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Maya Bay, ‘the Beach’ that was made famous in the 2000 movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio and has since seen a phenomenal surge in tourism as a result, is finally being closed off to tourists as of June 2018 because of environmental concerns.

The beach that sparked the inspiration for thousands of gap years might be closing.

According to various sources, Thai authorities have finally decided to act after decades of overtourism has almost irreversibly damaged or destroyed a lot of the natural coral and surrounding environment in Maya Bay on the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi Leh.

This surprising move comes after almost a decade of travellers – myself included – and environmental experts who have seen the sheer growth in unsustainable tourism to the tiny beach over the years have been calling for authorities to take action. But as always in Thailand, the right thing is not always given enough priority.

The Beach Scene from the movie The Beach - Maya Bay, Thailand - YouTube
The dream versus the reality.

Any traveller who has visited Maya Bay in recent years all tell the same story of how shocked they are at how crowded it has become.

Over 5000 tourists flock there every single day, and the dream of recreating the idyllic scene in the movie ‘The Beach’ is destroyed when they see hordes of package tourists standing shoulder to shoulder on the entire stretch of once pristine sand, litter everywhere and whole flotillas of tourist boats from resorts on Phi Phi and Phuket filling the bay.

As a result of that some people have even called for it to be closed off completely.

That in my opinion is a little extreme. Maya Bay is popular for a reason and there is a reason it was chosen for the filming location of The Beach, it is a truly stunning destination and travellers should be able to see it, provided they aren’t causing harm, and that is key.

When the local population, so reliant on tourism as Thailand is, has that tourism taken away, they lose their income and have no incentive to take care of the natural environment that once drew tourists and travellers alike, so closing it off entirely seems counterproductive.

But it does need time to recover and the coral and marine life needs space and time to heal and rejuvinate, and that can only be done if it is closed off for a good portion of time so that the authorities can try and undo decades of damage caused by overtourism.

As a result, closing it off for a limited period seems like the logical and best solution.

A responsible future for Thailand’s islands?

At the moment the ban will only be in place until September 2018, encompassing what is Thailand’s low season, but it is my hope that this is the start of the Thai authorities seeing sense and realising that they have to protect the natural environment that their tourism industry relies on, and I hope that this ban is only the start of a sensible rotation system that allows limited tourists access for a short period every year, leaving the remaining time for the environment to recover.

This way everyone wins. The authorities get their tourism trade, travellers get to experience this unique and stunning destination, and the environment gets looked after and cared for. That is true responsible tourism.

Unfortunately the Thai authorities do not have a good track record in this department, and some are already starting to try and backtrack on the idea, with certain members of the Tourism Authority of Thailand even calling it fake news, but they are considering it apparently according to the same source.

I just hope that they aren’t allowed to once again let greed and mass tourism overrule common sense and responsible tourism practice.

Maya Bay truly is a stunningly beautiful destination, or at least it used to be. This closure – if it actually happens – just ensures it stays that way for future generations to enjoy too.

So what do you think? Should Maya Bay be closed to help repair the coral damage? Do you think the Thai authorities will even go through with it?

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Thailand.

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The Quick Easy Guide To The Best Of Thailand’s Islands.

Three Days In Bangkok.

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Why Thailand is the ultimate first time backpacking destination.

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Packing for your gap year or backpacking trip can be a daunting task, with so many first time travellers taking far too much stuff, and almost nothing of what they actually need! This is a list of some of the essential items that are so useful on any gap year or round the world adventure that most people don’t even think to pack!

Choosing what to pack in your brand new and coveted backpack is an important part of the planning process for your first gap year, and many first time travellers go overboard and pack as much as possible, including half of the stock of their nearest outdoor survival shop! But what most people don’t realise is that you don’t need all those fancy gadgets, you don’t need an entire wardrobe that covers you for every social situation and then some, and you don’t need to completely fill your pack up either!

What you do need however is a few absolutely essential items, some of those very basic everyday things that everyone always forgets about but at some point on their journey will wish they had!  

Small packs of tissues.

You will come across a wide variety of toileting situations when travelling the world, from flooded squat toilets and holes in the ground to doorless toilets and even computerised Skynet enabled wonder machines in Japan. Suffice it to say not all of them will have toilet paper and you really don’t want to be caught short. Just carry a pack with you.

Wet Wipes.

For pretty much the same reason above, but can also be really useful on long overnight buses and trains or extended jungle or desert treks to maintain basic hygiene standards. Don’t be one of those stereotypical stinky hippy backpackers.

Alcohol Hand Gel.

Good hygiene is ultra important to stop yourself picking up the dreaded Delhi belly or any local variant. There are a lot of travel illnesses and diseases that are transmitted by poor hygiene standards and not washing your hands, and you really don’t want to hear about the fecal oral route of transmission! Trust me I’m a nurse! And since it isn’t always possible to wash your hands properly all of the time, this is a good substitute until you can.

First Aid Kit. 

Never underestimate the value of a good – and well stocked – first aid kit. You don’t need too much stuff, especially if you don’t know how to use them, but the basics should always be considered essential. Read here to find out how to pack a professional first aid kit with advice from a qualified travel nurse!

Ear Plugs.

You have no idea how much you will love these things until you are woken up in the bottom bunk by the clumsy fumblings of the couple in the hostel bed above you. You will never get the words ‘not in there you ****er’ out of your head, believe me.

A journal or a notebook and a pen.

I’m a writer, I always have been, and I’m a traditional one at that so I love the tactile feel of traditional good old pen and paper. I use it to constantly scribble down ideas for my next novel on those long layovers or write down my thoughts for the next awesome post on Bemused Backpacker, but even if you aren’t a writer yourself it is still worth bringing one of these along. They are handy to keep a list of all the important phone numbers you will need in the back in case your phone or your wallet goes missing as well as a few scribbled notes for your own makeshift travel journal.

Waterproof bags.

I’m not talking about the waterproof pack liners or stuff sacks you can buy (although I totally recommend those too), I’m talking about the smaller wallet or pocket sized sealable bags. These things are absolute lifesavers in more ways than one, whether you are simply travelling through a really humid envioronment or are plunging yourself into heavy rivers on a jungle trekking adventures, these will ensure your phone or passport and other essentials are kept safe and dry.

Shemagh/Sarong.

This is basically a long piece of cloth with a fancy name, it’s that simple. To be fair most female travellers I have met have carried a variation on this anyway, and they can be used as a scarf in cooler environments, head and neck protection in the blazing sun and even as a small blanket if needed. More importantly they are really useful as head, shoulder or leg covers (as needed) if visiting various religious buildings or sites.

Numerical padlock.

If you are staying on hostels at any point on your travels, and if you are travelling long term on a budget then at some point you will be, then a good padlock will be essential to secure your stuff in the lockers, and no keys means one less thing to lose.

Swiss Army Knife.

Since people in general have an irrational fear of a real knife, these generally have to suffice. This really goes without saying but tools are always useful to have around. Just make sure you don’t keep it in your carry on!

What do you think? Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or please join in the discussion on my Facebook or Twitter pages, and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons and spread the word.

If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Backpacker Glossary: Get Used To The Lingo.

