Saturday, 31 January 2009

Trips that will kick start your spirit

Maybe it's the time of year or maybe it's because I'm fast approaching the big three-zero, but I've recently been pondering life changing trips...a lot. You know the ones I mean. These are breaks from real life that pull back your eye lids to a vision of life's infinite possibilities. Possibilities, so exciting, that when you head home (if you do) there's no more scratching around working out what to do next with your fleeting existence. These are the trips that cause a paradigm shift in your very being and set you away on a next stage in life.

Mine, so far, haven't been showstopping exotic or obscure but very influential.

1997, Ibiza - two weeks spent the friends on the Mediterranean's White Isle. Floating the day times away on clear blue water, watching the sunset and fire eaters at the Cafe del Mar, then dancing in the open air to uplifting house music until the sun came up again. There was something a little spiritual in the air that year - the sun and the sea energised me. My first taste of travel hedonism left me wanting much more...

1999, Interailing In Europe - It was the last year of the 20th Century, my final year at University, I was turning 21 and I wanted some damn direction! A month travelling around certainly sorted that out, immersing me in the variety of life's opportunities that were available right on my doorstep: Continental Europe. My dedication to the travel publishing industry was decided on that trip, as was my path to the nearest capital city. And so to London...

2002, Central Park, New York - Much needed affirmation came sitting on a bench, in the snow, overlooking Central Park's ice-rink, appreciating the iconic architecture that surrounded me. I would continue working in the travel industry. I wouldn't give it up for a better salary and an easier life because moments like these are priceless....

2007 - Sarajevo - Press trip on British Airway's inaugural flight to the Bosnian capital. Experiencing and writing about a city very much emergent on the tourism scene, confirmed my passion for travel publishing and writing...

2009, Destination To Be Confirmed...but I'm looking for ideas.
Suggestions so far, via Twitter include
Authentic Sea Coast suggested Nova Scotia, at the head of the largest bay on the Atlantic Coast with more than 500km of shoreline.

Travelguru pointed me in the direction of their walking and cycling holidays. The Catalan Coast break appeals.

What would you suggest? Which travel experiences have proved pivotal in your life?
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Friday, 30 January 2009

Destinations, London 2009 - six days until it opens for the business of travel inspiration

If I'm honest, Destinations always arrives a little too early for me. I'm only just about back in a swimming routine and my inbox is still bursting at the seams as I carry on ploughing through emails in an attempt to catch up after Christmas and New Year festivities.

The hard working travel industry, however, wake up to the new year far more swiftly than me. Because the period of time from Boxing Day morning, through January and into February is the traditional Peak selling time for holidays. 'Peaks' are all about hitting challenging booking targets, capturing as many deposits as possible: basically banking lots of cash before the holiday season begins and the emphasis switches to 'late' sales.

Destinations: The Holiday and Travel Show, comes to London's Earl's Court on 5 - 6th February (27 Feb - 1 March at NEC, Birmingham). The show gives tour operators and tourist boards the chance to display their wares face to face with the consumer, rather than via lead-in prices online, in shop windows or with expensive, eye-catching TV advertising campaigns.

Now in its 15th year, Destinations' raison d'être is to provide a stage for a more varied mix of travel options and heaps of inspiration to help uncommitted holidaymakers get booking. Special discounts are often offered to incentivise bookings during the show.

Increasingly active at Destinations are travel publishers Bradt and the travel magazine Wanderlust. This is no bad thing at all. I'd much rather see the infectious passion of these two independent travel publishers entertaining the crowds than the flashy stands and soapy strap lines of any multi-national travel conglomerates in the vicinity.

Bradt's stage-stealers at Destinations 2009
Peter Lynch, author of Wildlife and Conservation Volunteering: The Complete Guide, will offer advice to anyone who's contemplating a career break ( 5th Feb, 13.00, Theatre 1)

Adrian Phillips, Bradt's Editorial Director, will interview world affairs correspondent Allan Little ( 5 Feb, 14.00, Theatre 1 )

Bradt's David Horwell, an expert on the Galápagos Islands, will explain how tourism can protect this unique archipelago. It's a chance to learn more about these enchanted islands and see David's stunning photography ( 5th February at 5pm;Theatre 2 )

Bradt's Polly Evans chairs the 'Going Solo' panel (6th Feb 14.00, Theatre 2)

Bradt's founder, Hilary Bradt, interviews BBC presenter Kate Humble on her travels and her pioneering website, (6th Feb, 16.00 Theatre 1)

Mike Unwin
, series editor of Bradt's wildlife guides, author of Southern African Wildlife and co-author of 100 Animals to See Before They Die gives a talk on Swaziland (6 February at 4pm; Theatre 2)

Activities Abroad won't be exhibiting (just in case any chavs happen to make it into Earl's Court), but these Sandwagon-spotted operators are just a few of those waiting to inspire you:

Addicted To Travel - Online portal specialising in experiential, adventure and different travel experiences.
Arctic Wild Adventures - Family-run adventure holiday tour company providing tailored holidays in Arctic regions
Away From The Crowds - Two brothers' desire to enjoy real travel experiences, whilst remaining in touch with nature and local culture resulted in these original ways to discover the Spanish heartland
Fulani Travel - Tours that do justice to the world’s most culturally rich and diverse continent. Countries visited include Libya, Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The Times are producing a 16-page Destinations and Show Guide which will be inserted into The Times tomorrow.

