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A few months ago we set off for a six week trip in central America. I booked a place for the first night as I didn't want to be scrambling around at night after stepping off an 11 hour flight. I also booked a room for Christmas as I wanted to make sure we spent it somewhere comfortable. Other than that however, the rest of the plan was left open. With a rough idea of what route we wanted to follow, other decisions were made as our mood (and the bus timetables) dictated.
|This month we set off for a couple of weeks in Europe, travelling overland from Portugal to London. This time almost everything was booked - I reserved all 14 nights, in 10 different hotels. We also had five rail tickets and a coach ticket already secured before we left, and most of these bookings were non-refundable. Why the different approach?
There isn't a good or bad way to plan a trip and how detailed you make your plans in advance depends on a number of factors that are very much specific to the trip and to the individuals concerned:
How flexible is your itinerary? In Central America we could go pretty much anywhere. Apart from a fixed Christmas hotel midway through our trip it didn't matter if we spent an extra night in one town or missed another place out entirely. We wanted the ability to change our plans at the last minute.
How expensive is transport? This is the big factor in western Europe. Travel costs can be very high, yet in France, Spain and to a lesser extent the UK, buying train tickets in advance can save 30-40% off the standard price. Flexibility allows you to walk up to the station and get on whatever is leaving next, but you'll pay a high price for the privilege. We opted to sacrifice flexibility for the cost savings we made on cheap rail tickets. In a relatively short trip there is a lot less flexibility in any case.
How fussy are you about where you stay? If you're happy enough to arrive at 9pm in a new city and roll into the first accommodation you find within your budget, then you are probably not going to waste time booking for beds in advance. If on the other hand you want to have a reasonable hotel room without breaking the budget, it probably pays to seek it out online. You do occasionally stumble into a great place for a bargain price but more often than not you'll find the fleapit that lives off those who don't want to carry their bags any further and will take anything just to know they've got somewhere.
How much time do you have? If you're short on time as we were in Europe, you don't want to waste it looking for a place for the night. Here, a strategy of securing a bed relatively close to the station is a good one - you can drop your bag and make the most of every hour of daylight to explore your temporary home.
How much you choose to plan is ultimately down to the individual and only they will know what suits their style, circumstances and character best. The good news is that even for the most meticulous planner out there, you'll often still be left to fly by the seat of your pants when your plans unravel as they inevitably do.
Is there such a thing as too much travel? While some perennial nomads might argue that you can never have too much of a good thing, for the majority of people there comes a time when our thoughts of home become sweeter and more appealing by the day.
The exact point when that happens can depend on many factors.
What have we left behind?
If travelling alone then missing a loved one will naturally play on the emotions; if you have a nice home, close friends and family that you miss then these too will play their part in drawing your thoughts towards coming home.
What have we experienced?
A good trip can last forever. Except of course all trips have their highs and lows, and it is at these low points that we think fondly of going home (just as, in our low points at home our thoughts might turn to travel). Sickness, discomfort, loneliness, robbery, and unpleasant experiences all help a traveller to feel homesick quickly.
Why we are travelling?
The motivation that was behind the initial journey will often determine when that urge to return home kicks in. Those with a strong purpose behind their travels will often endure far more hardships for the sake of staying on their mission (whatever it is).
So how do we know enough is enough?
As with any condition the symptoms may vary, but the following are just a few signs that the traveller has become jaded and may be craving the comforts of home:
1. You arrive in a new city and find nothing you want to explore; the museums look boring, the buildings unoriginal and the food unappealing. In fact, your preferred option is staying in your lodgings and watching American comedy re-runs on TV.
2. You're getting increasingly frustrated at other people's inability to speak English.
3. You're getting snappy at street vendors and tuk-tuk drivers - don't they know you've said NO a thousand times??
4. You can't stand how people still try and rip you off by charging you $1 for your dinner when you know that the locals pay only $0.25. And you tell them.
5. You decide what to do next not based on what you want to do but on how little time you'll have to spend on yet another bus.
Others may show their travel weariness in different ways but I suspect we each of us look back we will recognise when it was that we had hit 'the wall'. At when that happens it's only natural to think of going home. Even the most ardent long-term nomads have written about their need to recharge their enthusiasm from time to time.
We had squeezed into the final available seats on the chicken bus from Sonsonate to San Salvador. Having paid the higher fare ($1.10) to take the express bus, the journey to the capital was a little over an hour. "Thank goodness El Salvador is a small country" I thought, as my 6ft 2in frame contorted into a seat that was designed for an American schoolchild.