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What You Should Consider Before You Start Planning Your Gap Year.

What To Pack.

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Ireland’s Ancient East is full of sites that are just filled with ancient legend and folklore, and here are just ten of the top things to see that are unmissable stops on your journey through Ireland’s mythical past.

Ireland’s Ancient East is not a simple route that you can follow or a specific geographic area like the Wild Atlantic Way. It is much, much more than that. Ireland’s Ancient East is a meandering, labyrinthine descent into Ireland’s history, an exploration through the rich tapestry of myth, legend and folklore that add to the mystique and the experience of the places you visit. So don’t just turn up to these sites, take a photo of the pretty castle and move on. Listen to the storytellers. Take heed of the tales. Learn the fables and the stories behind the places you are visiting and you will get far more out of your experience than just a simple Instagram selfie.

The Rock Of Cashel.

The rock of Cashel is a collection of three impressive ancient buildings, the 10th century round tower and Cormac’s Chapel, and the 11th Century Cathedral, making this a site of significant historical and archaeological interest, but it is the myth behind the site that really gives it it’s power. Said to have been discarded by the Devil after being slung out of a nearby cave by St Patrick, the Rock of Cashel was the site where St Patrick was said to have converted the King of Munster to Christianity and is said to imbue people with power, power enough to rule Ireland herself. This ancient fable alone has seen warriors, chieftains, princes, kings and even saints fight over it.

Leprechaun cave.

No, I’m not joking. Take a tour with Ireland’s last Leprechaun whisperer in Carlingford and listen to the tales and stories that keep this Irish myth alive. You can even explore a kitsch collection of Leprechaun abodes and artifacts.

Waterford.

Waterford, a city in South East Ireland that is one of Ireland’s oldest medieval cities, started out life as a Viking settlement and has over a thousand years of history, myth and legend within its stone battlements, many of which remain from Norman times.

The Hill of Tara.

The Hill of Tara has been a major ritual site since the Stone Age, is currently an expansive archaeological complex and is one of the most  significant sites of ancient Irish history and mythology. It was considered the political centre of Ireland from the times of the mythological Fir Bolg and Tuatha Dé Danann, later being used by the High Kings of Ireland to hold court. It is associated with the Pagan Goddess Maeve and is even the source of the shamrock becoming the Irish national symbol, after St. Patrick used one here to explain the Holy Trinity to convert the pagans to Christianity .

Newgrange.

Brú na Bóinne is a Neolithic site of worship at Newgrange, a UNESCO heritage site and one of the worlds most significant prehistoric landscapes. Said to predate Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza, it is so old and layered with so many myths that not even the historians and the archaeologists can tell fact from legend. Come here and listen to the legends and stories that attempt to make sense of why the site was built and exactly how it is aligned with the rising sun at the Winter Solstice, a unique phenomenon that fills the inner chamber of the passage tomb with light.

Blarney Castle.

Blarney castle really needs no introduction, this 600 year old castle is perhaps one of Irelands most famous monuments, being home to the Blarney Stone, otherwise known as the Stone of Eloquence. This rock is said to endow anyone who kisses it with the gift of the gab, but the castle itself and it’s grounds is more than worth a day of exploration.

Castletown House.

This grand house is the first example of Palladian style architecture and is of significant architectural history and heritage, but as with all grand houses it is the stories of scandal and impropriety that really makes the grand halls and galleries really come alive.

Trim Castle.

Trim Castle is a large, imposing Anglo – Norman castle at the very edge of the Pale, the small piece of land seized by the Normans and acted as the border to hold back the Gaelic Irish hordes, the barrier between the civilised world and the mystical, frightening world of the pagans,at least in the Anglo Norman perspective. It was even used as a film location for the movie Braveheart!

Wicklow Gaol.

Irish heritage is far more than it’s ancient past, and a visit to Wicklow Gaol gives a horrifying and disturbing glimpse into evil of a purely human making for over two hundred years before the Gaol was closed in 1924. Best visited at Halloween, the ghosts of those who suffered under horrific and brutal conditions are palpable with a definite sense of despair hanging off the grim corridors. There are plenty of stories of flogging, starvation, brutality, murder and suicide to unnerve even the stoniest of hearts.

The Hill of Uisneach.

This hill is far more than the supposed geographical centre of all the provinces,  it is the spiritual heart of Ireland too. The Pagan goddess Eriu, the diety Ireland is named after, is said to be buried under the Aill Na Mireann boulder. As a result there is perhaps a higher concentration of cairns, fairy rings, magical ring forts and other mystical and spiritual sites here than anywhere else in Ireland.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

This article was written in partnership with Ireland’s Ancient East and TBEX. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.

7 Unique Budget Places To Stay In Ireland.

Ireland.

Uncorking The Rebel City In Ireland.

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Quitting your job to travel the world is a dream for many, but the reality isn’t quite as simple as that and there are some careful practicalities to consider if you want to follow that dream. Here are 8 steps you need to take if you want to quit your job to travel.

Quitting everything to travel is a romantic ideal, and it certainly isn’t right for everyone, but if you have taken the decision to say screw you to your boss and travel the world for an undisclosed amount of time then it can be an amazing adventure.

The thing is it really isn’t as simple as just slapping your boss around the back of the head with your resignation letter and happily skipping out of the door.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking the decision to have a gap year or travel the world, in fact for many it is the exact right thing to do, but contrary to popular belief it isn’t as simple as it sounds and it does take careful thought and planning.

Here is how you can plan it right, have everything in place before you go, and make sure that the decision is a good one and doesn’t come back to bite you in the arse later.

REALLY decide if it is right for you.

Look, I’m going to speak plainly here, long term travel really isn’t for everyone, and you know what? That’s okay.

You have obviously read this site and seen how awesome world travel is. You have drooled over impossibly curated photos of tropical paradises on social media and daydreamed of being there yourself. You will have heard the mantra of ‘quit your job and travel the world’ from thousands of obviously lesser sites and the mainstream media who often use it as a trope. You’ve fallen in love with the idea, it’s your dream.

Or is it?

Everyone is different and not everyone will enjoy travelling long term, no matter how much they think they will. Don’t get me wrong, quitting your life to travel is an amazing thing and is also the right thing for many people, but is it right for you? Is it sustainable for you?

Don’t listen to any site that tells you that this is the only way to live your life, that you are missing out if you don’t do it. Don’t be misled into thinking that you need to quit your job to travel endlessly because it isn’t true. There are alternatives where you can still get to travel but live your life at home too.

If you decide that is really what you want, then awesome. You will have a great time doing it. If you decide that maybe just taking a short few months to travel, or taking a snap year once in a while before returning to ‘normal’ life is more for you, then that is great too. You will live just a fulfilling life as those who travel long term.

Travel is awesome and I urge everyone to do it, but do it your way.

Stop thinking of ‘one day’. 

Okay, so you have your dream of world travel and are daydreaming about slapping your bosses around the head with your resignation letter a few times before forcefully ramming it down their ungrateful throats and then setting fire to your desk before storming out to make your departure as dramatic as possible.

Brilliant.

You have what you need to get started on the great gap year journey. The big problem is immediately after this thought you come up with a million excuses to put it off and think maybe tomorrow, or maybe next year.