Grab a copy, buy your tickets and plan your trip to Destinations.

Related Sandwagon posts
Destinations 2008

Image courtesy of Destinations: The Travel and Holiday Show
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Saturday, 24 January 2009

Free Mobile Application/E-guide to Les Deux Alpes - NEW from Ski-Ride Productions

The barefoot sand dancing nomad inside me hankers after the traditional wonders of travel: an invaluable tip from a cheerful bus conductor or a philosophical point to ponder etched onto a wooden bench top by the ocean.

But even I have to admit that there's room in my rucksack for destination e-guides. That long as the content held by the e-guide is really worth the effort of scrolling and scrolling and scrolling some more to get the info I need.

I carry my mobile everywhere and because it definitely attracts less attention than whipping out a floppy and flapping fold out city map when I'm lost, I'm all for using my mobile for navigation and information purposes when travelling. However, if an e-guide for mobile phones delivers a mere edited down version of guidebook content, rendered devoid of depth following the transfer from print to digital media, then I'd much rather pass on this technology until it offers a little more substance.

But enough about me. Here's more about Ski-Ride Productions' latest TXTguides™ - mobile guide to Les Deux Alpes, France written and updated monthly for ski and snowboarders.

If the SkiSpot guidebooks written by Francis Johnson and published back in 2005 are anything to go by, the content of his e-guides will be far from factually thin on the ground and won't waste travellers' time with superficial and spindly sentences. The SkiSpots guidebooks were densely packed with destination facts and useful piste information, right down to how many snowboards fitted in the lockers at certain ski stations. Reading these original guides from cover to cover, I was stunned by Francis' attention to detail.

Francis Johnston (director & executive author at Ski-Ride Productions) announced:

"I’m delighted to add this great resort and ski area to the Ski-Ride series. Les Deux Alpes is one of the biggest and most popular ski resorts in the Southern French Alps, and a particular favourite with freestyle enthusiasts, with a well-deserved reputation for guaranteed snow and lively apres ski.

Now, anyone planning to visit this great area can use this in-depth guide to fully plan their visit, and then take it with them on the slopes. Since virtually everyone carries their mobile phone with them wherever they go, they don’t actually need to pack anything extra in order to carry masses of up-to-date information at their fingertips".

The resort-specific guides are published in a specially-developed electronic format that allows them to be saved/read on mobile phones with no need for a network signal in order to use them at home or abroad. Plus there's the added bonus of no additional weight in your ski jacket.

All TXTguides™ are licensed free-of-charge rather than sold and readers can freely share the guides with friends via email & Bluetooth. Crucially, the content is also updated every month during the European ski season.

Other titles include:

Val d’Isere & Tignes (Espace Killy, France), Soldeu-El Tarter & Pas de la Casa (Grandvalira, Andorra); plus Arcalis & Pal-Arinsal (Vallnord, Andorra).

There's lots more detail at

Look out for my full review of Les Deux Alpes TXTguide

Related posts
Frommer's Travel Guides - New For Apple iPhone and iPod Touch

Lonely Planet Guidebooks on Nokia Mobiles
Read more!

Writing & Photography Holidays from the Experts - NEW at

Read on if you've always fancied swapping your home office or the local wi-fi enabled coffeeshop for some on-location writing and photography training.

Authentic tour and accommodation website, Tourdust have added two very tempting creative holidays to their site. Both of these professionally-run vocational holidays are set in locations inspirational enough to unblock even the most frustrated writers and photographers.

More to come on, but for now...

1. Creative Writing with freelance journalist and writer Gillian Bouras - Ancient Olympia, Greece
Having lived in a Peloponnesian village for twenty-five years, this published journalist and author of six books is more than qualified to help you deliver your words to the world.
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Thursday, 22 January 2009

Travels in Texas, 2002 - an article from the Sandwagon vaults

Perfectly horizontal streams of smoke, consistently dense and pulsing, were floating along the Colorado River. As I walked closer, it became obvious that these were not physics- defying smoke signals but streams of Mexican Free-Tail bats, storming off down river to obey their daily instinct to feast on clouds of flies.

