Travelling always seems to be accompanied by a rich soundtrack, a background playlist that plays through the cafes, the hostels, the bus journeys and of course the bars we pass through. Much of it consists of a terrible pastiche of traditional music (think of the souvenir shop) and often hashed reworkings of western popular music. Likewise your Ipod is subject to whatever is the flavour of the day - so for me Australia will always remind me of Fat Boy Slim (yes, it was that long ago). More interesting though, is the music that talks, no, sings of a place - travel music. Travel music is the kind of music that, if you close your eyes, drags you away from a rainy evening at home to somewhere far more adventurous. This collection of travel music is a combination of truly great world music and songs which, although produced far from the shores of their subject, somehow manage to capture its spirit. So without further ado, sit back and enjoy.
The playlist is available on Spotify at http://open.spotify.com/user/bencol/playlist/1rCOZEZAUGmaLwBXw90MZX
If I could only choose one of these fine artists to populate my travel Ipod I would have to choose Manu Chao. Perhaps because it is so upbeat, and perhaps because he has travelled so much himself and gets it - Who would you choose?
Last week I wrote about Zeke's Ryannair mystery tour in a post titled The web is ruining Travel. Exploiting a unique quirk in the Ryannair website, he booked a flight not knowing where he was heading, thereby avoiding the information glut that the web provides. He managed to offend entire nations, confuse border guards and make a general fool of himself. In the follow up video, Zeke unveils the mystery destination, struggles to find a room, and sadly ends up craving a good session on the internet - but you'll have to watch it yourself to find out where he went.
In case you missed it, the first video can be watched in the original post
There are 918 travel blogs on Technorati and hundreds of travel forums and social networking sites. There is a bewildering level of choice and information and it is spoiling the joy of independent travel.
The traditional vision of a fresh faced traveller waving goodbye at the airport gate with little more than an outbound ticket and a well thumbed guide book seem to be gone. Instead, after weeks spent poring over the excellent Matador Network and the exhaustive Lonely Planet Thorntree, they'll arrive at the airport porting a hybrid backpack stuffed with netbook, adapters and iphone. By the time they step of the plane in Calcutta they will have read up on the hassle they can expect from all and sundry in the streets and will have adopted the trademark aloof backpacker body language - "I know what I'm doing, don't try to take me for a ride!" - there is no way will they be falling foul of the hawkers! And in doing so, they miss something, they miss making their own mistakes and discovering with fresh eyes.
Surely, the joy of travel is serendipity, spontaneity and in saying yes to every offer however bizarre? Surely, it is about saying 'why not?' when a local claiming to be a university professor offers to guide you around the local museum. Yes I know, there are some fantastic resources that will inspire you to go places you would never have dreamed of, and others which will help you really get off the beaten track, but at what cost? Surely you can achieve the same by speaking to somebody on the road and asking a local?
I have to ask myself, would we have been escorted up Sigiriya in Sri Lanka by three policeman and then treated to a traditional Muslim family meal back at the Police Chief's modest home if I had followed Tripadvisor's things to do in Kandy. Similarly, would I have been asked by a couple of young Malay women to provide male company when they bought their daily fish supplies from the intimidating commercial fishing boats in the Pehrentians?
So, in our own crass unscientific way we decided to put our money where our mouth is. Zeke, a regular Tourdust writer, came up with a little experiment:
"Did you know you can book a flight on Ryannair without knowing which country you are visiting?"
Well, I didn't, but apparently it is true (I haven't checked), all he had to go by was an airport code with an unhealthy quantity of rarely used consonants. So before I could question his logic, Zeke had booked himself a ticket. Without knowing the destination it is tricky to buy a guidebook or to check out hotels on Tripadvisor.
The first part of Zeke's amusing journey is documented below - I've watched the video and still don't know the destination. Let me know if you can guess, because Zeke continues to refuse to let me in on the secret. He will be gracing these pages in the next week with the second part of the video.
If this subject interests you there have been some fascinating posts and discussions on the general theme of staying connected on the road. Rolf Potts opened a beehive by critiquing the use of twitter when travelling, Stephen Chapman wrote an excellent piece about travelling unplugged and perhaps my favourite, a recent post by David Page wondering whether we are seeing the twilight of the guidebook? If you enjoyed Zeke's video and you want to see more of his frankly unusual sense of humour I recommend you check out his sites, http://www.tittybiscuits.com/ and http://www.smashingworkshop.com/.
Ross Lee Tabak is a travel writer, photographer and author of the frequently exceptional We're Lost and Everything is Dirty. Ross combines fascinating insights, punchy writing and sublime photography to drag the reader away from their laptop and into a completely different world. We are lucky enough to be able to publish his frankly brilliant responses to our interview questions:
Without doubt, my most memorable travelling moments have involved food - tucking into steaming broths in a bustling Asian night market, eating fresh seafood on a moonlit beach or tucking into a large bone of mutton on the Mongolian steppe. Food is arguably the most evocative and memorable feature of travelling.
Ignoring the obvious gourmet foody meccas of New York, San Sebastian, Paris and Rome as this isn’t about eating at Michelin starred restaurants, which destinations can serve up a balanced diet of fantastic food in buzzing restaurants day-in-day-out at a modest price to suit the traveller’s budget?