There is no tomorrow and there is no next year! You keep doing that and it will never happen for you.

The practicalities of organising your trip may mean that you have to wait a little while to get started, but if you start the ball rolling now, then that ‘one day’ will actually come.

Downsize.

You may have loved that DVD collection back in the day and you may have a frankly disturbing attachment to your XBox, but all that crap isn’t going to do you any good when you are rediscovering yourself on the Banana Pancake Trail is it?

It’s time to downsize, sell or store.

Of course getting rid of all your treasured belongings isn’t ideal, so obviously pack up what you want to keep, stick it in storage (often referred to as mum and dads attic), and then sell, donate or get rid of everything else. Hey, some of those funds can pay for some awesome experiences on the road!

Get your bank balance sorted. 

Let’s be honest, you can’t just quit and go and buy a plane ticket if you have no cash and a huge overdraft up to it’s limit. Take however long it takes to save up the money, sacrifice all the little things you don’t really need on a day to day basis (I’m looking at you overpriced coffee and cake from a certain coffee chain) and get that pot of cash behind you that will allow you to follow your dreams. It isn’t the most romantic part of the quit your job dream, but it is the practical side of it and it is possible.

Decide if you want a career break, a sabbatical or a completely clean break.

It may sound like splitting hairs but there are genuinely subtle differences between all these options that can have a huge impact on your life and your career, and which one you choose will depend on the job you are in, the qualifications you have and a whole host of other circumstances.

The easiest options only come when you have certain qualifications or a career that puts you in charge. Highly skilled and highly in demand jobs such as nursing, medicine, engineering, whatever, mean that you can demand a career break, a sabbatical or any length of unpaid leave any time you choose safe in the knowledge that you can waltz back into a job when you come back because well, they need you.

On the other end of the scale low skilled labour jobs do have the same freedom just in a different way. Jobs are always available and there will always be jobs waiting for you when you return, it may just not be the same one.

Other jobs require a little more careful planning. Teaching for example will allow for time off and sabbaticals but may require a specific time for you to leave and return depending on term times. Office jobs, management jobs or anything else may require you to negotiate with your employer which option is best for you both, assuming you want to keep the same job and not move on after you get back.

Either way, depending on your circumstances different options will be better or worse for you at any given time, so think carefully about what you want and then go for it.

What do you do with your home?

This will obviously depend entirely on your own individual circumstances. If you live at home with mum and dad then generally the biggest problem you will have is hoping your dad doesn’t turn your room into a home cinema when you’re gone, but if you rent or even own your own home, then you will have to figure out what you want to do.

Do you want to give up renting and leave? Then you will need to give at least some notice and figure out what to do with your stuff (see above). If you are paying a mortgage then do you want to sell up or rent it out? In which case you’ll either have to deal with the hassles of being a landlord yourself (especially one on another continent) or letting an agency deal with everything for you. Either way it takes time to sort out and you will have to jump through a lot of logistical hoops.

It can be done and is far from impossible, you just have to be prepared for the work it will take.

Consider if you can – or even want to – work on the road.

Your money won’t last forever and many backpackers pad out their savings by working for short stints on the road, whether that is menial labour in hostels or on farms, or whether that is utilising a skill or qualification you have, it can be a great way to extend your travels and even help pad out your CV for when you go home.

Either way you will have to figure out all the logistics of these plans, whether you have the right visas in place or know the right contacts. The time to plan for a lot of this is before you go.

Have a back up plan for when you eventually return. 

This is probably the one thing that no one ever thinks about when they dream of quitting their jobs to travel. What happens when the trip is over or the money runs out? What do you do when you need to return home and want to settle down? What about that career you really want to have as well? What then?

It is romantic to have an air of que sera, sera and leave your fate in the hands of whatever gods you believe in, but it’s not very practical is it?

I have developed an attitude of doing what I want when I want and quitting to travel any time I wish. I am able to do that now, but that is only because I have worked hard to ensure plenty of fail safes to cover myself.

I can quit any time I want as a nurse because I know at my level there will always be work for me. I have different sources of both active and passive income for when I am not in work. I know if I ever do run out of money then finding work to replenish that stock will not be difficult or time consuming.

I am living the dream of complete freedom to travel the world any damn time I choose, because I have ensured that all the downsides are negated and the practicalities are covered.

Of course every circumstance is different and so everyone’s specific plans will be different, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as essential.

I know this goes against the romantic idea of that dream, but believe me if you want to live that dream it is necessary.

I hope this massive bucket of cold water hasn’t doused your dreams too much, because believe me if you want to quit your job to travel the world it is not only possible it is genuinely life changing. For some. All I want to do is inject some practical advice into that dream to make sure that for those travellers who it is right for have the tools and knowledge to make it happen, and for everyone else to make them think that maybe other ways of travelling the world and living their life is for them.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

10 Realities Of Quitting Your Job To Travel The World.

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How To Deal With Unsupportive Reactions To Your Gap Year.

It Really Is A Lonely Planet.

Study, Work, Career And Gap Years, The Middle Way.

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Ireland’s Ancient East is bringing travellers closer to the soul of Ireland than ever before by using storytellers and tale spinners to interweave Ireland’s ancient myths and legends with a modern tourism boom.

Tourism in Ireland is booming thanks to a surge of interest from Star Wars and Game of Thrones fans, not to mention the success of the Wild Atlantic Way campaign showcasing some of Ireland’s most dramatic coastline and significant tourist draws. But this is just the beginning of Ireland’s tourism resurgence.

Now that she has your attention with craggy islands, lightsabers and more than a few distillery tours, Ireland wants to draw you in even further by using her storytellers to mesmerise you with grand folktales of fairies and leprechauns, tales of ancient kings, grand castles and mysterious medieval monuments and with legends as old as time itself.

Come to Ireland for the great scenery, the tourist spots and the craic, but with Ireland’s Ancient East, enter a whole new world of myth and legend.

What is Ireland’s Ancient East?

Ireland’s Ancient East encompasses 17 counties, stretching from Newgrange to Cork, and covers a lot of counties and attractions that many visitors dismiss or have never even heard of before as they rush to the more traditional Irish tourist spots.

And it is these attractions that form the very heart of Ireland’s mythical past. Given the sheer wealth of myth and legend in Ireland it is hardly surprising that so much of the country is encompassed by the tourism campaign. It isn’t so much a route, or a specific destination, but a meandering trip into Ireland’s very soul. To take a tour around Ireland’s Ancient East is to step back in time itself, to explore the medieval past of this ancient land and converse with the Pagan Gods and Goddesses themselves.

And for me, this was the Ireland that I had always wanted to see.

A hidden heritage hotspot.  

Ireland’s culture is old, as old as written history itself. From the first post Ice Age settlers and the emergence of the protohistoric Gaelic culture, Ireland’s heritage is on par with anything you can find in Rome or Egypt, and it is one of the world’s great heritage hotspots. A fact that has been lost on many tourists and travellers.

The Rock of Cashel exemplifies this interwoven myth and history. More than simply a collection of medieval ruins towers and a Gothic cathedral on the Tipperary Plain, the rock is said to have been discarded by the Devil himself, and imbued with power that warriors, chieftains, princes, kings and even saints have fought over to claim power for themselves.

