, Europe's hottest city.

However. If you're feeling optimistic then the best bets include the Canary Islands (they are beautiful if you stay away from the crowds) and Malta.

Good luck! And may the sun dance be with you (though probably not Butch Cassidy or the kid.)

Disclosure - I have visited some of these countries and cities with assistance from local tourist boards or hotels. However, none of them had any input into this list of where's hot in February. I always keep the right to write what I like here on the lab. Otherwise there's just no point.

Warning - also, guys, the temperature recommendations are a guide, not gospel. Different areas of a country may have different weather so do check out in detail the forecast for the region you plan to visit. Common sense stuff really. Happy travels!

What have I missed? Where do you think is hot in February?

Originally from Inside the Travel Lab.

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One of the most interesting parts of this job involves heading behind the scenes and talking to people about what they do. Formula One Race Engineers, Underwater Photographers. Even, poignantly, a survivor from the Nagasaki Atom Bomb drop.

But today I’m talking to the experts at Adobe about travel technology and where it’s taking us.

What does the future hold for virtual travel? Augmented travel? Personalised advertising, travel apps, itineraries and who knows what about you?

These travel tech experts are the people who know where we’re going before we do.

And if we’re lost, they already know where we are.

The Digital Travel Explosion: Talking with Adobe

As someone old enough to remember paper maps, the digital tech explosion dazzles with a mix of suspicion, wonder and awe.

I still write for paper magazines. I earn a living through this blog. I delve and dabble into every social media network and thrive on surfing the whole travel tech wave.

So when Adobe invited me to consult on the consumer side of the subject, it seemed a natural fit.

At their futuristic London Shoreditch offices and over a series of six interviews, we discussed and exchanged ideas on how technology, travel and advertising intersect.

How do travel companies decide which hotels to show you instead of the person clicking next to you?

Where and how do those adverts follow you around the web?

When are these practices helpful – and when are they simply annoying?

The answers to these questions, and more, evolved over the six separate interviews.

On the interview couch at Adobe…

Virtual and Augmented Reality in Travel

Today marks the launch of the first video interview, which you can find over here with Vijay Gupta, the Head of Product & Industry Marketing at Adobe.

We talk about how virtual reality is transforming travel and then move on to consider augmented reality as well. What is the difference I hear you ask?

Put simply, virtual reality doesn’t involve travel. It tends to involve wearing headsets and visors and staying in one place.

Augmented reality is different. One small example would be holding up your smartphone to a landmark while travelling. Augmented reality means that the phone would add in an overlay to tell you what the landmark is or what else is close by.

Beyond AR and VR, the technology that underpins travel marketing is phenomenal.

As travellers or consumers, what do we need to be wary of? What can we look forward to?

How much privacy are we happy to give away in exchange for better, easier, faster service?

And what is it that makes that service good in the first place?

Some of the “future” trends are here already, as voice activated commands become more commonplace through Amazon Echo and Siri.

Or, as Vijay says, it’s the removal of one more barrier.

Imagine talking in a different language while travelling – when your phone can keep up with the task of translating and does so through speech.

That would be amazing.

I think.

Travel Tech for Travellers

It’s focused, travel tech stuff. So if you’re just here to look for inspiration for your next trip away then you may prefer this handy guide to the Best Places to Travel in February 2018.

But if, like me, you’re curious about the power and decisions that lie behind this industry that’s arguably the biggest in the world…well, tune in for each of the instalments.

I certainly learned a lot. I hope you do too.

What do you think about the future of travel technology? Do you like the advances you see? Or do you find some of it creepy?

Disclosure: Adobe hired me to conduct these interviews and talk about these subjects. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write and say what I like. Otherwise, what is the point?!

Originally from Inside the Travel Lab.

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Avery Island Louisiana

Avery Island Louisiana gets people guessing from the start.

First, it’s not an island, at least not in the conventional sense.

It’s a 2.5 mile wide peak of salt that rises, island-like, from the surrounding swamps and bayous of the Deep American South, awash with marshmallow plants, alligators and azaleas.

Second, the mash of the chilli plants grown here are famous the world over.

For Avery Island Louisiana is the home of the Tabasco factory: responsible for the most famous hot pepper sauce in the world.

Visiting the Tabasco Factory on Avery Island Louisiana

Today, the Tabasco Factory runs a slick operation beneath the green-fringed Louisiana sun. Tabasco bottles line up for photo ops while glassy miniatures wait in the gift shop. Avery Island gumbo comes with a punnet of six spiced Tabasco versions.

And if hot sauce golf bags, key rings and clothes are all that’s been missing in your life then you’ll find it all here, beneath a giant Stars and Stripes.

