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Wednesday 27 March 2019

The Babymoon - One Last Hoorah...Only Joking...

Dear Readers,

The Babymoon.  Possibly the latest trend on our Blog, along with the term “Vacay” which, again, is new to us, although the Americans have been using it for years as a diminutive to “Vacation”, obviously.  Along with quinoa, millet, chia seeds and flavoured gins, the Babymoon is the latest craze.

Tips and Tricks for a Perfect Babymoon Vacay

The babymoon trend is fast gaining popularity.  Most first time parents take the trip before the baby arrives and it’s aimed at getting a break from the baby-centred conversations that take precedence during pregnancy.  Other couples opt for a babymoon as the last trip as a duo since it becomes more complicated to travel once the baby arrives. 

Planning for a perfect babymoon can be quite daunting especially when you factor in things such as pregnancy symptoms, travel restrictions, available vacation times, CDC recommendations and so on. In this guide, we’re going to give you insights on how to plan your perfect babymoon vacay.

The history of babymoon 

Although the trend has become more popular in the last few years, the use of this term in English can be traced back to 1991.  The term was coined by Sheila Kitzinger, a childbirth author, who was referring to the period that first-time parents spend alone with their child just after birth.  With time, this concept has morphed into a holiday just before the birth, and are as expected as honeymoons, hen parties, and weddings.

Various celebrities have brought attention to babymoon trips.  Case in point is Jessica Simpson who celebrated her first pregnancy with a staycation at Parker Palm Springs in 2011.  In 2013, Kim Kardashian and her husband Kanye West took a trip to Paris shortly after announcing that they were pregnant.  In 2015, Prince William and Kate Middleton took their family babymoon to the West Indies where they spent time on Mustique, an island in the Caribbean much favoured by Kate’s parents, and where Princess Margaret famously spent a lot of her time.

Why should you plan for a babymoon? 

A babymoon is all about you celebrating the upcoming changes in your life.  It also gives you time to relax and prepare your mind for the child’s arrival and enjoy some intimacy with your partner.  Here are a few reasons why you should consider planning for a babymoon:

• It creates some Mummy and Daddy time - in most cases, pregnancy pushes the dad-to-be out of the equation as the expectant mother goes through all the changes and symptoms.  The father has anxieties, changes, and worries that need to be addressed too.  Taking a babymoon is an ideal way of reminding each of you that you are going through this together. 

• It is a perfect time to bond - as first-time parents, feeling anxious about the new phase of life is expected.  A babymoon will be enjoyable and centred on the two of you thus giving you time to revive your bond.  This is the perfect time to take leisurely walks while holding hands as you enjoy beautiful sceneries.  It will give you a chance to remind yourselves why you are an exceptional couple and going to be great parents.

• It gives you a chance to de-stress - pregnancy is not an easy time.  Taking a week or two off to enjoy, relax, slow down, and focus on the simple things that matter and on each other might be just what you need. 

Babymoon planning tips and tricks 

A babymoon is supposed to be a relaxing retreat that leaves you refreshed rather than ragged, but planning for one requires more than picking out a destination, packing up, and going.  Here’s how you can plan for a perfect babymoon:-

Know when to go 

No expectant mother wants to travel when they can hardly fit into the car or when they can barely keep their breakfast down.  While there’s no right or wrong answer as to when you should travel, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend travelling during the second trimester.  That is between 18 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

During this time, your energy is mostly restored, and the pregnancy symptoms have subsided. However, should you miss out on this window you could travel in the early stages of the third trimester.  Remember to consult your doctor whichever time you decide to travel.

Choose the type of trip you want and pick a destination 

While you may decide to cross a major trip off your bucket list, you could also go closer home. It all depends on your doctor’s recommendations, your energy levels, and resources.  Whichever your choice, make sure you settle on a locale that’s mutually satisfying. 

When it comes to driving or flying, you will want to consider how far along you are and your budget. Virtually any airline will need a letter from your doctor if you are more than 28 weeks pregnant. While driving could be budget-friendly, remember that long drives could have the same effect as flights.

Check out what’s on the menu 

Before booking your preferred hotel, have a look at their menu to ensure that it has foods that you can bear.  Larger resorts or full-service restaurants would be better as they often offer buffet services. 

Pregnancy brings along peculiar pangs of hunger so it would be best to book a hotel that provides 24-hour room service. 

Opt for low-stress travel arrangements 

When pregnant, you want to avoid travelling across the world or taking part in extreme adventures. Sitting for too long while pregnant could result in blood clots.  It would, therefore, be wise to break up travel times so that you make time to move around on your feet.  You might also want to put off cruising unless you can take your doctor with you!

Before planning your trip, check out the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) for travel advisories for such things as Zika outbreaks, especially if you are travelling abroad.  The Zika virus could cause severe congenital disabilities on the baby should the mother become infected, so it would be wise to avoid those areas altogether.

Ensure your destination is in close proximity to medical help 

No matter what destination you choose, contact the nearby hotels and choose one that’s close to a quality medical facility.  Write down the contact info for nearby facilities and keep this with you throughout your holiday.  It would also be wise to have your midwife or consultant’s contact details and your insurance information at all times.