The feeling of centuries gone by is imbued in every step, in every touch in Ireland, and that is evident most of all when visiting Brú na Bóinne in County Meath.

Brú na Bóinne is a Neolithic site of worship at Newgrange, a UNESCO heritage site and one of the worlds most significant prehistoric landscapes, it is so old and layered with so many myths that not even the historians and the archaeologists can tell fact from legend.

The powerful experience of entering the passage tomb at Newgrange (the tombs at Knowth and Dowth are not accessible), is one that will fill any traveller with the sense of mystery and wonder as the guides reveal the stories of why and how the site was used, attempting to recreate the winter solstice where a shard of light from the sun fills the passage with a magical glow, giving anyone in the chamber a glimpse into the spirituality of the ancient people who built the site and the bond they had with the natural world.

The nearby Hill of Tara, an ancient ritual site and later the seat of Irish Kings, and the  ancient city of Waterford, Ireland’s oldest medieval city, are symbolic of how Ireland’s ancient past is so intertwined with its modern culture.

Castles aren’t just ruined old buildings – although Ireland surely has more than it’s fair share of those – or things to be admired from afar, they are living, breathing monuments to history, and places like Slane Castle are still very much in use and invite travellers in to sit in the rooms once used by royalty themselves.

In towns like Kilkenny and Waterford you can walk down a street filled with modern international shops and turn a corner to find yourself walking down a narrow medieval lane lined with a wall built by Vikings, or at a church or fortification built by the Normans.

Every stone tells a story of the monastic or farming settlements these cities used to be, of ancient battles won and lost, of the Viking raiders that moored there and became Kings and rulers, of Norman and Roman invaders and of course, of Fairies, Leprechauns and Banshees!

But Ireland is so much more than it’s ancient past, it isn’t just tales of demi gods and legendary creatures, mythical monuments, Gaelic Warrior poets and viking kings that make up the tapestry that fills Ireland’s Ancients East. The Storytellers of Ireland also celebrate the lives of ordinary Irish men and women.

Ordinary people whose lives shaped extraordinary events and tales open up a window to an amazing history, making the destination more relatable to travellers.

Stories like those of Sergeant Michael O’Leary of Abbeyleix, who defeated 10 Germans in World War II and became a propaganda hero for the war effort, or Jeremiah Burke, who threw a message in a bottle to his homeland Ireland from the ill fated Titanic, or even Kevin ‘McCoillte’ Woods of Carlingford, Ireland’s last Leprechaun Whisperer.

Travellers can head to bars like the Kytellers Inn to hear storytellers tell tales of the Witch of Kilkenny, who fled to England to leave her maid to burn at the stake in her stead as an accomplice. Or stories of Irish nobility with the Conynghams of Slane Castle, an old family with links to the Royal Family who brought everyone from U2 and Queen to Bowie and Guns & Roses to create the biggest concerts Ireland had ever seen.

Bringing the travel experience to life.

Without these stories, without these links to Irelands myth, legends and tales of the past, travellers can only ever get a snapshot of the places they are visiting, a view of each destination that is stereotypical and amorphous, nothing more than the picture postcard Instagram shot of the main tourist site.

Stories are essential to bring the past to life, to give the experience of visiting a place meaning.

This is exactly why I love really delving into the history, the myth and the legend of the places I visit and I hope reading this inspires other travellers to do the same.

So come to Ireland’s Ancient East for a short break or an extended trip and discover a land full of legends and stories, find a deeper understanding of the amazing experiences that Ireland has to offer and really delve into the cultural myths of this ancient Celtic country.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

This article was written in partnership with Ireland’s Ancient East and TBEX. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.

7 Unique Budget Places To Stay In Ireland.

Ireland.

Uncorking The Rebel City In Ireland.

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Travelling with a purpose brings a whole new dimension to your travels and allows you to see destinations in a whole new light, and movie tourism, travelling to see the locations of your favourite movies and TV shows is a perfect way to do just that. 

Did you ever watch a movie or TV show and fall in love with the location or marvel at the amazing scenery the film was simply using as a dramatic backdrop? Did you ever want to retrace the footsteps of the great movie legends and see these places for yourself? Well you can, and it is pretty easy too. Here are just ten of the top movie location destinations where you can see where your favourite movies were shot.

The Da Vinci Code, The Louvre, Paris.

The Louvre in Paris is the setting for the seminal murder of Jacques Saunier at the start of the film, and although many of the paintings seen and talked about in the movie aren’t actually held at the Louvre (a bit of artistic license was taken), many of the scenes were shot in or outside the famous museum, including scenes with the iconic Glass Pyramid, ‘a scar on the face of Paris’ according to Detective Fache in the film. A scar it may be but not many film locations can boast being a part of the story as well as being a mere backdrop.

Harry Potter, Christ Church, Oxford.

Although many of the scenes were actually shot on set in the Leavesden studios in Hertsfordshire near London, the famous spires of Oxford doubled up as an seminal filming location for the imposing Hogwarts School For Witchcraft And Wizardry in all 8 of the Harry Potter Films, from the iconic Great Hall to the moving staircases, even many of the smaller quadrangles and courtyards were used.

Highlander, Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland.

Let’s face it, Highlander is pure scenery porn and half of the film is dedicated to showcasing Scotland in a beautiful light, but there was a little poetic licence when it comes to actual place names. According to the movie legend, the Macleod village is supposed to be Glenfinnan, on the shores of Loch Sheil, which is a real place in Lochaber, but the actual scenes, especially the large battle where Connor MacLeod became immortal were filmed at the nearby but infinitely picturesque Eilean Donan Castle on the shores of Loch Duich.

The Dark Knight Rises, Mehrangarh fort, Jodphur, India.  

Mehrangarh fort in India is the setting for Bruce Wayne’s incarceration on his journey to become Batman, and this imposing fort certainly gives an imposing impression as it overlooks the blue city of Jodphur.

Star Wars The Last Jedi, Skellig Michael, Island. 

This relatively unknown corner of Kerry in Ireland has become an absolute must see destination for any Sci Fi fan since it was revealed as the location of Luke Skywalkers self imposed exile in the latest Star Wars film. The island itself is a small, barren rock accessible only by boat, but is easily reached as part of the Star Wars trip from Sleah Head, already a stop on the ever popular ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ route.

The Beach, Koh Phi Phi, Thailand.

What movie location list would be complete without the film that launched a million gap years? The famous scene where Leonardo DiCaprio arrives at the beach, the entrance to a secret island in the gulf of Thailand, encapsulates the awe and mystique that every backpacker feels as they set off on their own round the world adventure. Unfortunately the film has caused a mass influx of tourists to the Maya Bay where the scene was actually filmed, with package tours even getting in on the action, leading to mass overcrowding and environmental concerns.

Lawrence Of Arabia, Seville, Spain.

Fans of Lawrence of Arabia don’t have to trek into the Jordanian desert to follow Peter O’Toole’s immortal footsteps, with much of the civilization scenes set in the Spanish city of Seville, with the Mujedar architecture, a blend of Moorish, Arabian and Gothic styles that Seville is famous for being perfect for the film. The Plaza de Espana doubled as Cairo where Lawrence first arrived at the British Army Headquarters and the Officers Club is actually the courtyard of the Hotel Alfonso XIII.