But the story of Tabasco itself, found through sultry greenhouses, barrel stores and whirring production lines, tells a more universal – and intriguing – one.

It talks about the mystery that is the secret to success.

Tabasco and the Secret to Success

Today, Tabasco retails in over 185 countries, in over 20 languages and dialects and has even appeared in the world of James Bond. The business generates over $100 million dollars each year – and every single bottle is filled in the Tabasco Factory here on Avery Island Louisiana.

Yet, the story began back in 1868 with a young man who had lost everything in America’s Civil War.

Edmund McIlhenny dreamed of putting “a bottle of Tabasco on every table” and he and his heirs have arguably achieved just that.

The recipe is largely unchanged (a mash of capsicum frutescens pepper aged, strained and mixed with vinegar and local rock salt) and the bottle reads like a history book.

But how did McIlhenny do it?

Why this hot sauce, why here?

Why was Tabasco so successful?

Was it his business partner, the less well known John. C. Henshaw, who opened up sales to the prosperous north east?

Was it the company’s devotion to family, with a 5th generation CEO today?

Or was it the company’s approach to marketing and embracing new technology while keeping the basics of the product the same?

The first ever newspaper advertisement in New Orleans in 1869 was for Tabasco.

They made an early move to radio. And were one of the first food companies to get online.

And then there was that pioneering product placement involving The Man with the Golden Gun.

Yet the shape of the bottle, forged from recycled cologne in the post-war years, and its design have barely changed at all. A green top replaces the wax seal but the key details on the name stamp remain the same: Tabasco, Avery Island, McIlhenny.

Is the secret to success simply committing to one thing and then trying any and everything to make that thing work?

And when it comes to earning a living through our own creativity, does it pay to create different works or to focus on one thing and one thing only and market the hell out of that?


That’s a lot of introspection to wrangle out of a Louisiana hot sauce tour.

But the Tabasco Factory seems to invite thought, time, reflection.

Visiting Avery Island Jungle Gardens: A Safari Rather than a Garden

And if you didn’t get that side of things during the bright blaze of the factory, the neighbouring Jungle Gardens provide a soothing journey through Avery Island Louisiana.

Along the self-drive safari, the water ripples, the sun slides by.

Even the alligators seem languid, lovely even, as the wheels roll over tarmac in this semi-tropical garden. One hundred and seventy acres of the Louisiana state: wild and free yet also dotted with McIlhenny’s ancestors eco-passion projects.

Buddhist statues, wild deer, bamboo and live oaks stretch along the Bayou Petite Anse, home to the world’s largest collection of camellias.

Birdwatchers can look out for roseate spoonbills, white ibises and the occasional great blue heron in this sanctuary that attracts terns and blue-winged teals.

But it’s the snowy egrets that dominate this part of Avery Island Louisiana: the result of a McIlhenny bid to save the birds from extinction when fashion found their feathers fruitful for female hats.

And for all the reflection on what underpins the secret of success, perhaps the better point lives among the egrets.

It’s not so much the reach of success; it’s what you do with it that counts.

How to Visit the Tabasco Factory and Jungle Gardens on Avery Island Louisiana

Avery Island to New Orleans: can I visit Avery Island as a day trip?

Avery Island Louisiana is a two hour drive from New Orleans so can be done in an ambitious day trip from the city. Alternatively, weave it into a road trip through Louisiana and visit nearby Lafayette and learn all about Cajun history. Read more about our road trip through Louisiana with Hertz over here.

How long should I spend at the Tabasco factory on Avery Island?

The weather is hot here and there’s plenty to do. I’d suggest a morning visiting the Tabasco Factory and the afternoon driving around the Jungle Gardens (it makes sense to have a car here – you won’t be allowed to walk through because of the alligators.)

Shelter from the sun over lunch; the cafe offers a surprisingly decent range of Cajun classics like gumbo.

And of course plenty of Tabasco.

Both the Tabasco Factory and Avery Island are open all year round but, as ever, double check the details before you set off. And the best place to do that is on the website itself: how to visit Avery Island.

Avery Island Things To Do

Obviously, the Tabasco Factory tops the list for things to do on Avery Island but don’t miss driving around the Jungle Gardens.

Nearby attractions include the living museum of Acadian history at Vermilionville and the arts centre of the closest city of Lafayette. 

Disclosure – I travelled through Louisiana with assistance from Flight Centre, Hertz UK, Louisiana Travel and TTM World. As ever as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, what is the point?!

Originally from Inside the Travel Lab.

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When it comes to putting together a list of the best travel movies, which should make the cut?