The discomfort was soon forgotten (partially at least) as the movie was fired up on the two clunky TV screens. It was a British movie I'd never heard of and for once we were blessed with subtitles rather than the almost universal dubbed confusion. The film was completely forgettable, although it did help pass the time a little more quickly. What did surprise me was that the film would certainly have received an 'R' or '18' rating, yet was shown on a bus packed with families, tucking into their lunches and enjoying the action. Full frontal nudity, love scenes both gay and straight and a whole string of profanities that gave us a valuable education in Spanish! Nobody seemed to mind and the crowd around us were glued to the screen as we trundled along the highway.
Of course we wouldn't get a film like that shown in public in the UK, but it did get me thinking about inappropriate movies for certain situations. Here's a selection of films I wouldn't like to see while travelling:
On a plane:
Snakes on a Plane
Lord of the Flies
On a bus:
Any X-rated British thrillers (see above)
On a train:
Transsiberian (obviously about a specific train journey)
Before going on a hike:
The Birds (my mind always flashes back to this film if I see any birds congregating menacingly as we walk by)
Anaconda (admittedly less of a problem if you are hiking in English woodland)
While visiting Yellowstone:
While on a cruise:
Titanic (of course!)
What is the last film you would want to see on your travels?
This may provoke strong reactions among some people but as it is so fundamental to what many of us spend our time doing I felt it a question worth debating. When we purchase our flight or our holiday, do we buy along with that the right to behave with complete abandon wherever we are? Or do we carry with us a responsibility to act in a certain way, abiding by an unwritten code of principles as we enjoy ourselves under someone else's sky?
I started thinking about this after a recent post on this site that asked if budget travel causes more harm than good. The post was discussed on a Lonely Planet forum and one commenter wrote the following:
"When someone pays for the plane ticket with their own money then they have every right to do what they want with their trip."
Other comments suggest his views are certainly not unique. So does he have a point? Or is such an opinion showing a dangerous level of arrogance and ignorance that in the end harms each of us who travel, whether we agree with him or not?
What does our ticket buy us? It buys us passage from A to B of course. It is a contract between us and the airline that we pay to carry us. Thanks to pre-departure checks it also ensures that in most cases we are also allowed access into the country in which we arrive. But what else?
Does being in a country allow us to bring our own ways, our habits, our values and vices along with us? Do we have a duty to concern ourselves with the local culture, or is an interest in this an optional extra?
Let's take Vang Vieng as an example. For those who are not familiar with this little corner of Laos, it is renowned as a backpacker party town where you can watch endless re-runs of Friends while floating down the river in rubber tubes, swinging in hammocks, drinking happy shakes and vodka buckets. Young twentysomethings stumble along the main street, skimpily dressed in their bikinis and sarongs, and hop in and out of each other's dorm in an all night frenzy of drink, drugs and wild sex.
I'm sure it's not that exciting, but its reputation saw to it that this pair of fortysomethings chose to bypass it and visit another region of Laos instead. It's just not our scene.
But what impact does Vang Vieng have on the Lao people who are impacted by it (willingly or otherwise)? What impression does it leave them of how young people are raised in the West? Does it matter to them that many people come here to indulge in cheap drink and drugs and behave in a distinctly 'un-Lao' way? Should we be concerned or is it up to the people themselves to decide whether or not to show tolerance to the excesses of wealthy (relative) backpackers?
If travel is indeed a privilege, then there appears to be no consequence to abusing it; at least in the short term for today's beneficiaries. For those who venture to foreign lands and re-create a care-free party town that has nothing to do with the native culture but everything to do with their own version of a hedonistic Shangri La, it's easy to conclude that travel is in fact a right that their luck in having been born into the wealthier side of the world's divide has granted them.
Our complete guide to the Masai Mara. Includes galleries plus the full low down on how long to stay, how to get there and when to go.
The Masai Mara is Kenya’s most popular safari destination and for good reason. It is a vast reserve of endless flat grassland crossed by rivers which play host to wildlife’s most spectacular moments. Within the park you get all the big game tickets, lion, hippo, crocs, rhino, you name it, Masai Mara has it. Perhaps its biggest drawcard is the Wildebeest Migration when vast hordes of Wildebeest roar through the park bringing in its trail a wake of mighty predators. If you’re lucky enough to be in Masai Mara during the migration pick a spot by the river and watch enraptured as crocs and lions compete to pick-off stragglers from the clattering herds of wildebeest.