The Last Emperor, The Forbidden City, China.

As if it isn’t enough to walk in the hallowed halls of one of China’s greatest and best preserved heritage sites and revel in the history of a building that served as the residence for 24 God Like Emperors across China’s dynastic history, this magnificent building was also used a the ultimate backdrop for 1987’s The Last Emperor.

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Petra, Jordan.

The ultimate location for any Indiana Jones fan is Jordan’s iconic tourists attraction, the ‘hidden’ city of Petra, now easily accessible for thousands of tourists on horseback or with organised camel rides.  This world heritage site and modern wonder of the world is worth far more than the usual day or two package tour, and you should take your time exploring the colonnaded streets, the royal tombs and monasteries and the iconic treasury to get the full experience of this legendary world wonder, so grab your fedora, hop on a horse and ride through the canyon humming the Indiana Jones theme tune!

Harry Potter, Kings Cross Station, London.

Yes this is another Harry Potter Location, but one that is definitely worth visiting! Contrary to its moniker Platform 9 and 3/4 isn’t actually a platform anymore. The actual film location is here but they couldn’t have thousands of tourists crowding on a still working train platform, so the official site is located near the entrance of the Western departures concourse and is basically just a sign and a luggage trolley seemingly going through the wall where tourists can pose for pictures. There are staff members taking ‘official’ photos that are for sale in the very expensive Harry Potter shop just around the corner, but they allow you to take as many photos of your own as you like beforehand and there is no pressure or hard sell to buy their official ones. You simply queue up, choose your house scarf and pose for the camera!

So as film tourism starts to take off, find the locations of your own favourite movies and head to their actual filming locations.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

This article was written in partnership with Travel Republic. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.

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It’s almost Christmas time again and by now everyone is looking for that perfect gift for their loved ones. The problem is what do you buy for the backpacker or traveller in your life? How do you know what they would actually want or find useful on the road? Look no further! This ultimate Christmas gift guide is here to help.

It’s Christmas again and the perfect time for backpackers to slow down for a bit and spend some time with family and loved ones, and of course one of the best parts of this time of year are the presents themselves!

So what do you get those travellers in your life who already seem to have it all and often have little need for random stuff? Don’t worry, whether you have a perpetual traveller in your life or a loved one dreaming of taking a gap year, here are my suggestions for some awesome gift ideas they will love!

Vango Sherpa 60 + 10 litre backpack.

If you or a loved one needs an actual pack as a gift, then you really can’t go wrong with this beauty! Vango are a consistently strong brand and make great packs, whether you choose this or another one (dependent of course on your size, build and own packing needs) I would recommend them as a brand. This particular pack is the perfect size for the average traveller on an average gap year, has the standard back adjust system and enough padding in the right places which makes it comfortable to wear, and decent sized internal sections. Want one? Buy one here.

Packing cubes.

No matter what style of backpack the traveller in your life uses, packing cubes have become an intrinsically essential part of the packing process in recent years and a good one will always be appreciated as a gift. There are plenty of brands out there that do really good ones and they are all essentially the same, so it is really worth doing a bit of research and shopping around. The Craghoppers packing cubes are a safe bet though and these are the ones I use myself. You can buy a good set here.

Wanderwave Wander Belt and Mini Wallet.

The Wander Belt and Mini Wallet are a comprehensive money security belt system designed exclusively by and for women, and is the perfect gift for the intrepid female traveller in your life. It is not like traditional money belts and provides a genuinely safe and discreet way for women to hide their cash and valuables on them whilst travelling. You can read a full review here and get a full 10% off with the unique discount code BBWW10 at checkout!

Bemused Backpacker T Shirts!

Not only are these travel inspired T Shirts perfect for any packing list for any gap year, they make the perfect stocking filler for the traveller in your life. They are lightweight cotton making them ideal in tropical climates or perfect for layering in cooler destinations, are easily added to any packing list and best of all they are made in a wind powered factory and hand finished in the UK with a production chain that is fully traceable to ethical sources! What more can you want?

Water To Go bottle.

Ever since I discovered these amazing water filter bottles I have taken one with me on every trip, because lets face it, in certain countries you just can’t always get access to clean, safe water. Bottled water is generally the answer but the cost as well as the carbon footprint soon adds up, so these filter bottles are the perfect answer for those travellers who want to save money or who have an eco conscience as the water filter completely negates any need to buy or carry countless plastic water bottles on the road. They are perfect for going off the beaten track or well trodden city exploration, as they can make safe, clean and tasty drinking water from any water source and they can even be used as a normal sports bottle for city breaks or the gym by taking the filter part out! Read a full review here and remember Readers of Bemused Backpacker get an awesome 15% discount with the unique discount code BEMUSED15 by buying here.

Pacsafe or a Pacsafe cable lock.

I love these pieces of kit. They aren’t without their problems of course (they are heavy and cumbersome) but they are in my opinion an absolute travel essential for any backpacker. These Pacsafe backpack protectors and not only keep your loved ones kit safe on the road but gives you the peace of mind that you have contributed to reducing their risk of having their stuff nicked!  Buy one here.

Adjustable cable lock.

For those travellers who want to keep their kit safe in the hostel or on those overnight buses, but don’t want the hassle of the full pacsafe net, then these are the next best thing and make for an absolutely perfect stocking filler. Buy one here.

Microfiber towel.

These towels are a basic essential in any backpackers kit and I absolutely love them. They’ll never be as comfortable as one of those huge fluffy ones at a luxury hotel of course but this is one instance where practicality wins over every other factor. It is small, lightweight, easy to pack and saves you the space and weight of having to carry around a traditional towel. It also dries ultra quickly, which saves you from having to  carry around wet or damp towels if you have to leave early. Lifeventure or Trespass are both good brands to choose from, obviously just choose the size that is appropriate for you and you can make your purchase here.

Bemused Backpacker travel books!

Is 2017 the year one of your friends or family is setting off around the world? Are you planning to go yourself? These books make the perfect stocking filler for any of your friends or family who need advice, tips or inspiration to follow their own dreams of round the world travel, and they even make a perfect self gift to spoil yourself with! You can find the full range of eBooks and paperbacks here.

Waterproof Dry Bags. 

There are quite a few different brands of these out there and to be honest many are just as good as the others. Basically these are waterproof stuff sacks that not only keep your kit organised and separated within your backpack, but also keep it bone dry and protected from the elements. An absolute must have when travellers are heading somewhere in the rainy season or anywhere where there is a risk of being caught in the rain. Not the most glamorous of gifts I grant you, but any traveller will be eternally grateful to you when they find themselves needing to keep their stuff dry. Buy here.

E Reader.

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Being a backpacker means travelling around the world a certain way, in a certain style and with a certain budget. Or does it? Here are 10 backpacker rules you are totally allowed to break.

Backpacking around the world is more than just an amazing adventure, it is a rite of passage, a culture in and of itself with it’s own tribes, customs, rules and even language! But not all rules are set in stone and it is your adventure at the end of the day, so here are 10 backpacker norms and rules it is okay to break.