Should it include movies like Eat, Pray, Love or Into the Wild where the protagonist is largely, well, travelling as a traveller?

Or should it include movies that focus on a sense of place first and foremost, like the beautifully shot love letter to Japan that is Lost in Translation?

Then again, should travel be incidental to the whole thing, with an exciting plot carrying us forwards through stunning scenery that as a byproduct makes us want to travel somewhere?

I’m thinking of the golden fields in Gladiator or pretty much any James Bond movie when it comes to that.

Putting Together a List of the Best Travel Movies

Today’s blog post comes as part of a partnership with Travel Republic, who have chosen a slightly different theme: the concept of paradise and where you can find it.

Or to put it another way: they have curated a list of beautiful movies and sourced where you can find the locations themselves (and if you’re curious, you can find it over here. It’s a good one, with scenes from Gladiator, The Beach and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin among others.)

But what about that best travel movies list?

I travel a lot. I watch a lot of films (ach, slipped into my Britishness there. Movies still doesn’t quite sound right to me but I’m working on it!)

Largely, I combine the two: watching a lot of travel movies while I’m actually travelling. Mostly on flights but occasionally, these days, downloaded onto my phone.

So. I thought I’d reflect on those films that inspired me to travel. Or that helped to put the places I visited into a deeper context.

And then, for fun, I thought I’d put together a list of the worst travel movies of all time. The ones that make you want to run for the hills and never return.

So here goes.

Let me know what you think!

The Best Travel Movies to Inspire Wanderlust – and Think More About a Place and Its People
Volver – Spain

This curious exploration of women’s lives in and around Madrid opens with an unpromising start: the cleaning of graveyards while the wind whips around. However, its colourful, kooky and characterful depiction of village life away from the tourist sites brings a deeper perspective to travel in Spain. 

Lost in Translation – Japan

While the book Wild Swans fuelled my desire to visit China, like many, it was Lost in Translation that opened my eyes to travel in Japan all those years ago.

The film captures the sense of disorientation beautifully, as well as leaving you with a ridiculous desire to don a pink wig and sing karaoke (or was that just me?!)

The shops above the Shinjuku crossing in Tokyo now have lines of tourists queuing to try to get the same shot.

And while the viewpoint is from the “outsider” rather than from locals, the way it’s shot is so authentic that I’ll let it into this list…just.

Schindler’s List – Poland

Wait, what?!

Yes, I know. Obviously this isn’t a film about the beauty of Krakow. It’s about the opposite.

BUT it brings to life this period of history in a profound way. While a visit to Auschwitz is memorable in its horror, more unsettling still is recognising the street scenes of Krakow from the film Schindler’s List.

To my mind, it’s the slow, early path towards genocide that we need to be vigilant for, before things get too difficult to stop.

Plus, seeing the white curve of Schindler’s Factory in the film provides that brief sense of hope when you recognise it on the ground.

Quantum of Solace – Austria

Yes, OK, so the film itself isn’t the strongest of the Bond offerings…

But it does highlight the amazing floating opera festival in Bregenz, Austria, as Daniel Craig dangles over an iris in the open air.

Bregenz itself prides itself on its arts scene and natural scenery (it sits on the edge of the 63 km long Lake Constance or Bodensee) yet is still rather unappreciated by the world at large. This film goes some way towards fixing that.

The Worst Travel Movies – A Case of Unfair Representation
Trainspotting – Edinburgh

Never has Scotland looked more unwelcoming. Brutal, ugly, terrifying. But surprisingly warm.

Ignore, ignore, ignore and travel there anyway! There are plenty of other things to do in Edinburgh. 

Black Swan – New York

Grey, grim and with mirrors following you around in a skin-peeling frenzy.

Happily, you can avoid all that and enjoy these iconic spots in New York instead.

Skyfall – Japan

The curious abandoned city of Gunkanjima near Nagasaki makes for our villain’s lair in another Bond travelling extravaganza.

While it’s not a cosy place to visit, you won’t be made to shoot anyone in the head and the nearby Nagasaki is an exciting, friendly, interesting place. Go there!

Deliverance – Rural USA

Yikes! Kids, if you haven’t seen this classic, make sure you have not a single outdoor plan afoot for at least a year. And stay away from banjos.

Luckily, you can head kayaking in Alaska instead and swap people for cheeky seals.

What do you think? Which are the best travel movies of all time? And which are, well, the worst?!

Disclosure – 

This post was put together as part of a partnership with Travel Republic. As ever, as always, we keep the right what we like here on Inside the Travel Lab. Life’s just too short to do anything else!

Originally from Inside the Travel Lab.

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