I watched the show with locals and visitors, workers heading home for dinner alongside families sharing this wonder of urban wildlife. Half of the crowd leant over the Congress Avenue Bridge, looking down onto the flux of Free-Tails in flight, while the rest stared up from the river banks into the concrete arches that make such perfect roosts. The audience’s collective ‘wow’ mixed in the air with the delicate and continuous drum beat of several thousand flapping bat wings.

Guidebooks had recommended a visit to the Texan state capital on a summer’s evening to see the world’s largest urban bat colony in action. The reality exceeded my expectations – as did the Lone Star State itself. Texas revealed itself to be as much of an unknown culture for me as an indigenous Amazonian tribal village, and I fought off the distractions of my superficial research and those subconscious flashbacks to TV’s Dallas. There were genuine adventures to be had here, beyond the fiction.

I’d been prepared for houses the size of Southfork with closets spewing forth a lifetime’s supply of Stetsons. The roadside hazard of a fast-food chain selling ‘Chicken and Biscuits’, however, was a surprise. Visions of chicken nugget and Garibaldi combo meals with a side of HobNobs amused me so much that I swerved my hired Grand-Am. Thankfully a Texan friend saved me from more near misses.

“Yes, biscuits,” she said, bemused. “What’s so funny? They’re just the bread part of a fried chicken sandwich, you know.”

I didn’t know that, until I came to Texas.

This culinary discovery was matched a few evenings later by truly gargantuan jacket potatoes as lengthy as fish and chip shop-style battered cod. Since then, neat rotund spuds have never quiet looked the same. Neither has aging soft-rock star Phil Collins!

My Texan driving adventures should have been accompanied by strains of Country music played by chirpy local radio station DJs. That was until – hours into the Austin to Fort Worth leg – I gave up station surfing and gave into the Genesis front man. There was no escaping Phil.

Lastly, Fort Worth’s train station became as memorable a hallmark of my Texan adventures as the incongruent soundtrack. It was rush hour at Trinity Station. The entrance hall was eerily empty and so devoid of activity that the stunning aqua and steely grey of Art Deco pillars, walls and ceiling bore down ominously on me, as if mourning busier times before air-conditioned cars replaced train tracks.

This and all of my memories of Texas still surprise me, and they all remain as vivid as those of my destination that day at the station – Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, its book depository and that grassy knoll.
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Thursday, 15 January 2009

Cat and Dog Lover needed for Free Accommodation in Syros - Escape the Hanger now!

When SandWagon kicked off its first leg of this round and round and round the world journey of off-beat travel news, I ran a feature called 'Escape the hanger!'. Back then I inhabited a hanger of an office devoid of natural light, views or personality. This didn't sit well with my creative tendencies and undeniable travel urges. It took being 'penned in' to the extreme.

Anyways, 'Escape the Hanger!' was my little way of inspiring other claustrophobes to swap the day job for a freer lifestyle overseas working with travel companies, tour groups, volunteering, whatever caught my eye and set me dreaming of a life less tethered.

Escape the Hanger is back for 2009 with what could well be a gem of an opportunity in Greece.

Stray animals Lover Required - Syros, Greece

- approximately 3 hours work per day, caring for stray dogs and cats
- Cleaning out and feeding needed. Walking not obligatory but much appreciated.
- Non-smokers are preferred.
- One month minimum (or longer)
- Super market 5 mins away, also bus to main town.

Call Mrs Bates on 0030 22810 42054 between 6-8pm Greek time and she will call you back. Or write to Pagos 113, Syros 84100, Greece. (Letters can take up to 2 weeks).
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Monday, 5 January 2009

Queen Mary, Long Beach, California - All (Californians) Aboard For FREE ADMISSION

Californians who've found themselves all spent up after the Christmas festivities are being offered a Happy New Year present of unlimited free days aboard this famous local landmark, throughout January 2009. General Admission is normally $24.95.

"Realising that we are all living through difficult economic times, we thought that offering free admission to California residents during January would be our small way of helping to ring in 2009 on a positive note," said Queen Mary General Manager Jay Primavera.

Fully-subscribed Golden State residents should head along to the Queen Mary's box office with their documentation of residency and photo ID at the ready. Awaiting visitors on board is the largest collection of Art Deco artwork in the US plus the 1930's glamour of 307 original staterooms spread between three decks. It's all available to discover courtesy of a free self-guided tour that's thrown in alongside the open-house admission.

The Queen Mary has been a Long Beach resident for the last 40 years, so if you've yet to pay homage to this old girl of the seas January 2009 is a prime opportunity to get well-acquainted with her....or plan your royal wedding aboard...or make a dinner reservation at the Five-Star Sir Winston's restaurant...or scope out the scene ahead of the Queen Mary Scottish Festival.

All (Californians) aboard!
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