You don’t have to be gone for any specific length of time.

A gap year sounds pretty straightforward right? It’s a year out. 12 months. The clue is in the title.

It is an accepted truth that a gap year is exactly that. A year taken out to travel the world. And this is certainly the accepted truth the gap year industry tries to sell you as it attempts to flog cookie cutter RTW packages based on this timeframe.

The truth is however that it really doesn’t matter. If you want to travel for a few months and take a snap year you can do that, if you want to take the full year out or take even longer, even if you want to travel indefinitely with no fixed plans on when to return, the choice is all yours my friend. It is your trip and only you can decide when you want it to end. It really is a gap ‘year’ in name only.

You don’t have to stay in hostels.

Hostels are the quintessential accommodation option for backpackers. Half of our stereotypes are based on the stories intrepid gap year travellers have earned the hard way in these dens of morally suspect drunken choices, budget digs and sometimes questionable hygiene standards.

But they aren’t the only option out there.

Don’t get me wrong, all jokes aside hostels are amazing places and are a fantastic way to meet new people and see the world whilst sticking to a budget, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with upgrading to a private room once in a while. Get yourself a homely and comfortable room in a guesthouse, splurge on a nice hotel for a couple of nights when you first arrive in a country or have just finished an arduous jungle trek, take advantage of the range of specialist accommodation options too, from jungle longhouses to desert yurts. Travelling the world is about experiencing as much as you possibly can, so why limit yourself to just one accommodation type?

You can splurge when you want to.

I know many backpackers are on budgets, some of them very strict, but that doesn’t mean that you always have to get the cheapest bed, the cheapest food and the cheapest everything else all of the time. In fact it is rarely a good idea to be that extreme and there is absolutely nothing wrong with sticking to a budget, but upgrading yourself to flashpacker status once in a while.

You have travelled half way around the world so why would you want to miss out on that epic jungle trekking experience because it was a few dollars over your daily budget?  You’ll miss out on a lot if you think that way! Why would you want to miss out on some truly great food because you keep telling yourself you have to stick to cheap bargain places. I mean street food is awesome but sometimes a splurge at Sushi King is just necessary!

Budgeting is important, that is not in doubt, but just leave yourself with that little bit of wriggle room. You wont regret it I promise you.

You don’t need a backpack!

What? Heresy I hear you cry! Okay, I’m lying on this one. Backpackers still need backpacks (the clue is in the name)!  But there is a diverse range of choice in backpacks now. I’m certainly not going to be borrowing my parents massive suitcases anytime soon, but over the last few years there has been an explosion of choice in style, function and type of backpack and backpackers are no longer stuck with the traditional top loader backpack from outdoorsy shops.

You can get suitcase/backpack hybrids that open up fully, specialist anti theft backpacks, carry on bags that double up as holdalls and laptop cases, all sorts. The choice out there is staggering, most of it specifically designed to make backpackers lives easier, and there are now a whole load of ways you can carry your life on your back.

You don’t have to be a digital nomad.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon and has only become a thing over the last few years or so, but with the increasing popularity of travel blogging and location independent working there seems to now be this weird expectation that if you head off on a gap year you have to also be a digital nomad. You don’t. At all. If you want to start your own location independent business then fine, but otherwise just go and enjoy your travels and the places you are in.

You don’t have to follow any given route. 

Ask any backpacker and there are certain places, certain routes that are so stepped in backpacker lore that every newbie has to follow them at first almost as a right of passage. The banana pancake trail through south east Asia, the gringo trail in south America, the big loop of Europe that the Americans love so much, they are all there!

Now, these routes and countries are popular for a reason and I would never suggest for a single second that you shouldn’t go to these places. In many ways there are a lot of good reasons for newbie backpackers to follow established routes through popular countries, the infrastructure, the amount of other travellers, the industry set up around travellers in certain places, all of these and more mean that it may be a good idea to start off in these places to ease yourself in.

But you don’t HAVE to. And if you do go to any one of these countries that doesn’t mean you have to follow the crowds either. If you go to Thailand you don’t immediately have to go through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos too. This may seem like common sense, and it is, but it is surprising how many people just follow the crowds.

Go somewhere different. Make your own path.

You don’t have to ‘live like a local’. 

I hate this phrase, I really do. It has been usurped from it’s original meaning by hipsters who think dressing in traditional native garb whilst voluntouring their way around the traditional trails is a good idea. You aren’t going to stop travelling, get a job and an apartment and spend a year struggling to pay bills so you aren’t going to live like a local, just stop it.

You are allowed to have ‘you days’.

There is often a kind of mentality that when on your gap year you always have to be ‘on’. You always have to be socialising with other backpackers in hostels (when you can get them away from their laptops and smartphones), you always have to be out exploring, seeing the sights or doing something daring or adventurous. And that is true to an extent, that is what you are travelling for after all. But that doesn’t mean you have to do that all of the time, 365 days a year. You’ll burn out fast if you try.

It’s normal at home to have a day off from time to time where you have a long lie in to catch up on some sleep, sit around all day and do nothing but read a great book or watch TV. It’s normal. We all need rest. So why is that any different when you are travelling? If you are feeling tired or have a bit of temple fatigue then just get a nice private room, grab some drinks and stream that box set you’ve been itching to see. You don’t have to do it all the time, just once in a while. You’ll be raring to go again the next day.

You don’t have to pack ultra light.

Packing light is a great idea. It makes carrying your pack easier, more convenient and much less likely to turn you into some hunchbacked mutant shuffling their way into the next hostel, but that doesn’t mean you have to pack ultra light. I mean some backpackers (you know who you are) take this great idea and go really extreme with it, as if there were some sort of backpacker Olympics they were trying to win. (There isn’t).

Planning how to travel with a good sized carry on is a great way to go, but you don’t have to narrow everything down to one change of underpants and a toothbrush in a plastic supermarket bag, and there is certainly nothing wrong with taking a backpack that you can stick in the hold either, provided of course you aren’t packing everything in it either.

Don’t listen to the extremists on either side of this debate. Find a good middle ground somewhere that works for you.

You don’t have to travel solo!

Solo travel is amazing and it is lauded amongst many long term travellers for so many good reasons. Look at any blog, magazine or site devoted to gap years and backpacking and you will feel the pressure to go solo, but you really don’t have to go it alone if you really don’t want to. Even if you have to start your travels solo because no one else you know at home has the balls to do what you are doing, there is no reason to keep it that way with so many ways to meet people on the road. Eventually you may find that you want some time alone to explore, but that is up to you.

Backpacking is a way of life, with the traditions, styles, ways and means of travelling the world independently built and honed by backpackers all over the world for generations, and it is absolutely an amazing way to travel. But remember it is your trip too, only you can make the decisions of what is right for you at any given time. So come and join us, be a backpacker, but if you want to add your own individual spin to our way of life, that’s all good too!

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Backpacker Glossary: Get Used To The Lingo.

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Fitting your work and your life around your dreams of travelling the world is not only possible, but by taking career breaks when it suits you and not your employer you could be doing yourself a whole multitude of favours too.