Some destinations renowned for their great food are nigh on useless for the purposes of a travelling stomach. Take Spain for instance. It hosts a fascinating tapas and pinxtos food culture and some of the best restaurants in the world. However, food in low and mid-range Spanish restaurants is often incredibly oily, devoid of any evidence of vegetation and served at ridiculously late in the night.
The best destinations offer abundant restaurants whose food reflects the countries honest home-cooking rather than a refined and separate restaurant culture. Not surprisingly, SE Asia dominates my top three. Eating out is so cheap there you can enjoy three meals a day for months on end without diminishing your travel budget and the cheaper you go the better it gets, a bustling night market always beats a high end restaurant.
1. Vietnam (street food = $0.5pp; local restaurants = $2pp; 1 beer = $0.60)
Vietnamese food has lots going for it, a very long coastline, French, Chinese and Vietnamese influences. The result is an incredible cuisine at an incredibly modest price. Everyone knows about the delicious spicy beef noodle soup Pho, but there is theatre too with the ever popular table-top bbq joints that are rammed to the rafters every night in Ho Chi Minh. Then there are the French influences, yes good wine is available as are French bistros, but seriously, skip the wine. Eat at a buzzing market, follow up with a divine dark chocolate sorbet from an ice cream parlour (Fannys in Hanoi is the best) and then head down to a street corner bia-hoi joint for some seriously cheap and fresh beer surrounded by the insane Vietnamese traffic. The Vietnamese people are crazy about their food, an ever lasting memory I have of our time there was seeing the locals head down en-masse to the beach at low tide to dig up the delicious clams to be found under the wet sand.
2. Thailand (street food = $0.50pp, local restaurant food = $3pp, 1 beer = $0.90)
It isn’t always easy finding a good restaurant in Thailand, but you can’t go wrong with the abundant street food. A steaming hot bowl of chicken noodle soup can be picked up for a modest price and is both delicious and nutritious. The night markets are without doubt the culinary highlight of Thailand, bustling, aromatic, cheap and delicious. The greatest challenge is not filling yourself up with your first dish as there will be others you absolutely have to try. The ubiquitous Thai Green curry and Pad Thai deserve a mention and they do always seem enhanced when served up with a tall bottle of Chang to share at a romantic beach-side table. (Thanks to Flickr user avlxyz for the image)
3. Malaysia (street food = $1, local restaurant food = $2, 1 beer = $2)
The beauty of Malaysian food is the variety. Chinese, Malay, Indian and Nyonya influences are at play, and offer real variety. For everyday eating it is hard to beat a plate of Hainanese chicken rice, delicately steamed chicken served on top of the best rice you will ever taste and accompanied by a small bowl of chicken soup. That may not involve a huge dose of vegetables but you can always top up with fruit later. Nyonya cuisine is amongst the finest in the world, but unfortunately it can be hard to find in restaurants. Malaysia hosts fantastic food markets too and a visit isn't complete without a Roti Canai with dal. Roti Canai is a delicious flat bread similar to an Indian roti and is usually served with a spicy lentil dal. (Thanks to Flickr user avlxyz for the image)
4. South Africa (street food = na, local restaurant food = $6, 1 beer = $1.50)
Few would think of South Africa as a destination for great food, but the combination of modest prices and abundant red meat, fruit, vegetables and decent wine is a winner. Cosmopolitan South Africa boasts a similar passion for fine wining and dining as Australia and New Zealand, but wins hands down for its low prices and the ever present braai, where the humble bbq is raised to a true art form. Eating out is incredibly accessible, even with loud kids in tow – but unlike the Asian destinations mentioned above you will definitely want to plan to cook in some nights, if only to see if you can emulate some of the braai tricks of your hosts! (Thanks to Flickr user victoriapeckham for the image)
5. China (street food = $1.50, local restaurant food = $3.50, 1 beer = $1.00)
It is hard to sum up such a vastly varied cuisine as China's so I’ll leave you with some of my favourite meals. A cup full of potato wedges cooked on an open fire and dipped in the most divine and intensely hot spice rub you could ever imagine in Zhongdian. Piling up the plates of shaved beef and noodles around a boiling broth in a Beijing shopping mall. Selecting our meat of choice from cages of live snakes, chicken and ducks. Soaking rolled up balls of stale bread in a mutton broth in a backstreet Muslim restaurant. Eating cubes of solid pig fat that tasted as close to heaven as I have ever come. And finally a 20 course dumpling banquet in Xian! Even the depressing sign of backpacker exposure was ever present – the dreaded banana pancake!
And finally, the disappointments...
Mexico was perhaps my biggest culinary disappointment. It probably reflects a failure on my part to get under the skin of the cuisine, but honestly I’d take Tex-Mex over real Mexican food any time. I found many meals under flavoured, too sweet or swamped in sauce. Admittedly street food was good, but not always that accessible. New Zealand also disappointed, but for an altogether different reason – a lack of diversity. And finally who could make an argument for Russia? I'm not averse to a little stodgy Northern European food from time to time, but I have absolutely no memories of what I eat in Russia and that is telling!