The most popular itineraries combine the Masai Mara with visits to the Rift Valley Lakes of Naivasha and Nakuru. With more time you can also combine the Masai Mara with Mount Kenya or even the Northern parks of Samburu and Meru or Amboseli in the South without having to resort to internal flights.
Masai Mara is around 5-6 hours drive from Nairobi and 3-4 hours from the Rift Valley Lakes at Naivasha and Nakuru. If you are planning on diving all the way from Samburu, Mount Kenya or Amboseli, expect to make a whole day of it (8-10 hours)
The last hour or two of road to the Maasai Mara reserve is awful, so expect a bone rattling drive. If you are interested in trekking, camping out in the wild and culture then there are some fantastic experiences to be had in the wider Masai land on the way to the Park. Options range from half day visits to the eco camp at Magi Moto to 4 -7 day trekking itineraries in the Loita plains. This area also play host to wildlife, giraffe, zebra, antelope and wildebeest are all common as are all the big predators – so you will usually be accompanied by a Masai warrior for security.
Whilst wildlife buffs will want to combine the Masai Mara with at least one of the other big parks such as Samburu or Amboseli, but if you are only interested in a taste of safari then you would be better of combining the Masai Mara with local Masai treks, a couple of days in the Rift Valley Lakes or even climbing Mount Kenya.
How keen are you on wildlife or photography? If you are very keen you will want to give yourself at least two full days in the park, preferably more. For the generalists amongst us, one to two full days is enough time to see most of what the park has to offer.
This guide to the Masai Mara is intended as a useful resource for anybody planning to visit the Masai Mara for a safari. For those looking to book a safari with experienced guides, full support and private transport from Nairobi, Tourdust can arrange tailored safaris in the Masai Mara as well as regular small group tours, email us on email@example.com. Our recommended Masai Mara safari is a 6 day round trip from Nairobi that includes the Rift Valley Lakes and time with the Masai people in addition to time in the park itself:
4 day Masai Mara Wild Camping Safari from £476pp based on two sharing: Camp out in the bush in this back to basics mobile camping safari with expert wildlife guides and superb safari in the Masai Mara reserve. Fantastic value four day wild camping safari in a stunning private conservancy in the Masai Mara region. Includes road transfers from Nairobi
3 day private Masai Mara Road Safari from £601pp based on two sharing: A classic 3 day safari in the Masai Mara in a private 4wd vehicle with experienced wildlife guides. Accommodation is in a lovely mid range permanent tented camp just outside the park. This safari includes transfer to and from Nairobi and all park fees.
3 day flying Masai Mara Safari from £654pp based on two sharing: A classic 3 day flying safari in the Masai Mara staying in your choice of lodge or tented camp. Choose from our selection of the best mid range and high end permanent tented camps and lodges. This safari includes flights to and from the Mara from Nairobi and all park fees.
6 Day Rift Valley and Masai Mara Safari from £768pp: A fantastic well balanced 6 day itinerary that breaks up the journey to Masai Mara with safaris in Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha. Highlights include an overnight at a colonial plantation and camping out in the bus in the Masai Mara region alongside the incomparable Masai Mara game drives.
11 Day Rift Valley, Masai Mara and Mount Kenya combination from;1760pp:The perfect combination, after trekking the majestic Mount Kenya, journey via the Great Lakes to Masai Mara for An incredible safari.
Undoubtedly the best time to visit the Masai Mara is during the wildebeest migration in June, July and August. However it is still more than worth a visit during the rest of the year. The only exception being towards the end of the long rains in April and May when the roads often become impassable.
To provide a summary of all the accommodation options in or around the park would be impossible, there are simply too many. Prices are typically high and each gate tends to be surrounded by a huge number of small resorts and permanent tented camps. Inside the lodge, the options tend to be at the very high end only. Follows are highlights…
Mountain Rock Mara Springs: A permanent fixed camp in the Serena Conservancy area near Sekanani Gate. The tents are erected around newly built en-suite bathrooms, and whilst there aren't luxury frills it is very comfortable
Kimana Mara: A community owned and run camp with ensuite fixed tents. (near Mountain Rock Mara Springs)
Governors' Camp: This is where to go if you have some money to splash around. This is the place to stay in the Masai Mara for that classic luxury safari experience.