Gap years aren’t just for the young anymore. Even ignoring the surge in pensioners blowing their kids inheritance on extended round the world jaunts there is a vastly growing trend of professional travellers taking a gap year or longer to travel in their thirties and forties. And the once frowned upon – and mostly unheard of – practice of a career break is now not only becoming normal, the benefits are being increasingly recognised by both employees and employers.

And it is about damn time. I can actually start to feel vindicated for being selfish and looking after my own interests for years. Apparently now a work/life balance is a good thing! Who’d have thought?

I have not exactly lived what most people would call a conventional life. With two separate degrees, two wholly different professional careers and more than fifteen years of backpacking around the world under my belt whilst doing these things, my defiantly obtuse attitude to my work life balance has pretty much set me against the traditional life script society tried to force on me.

The usual path of school, work, bills, marriage, kids, bills, more bills and death has never really appealed to me for some strange reason. I never fully understood it or why anyone would allow themselves to be subjugated by it. It always seemed to me like that paradigm was old fashioned, like it was suitable for a time and a place that doesn’t really exist anymore.

And it doesn’t.

We live in a 24 hour society now. We don’t have job loyalty or security. People lose or switch jobs as it suits,  sometimes quite frequently, and staff retention has become a very big problem for a lot of firms for whom gen X ers are in management positions and millennials have become the primary workforce on the ground.

For Xennials like myself – the lost sandwich generation who have none of and all of the morals and attitudes of the generations before and after us – things are even more confusing.

We have in general terms had a lot of opportunity but have been screwed over a lot too, and we aren’t as willing to put up with it as the generations behind us.

That world our parents and grandparents grew up in where you had a good job for life, could afford a good lifestyle on a basic wage and got a decent pension at the end of it is gone. It has been replaced by a world with no job security, no work life balance, a punitive cost of living, punitive taxes, no pensions, devalued education and no rewards for hard work. A world that does not care about you, will use you up as it sees fit and then throw you on the scrapheap without a second thought when it is done with you.

Why would you become a corporate or production line slave and work yourself to death for that reality? That is mental!

And that is why I created the life I wanted to live for myself instead. I wanted an education, so I fought hard to get one. I wanted certain careers and went for them. I worked my arse off to climb up the ladder.

Did I do this for society? No. My employers? Hell no. I did it for myself. I did it to create a position for myself where I was in control.  And when I wanted to travel I put my priorities above that of anyone or anything else and did that too. My bosses didn’t like it? So what? It wasn’t their life I was living.

Is that selfish? Well yes. But one of the perks of being selfish is that I don’t really give a shit.

And I continue to do that now. I work when I need to and create different income streams to give me security, I make enough to pay my bills and mortgage and then I leave all that behind to pursue my other life’s interests too. I travel whenever I feel like it and for as long as I want to.

It’s an old trope but I work to live, I don’t live to work.

In essence I have the best of both worlds because I have had the mindset to say screw you I’m doing what I want. There is no way am I missing out on everything I want to do, everything I want to tick off on my bucket list and everything life has to offer me until I am too damn old to be able to do it!

And the thing is, a large number of people are starting to agree with me.

Not only are career breaks more popular than ever before but everyone is starting to see the benefits to taking them for both parties involved.

From an employers point of view giving their staff the freedom to take time off to travel or even pursue other dreams is nothing but a benefit to them.

They will allow their employees time to take a break, to rest. They will reduce burnout and workplace stress which will lead to a happier, more productive workforce.

Employers know that employees will often not have any loyalty to them if they are denied their wishes, and with staff retention at an all time low across almost all sectors and research showing two thirds of employees will consider leaving their place of work if it suits them, it makes no sense for employees not to adapt.

Investing in employees is an expensive business; training, on the job qualifications, experience, these things cost a lot of time and money. By allowing staff to take sabbaticals or career breaks they can ensure that they retain that when the employee comes back instead of losing it outright, and many firms like the progressive Virgin are now starting to see the light and are doing just that, offering sabbaticals and career break options as incentives to staff who they know are likely to just take them anyway.

But employers also gain a lot more than simply not losing their investment. They can retain employees who are more resilient, better educated, have experience far beyond academia and the workplace and soft skills such as languages, cultural knowledge and understanding, logistical aptitude and many more besides that are all beneficial to any employer.

But as good as taking a career break is for the employers, it is more importantly even better for you.

Apart from the many joys and benefits of world travel itself, which if anything should be reason enough alone, taking time out from your career or your life can give you a new perspective on things. It can give you the time and the opportunity to reflect on yourself, your life and the direction you want to take in the future.

Taking time out can be a huge boon to your mental and physical health, it can help curtail or even stop any feelings of stress, anxiety or burnout that your working life may have been causing you.

A gap year is a great time to build on a whole host of new skills that can benefit your CV as much as they can your spiritual and mental wellbeing. Learning a whole host of the soft skills that employers love such as language and communication skills make you a better rounded person, but taking time to get a TEFL qualification as you travel can really make your CV pop.

And quite frankly, it just means you are out living your life and filling it with awesome experiences beyond the usual Monday morning commute.

So why the hell wouldn’t you take that opportunity?

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

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Camel treks and safaris are a popular tourist activity around the world, but is camel riding ethical or responsible? Is Camel trekking harmful to the animals and should travellers and backpackers be riding a camel at all on their gap years?

The travel industry has embraced a lot of change in recent years when it comes to responsible wildlife interaction, and ethical animal trekking in particular, the changes made to the elephant trekking industry in recent years is testament to that, but so far the humble camel has been largely ignored.

Like most travellers and tourists I have ridden camels in the past, long before I knew enough to start questioning what I was doing, and now that I do know more I cannot continue to blindly engage in the practice without at least asking some hard questions.

Camel safaris and treks are a common activity for many gap year travellers and backpackers heading to desert regions in particular, with camel treks being sold throughout Egypt, Morocco and Jordan among many other countries.

Petra alone has 1,350 camels and horses that ferry tourists to and from the UNESCO world heritage site every single day. Tourists love them and tour operators make a lot of money from them. Unfortunately despite new laws to protect camels and other animals used for treks and safaris, that don’t go far enough and arguably miss the whole point entirely, a number of charities are stating that the animals are kept in poor conditions and forced to work under grueling schedules that are harmful, abusive and in some cases deadly.

The same is true in Egypt, particularly in major tourist sites such as Giza, where touts and scam artists can be relentless in trying to force tourists onto the back of a camel. Again, not all of these camels are kept or treated in an ethical or humane way with many operators putting the need for profit and the tourist wishes above any care for the animals involved.

Quite often their owners do not have the expertise, knowledge or even resources needed to keep their camels in a responsible way, and this can have a detrimental impact to their wellbeing and health.

So is it ethical to ride a camel on your gap year? 

Well, it depends.

The big problem is that there is actually very little research at the moment specifically related to camels, and much of the work that has been done by international organisations and charities have tended to lump the advice for camels alongside that of horses and donkeys.

But does this really do the issue justice? There are plenty of irresponsible horse riding operations and donkey riding outfits out there, and on the surface they are very similar, but should a distinction be made?

Essentially at the moment, advice from many major animal welfare organisations or charities do not have specific advice on camel safaris or treks.

So for now, without any specific research on camels themselves, the best approach is probably to understand the issue in terms of all animal riding operations.

What are animal rights groups and wildlife charities saying?

A recent YouGov poll for the animal charity SPANA (Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad) found that 28% of adults who have travelled abroad have taken part in activities such as camel treks where they have had concerns for welfare of the animals involved. Even when removing such questions as how many of the other 72% knew what to look for or understood enough about animal welfare to be concerned in the first place, it is pretty clear that there is a big problem.

PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals) has taken the stance that all forms of camel riding is cruel and abusive, but they take that extreme stance with everything concerning wildlife tourism, and it is not always as clear cut as that.

A similar charity, Born Free, who usually take a similar hardline stance, actually do not in this case. Without any clear evidence to suggest that riding camels is in and of itself harmful to them, they take the same stance most other organisations do and do not have specific guidelines for camel treks or safaris, instead preferring to take the same approach they do with horses and donkeys which is to say that rides themselves are fine (or at the very least not bad) as long as the way they are run is responsible and ethical, and as long as the conditions in which they are giving these rides are beneficial to the camel’s care and welfare and do not cause them due harm or distress.

The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) have actually gone a lot further and published specific guidelines for tourists and travellers who want to choose responsible working animal operators. Their Holiday Hooves guide again covers horses and donkeys as well as camels, but is an excellent guide for what travellers can look out for and what they can do.

What is the answer?

With this in mind, the Born Free Foundation along with ABTA, the association of travel agents and tour operators as well as the Federation of Tour Operators and other NGOs, have established the five freedoms, a minimum standard that all animals in the tourism industry need and should have unfettered access to.

  • Food and water.
  • A suitable Living environment.
  • Good Health.
  • An opportunity to exhibit natural behaviours.
  • Protection from fear and distress.

These standards are being rolled out across the established travel industry in the West, and should be a bare minimum standard used for any camel trek or safari.

The benefits of this approach.

Using the five freedoms and fighting for ethical and beneficial working conditions for any camel used in any trek, safari or any other activity not only ensures that they are treated well and kept in safe, comfortable conditions, but also provides operators with the ways and means to do so.

Of course this approach should also be flexible enough to change if new research comes to light saying that Camels are absolutely harmed by being ridden. 

But this way allows for the care and ethical welfare of camels in the industry whilst bringing in the profit – and therefore the incentive – for operators to do just that.

Essentially if tour and trek operators know there is inherently more value and profit in looking after the camels they rely on for their business and treating them well, they will do so. The flip side of the coin of course is the status quo at the moment is that many will simply use them as resources to make profit with no focus on the animals welfare.

There is a clear need for any tour operator in the travel industry to make a profit, the aim is to ensure that they do so whilst treating all animals in their care humanely, with respect and in accordance with transparent and robust animal welfare standards.

This way camels – and any animal or wildlife for that matter – are recognised as a precious resource that whilst being a source of income, also need to be looked after.

Quite frankly this forces a paradigm of if they look after the camels, the camels will look after them.

The role of travellers in this approach.

So how do travellers ensure that the conditions that camels are kept in are responsible and ethical? Well, simply by doing their research and only supporting those companies and operators that conform to responsible and ethical standards, and put the welfare of their camels above the needs of tourists.

Laura Higham Veterinary Advisor to the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) states “holidaymakers are in a unique position to use their spending power to change animal welfare for the better.”

Just as in the case of elephant trekking in the last few years, the industry has been forced to change because travellers themselves demanded it.

They started to boycott the unethical elephant trekking companies that continued to offer elephant rides and instead used their vast economic power to support ethical elephant sanctuaries. Companies could see where the profit was going and changed their practices as a result.

It is a genuine shame that profit has to be the deciding factor, but at least it is an effective tactic. Money talks and money works.

There is still a lot of work to do and there are still bad examples out there, but now at least the riding of elephants is generally accepted as bad, and ethical elephant sanctuaries are becoming increasingly the norm.

The exact same process can and should be used for camel safaris and camel treks.

So before heading out on a camel safari what do tourists need to look out for?

By using the five freedoms mentioned above, travellers can ask enough questions and observe enough practices to be able to determine if an operator is ethical or not.

A camels accommodation should be the first thing any traveller should ask about. Where are the stables located? Are the close? Are they suitable?

Camels should be kept in herds in a large enclosure, with a significant section that provides them with adequate shelter, not permanently tied up and exposed to the elements awaiting use, which is common in many popular tourist attractions such as Petra in Jordan or Giza in Egypt. Alongside effective protection from the elements a camels stable should have adequate ventilation and enough room to move around and lie down in a clean suitable environment.

A camels health and welfare is also extremely important.

Contrary to popular belief, camels can get dehydrated, and it is essential to ensure that they are adequately fed and watered. Yes they can technically survive without water for a long time, but that doesn’t mean they should have to.

All camels should have access to plenty of water at regular intervals.

Camels should also not have to carry excessive burdens such as seating rigs that can hold a number of tourists, nor should they be exposed to controlling devices such as sticks or bullhooks. These can cause serious damage to the camels skin and can even lead to infection. The same goes for any type of chain, muzzle or strap that is inappropriate or too tight.

A simple padded sack, or better still just a blanket should be more than adequate, and before any ride travellers should take a quick look at the camels skin. You don’t have to be a vet or an expert to know what an open sore or a wound looks like.

Rest is also an important factor.

One of the major criticisms of camel safaris and treks in places such as Giza or Petra is that the camels are used relentlessly to ferry tourists back and forth without any rest. Again there are no specific guidelines to say how much rest should be given, but it is quite clear that the norm should be that camels are not worked constantly all day every day without extended rest periods. Travellers should ensure they work with operators who rotate their working herd and limit the amount of time camels are utilised to provide rides, and allow the animals to rest.

How old are the animals involved?

The last check is not an easy one, and it is easy to be fooled by savvy tour operators, but you should still try and find out the age of the camels. Camels are not fully mature until they are 6 to 8 years old yet economic factors force some operators to use their camels at far too young an age, stunting their growth and causing physical damage to bones that are not yet fully formed.

Camel safaris can be an extremely enjoyable activity for tourists, and can be done responsibly and sustainably in a way that provides a lot of profit for tour operators and cares for the animals and ensures they are kept in healthy, responsible conditions.

The problem is that there are a large amount of operators out there who are not responsible, who do not treat the camels in an ethical or sustainable way and care only about profit. There are an even greater number of camel trek and tour operators out there who do care about their camels, but lack the resources or knowledge to take care of them or run their business in an ethical and responsible way.

The trick for tourists is to know what to look for, know what questions to ask, avoid the bad examples out there and instead support the responsible operators who truly look after their camels as much as – if not more so – than they do the tourists.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

The Elephant In The Room: Why You Shouldn’t Go On An Elephant Trek In Thailand.

The Horrible Truth About Animal Sanctuaries.

Why I Walked Across Mount Bromo’s Sea Of Sand.

Why Zoos Are An Important Part Of Responsible Wildlife Tourism.

Wildlife Tourism Without Wildlife Harm. Is It Possible?

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