Have your doctor check on your itinerary 

Travelling while pregnant presents quite a few hurdles.  As your safety and that of the baby is paramount, be sure to keep your midwife/consultant in the loop before booking your trip to the tropics of Africa.  In addition to offering you advice and answering the pertinent questions you might have, your midwife/consultant will provide you with prenatal records.  Should anything happen during your trip, you will have accurate and up-to-date medical records.

Make time for some downtime 

Pick out a destination that offers not only pregnancy-friendly activities but also some serenity.  Some obvious choices would be a beachside resort where you can stroll or an eco-camp where you can go for nature walks.  A big city will also serve the purpose if you intend to steal some time for your favourite show and take time to enjoy the local park.

If you have the time to take a Babymoon, then take it.  Life will NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!  Joking, it’ll be better, just different.  In summary, though, make sure you make time for your partner.  It’s a scary prospect being new parents, and often stressful.  So make time for them, and enjoy being able to take a leisurly walk or read a book in peace!  Or, in fact, anything in peace...But it's all, without a shadow of a doubt, worth it!


Friday 22 March 2019

Corsica - Island of Mystery, Maquis and Tripe...

Dear Readers, an unusual place you may think, but did you know that it was the destination of the first ever package holiday? Vladimir Raitz, who recently died aged 88, has been indeed hailed as the man who shaped the UK travel industry. He organised charter flights and all-inclusive packages that, in 1950, had never even been heard of.

His inaugural “package holiday” was to the then wild island of Corsica.

He founded his company: “Horizon Holidays” (the name inspired by the view from an aircraft window) and set up his first “package”.

11 intrepid travellers gathered at King’s Cross in London, 68 years ago, to board a coach which took them to Gatwick, to board a war-surplus Dakota transport plane, which, after re-fuelling in Lyon, landed on an airstrip in Calvi built by the American military in 1943. It took them 6 hours. They stayed in military tents.

What lured them? “Meat-filled meals”, the Mediterranean sun and wine at 9p a bottle! And guess what, it cost them £32 10 Shillings all-inclusive of flights, accommodation and “meat-filled meals” which was a massive pull for them, after post-War British austerity. They could hardly believe their luck, as a return flight from Nice to Calvi at that time cost £70, which is equivalent today to £2,200. Indeed, many were reluctant to accept that a “package holiday” could be so cheap. And there it was, the birth of the “package holiday”.

But enough of the package holiday, and more about one of the most mysterious and fascinating islands in the World, with the most chequered history you could imagine.

Today we are talking about Corsica as a Travel Trend in its own right.

 Dorothy Carrington is an important person to mention when we speak about Corsica, and her prize-winning book “Granite Island” is definitely worth a read. She was an incredible woman, and only died in 2002, aged 91. She was a pioneer and was famously quoted as saying “my life really ended and started when I set foot in Corsica”. In today’s blog, we’re going to give you a little taste of how, perhaps, you may agree with that quote. She was an explorer, a journalist and a lecturer, and lectured all over the world latterly on Pascal Paoli and his 18th Century text which she brought to light as being the very first written democratic constitution. 


Corsican history is chequered and fascinating, and as a potted example, after being ruled by the Roman Empire, after its collapse, and briefly occupied by the Vandals and Ostrogoths, Corsica came under the Republic of Pisa, and subsequently Genoese rule. More fighting as Corsica was caught in the crossfire of Spain and France for the occupation of Italy, by the end of the 16th Century, Genoese rule was reinstated. In 1729 a revolution was started for the independence of Corsica from Genoa, and Pascale Paoli (who founded Corsica’s one and only university in Corte), took it over from his father Giachinto Paoli, was declared sovereign of the independent Corsican Republic in 1755. This continued until 1769 when Corsica was conquered by France.

In 1794 Pascal Paoli returned to Corsica from Britain where he’d been held in exile, and invited the British to take over the island from the French, which they did do (Admiral Nelson famously losing his eye in the battle for Calvi), so it was under British rule for 2 years, until the British decided to withdraw, rendering back to French rule. Nearing the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814, Corsica once more came under British rule, but was once again rendered back to the French.

Although Corsica was predominantly Italian, fondness started to grow for the French. Since its only industry was subsistence agriculture, as the French introduced more production, especially that of olive oil and wine and the export thereof, plus steamboats to make the journey from Corsica to France faster, plus the introduction of the French language in primary schools, the French were increasingly accepted. However after World War 1, unrest towards the French resurfaced and Corsican Nationalism began. Today, the Corsican language and culture is protected by them as a new born baby.

Corsica as a Destination

Despite being the destination of the first package holiday, Corsica is relatively undiscovered compared to the likes of Spain, the Balearics and Portugal. Probably the reason for this is cost. It’s not cheap to holiday there, especially if you are a family on a budget. But guess what, if you’re not, it’s heavenly! A flippant remark perhaps, and indeed for the cost of a modern “package holiday” to Corsica, including flights, car hire and villa, you can, in fact, go to Barbados for less, it’s what keeps it, for the time being at least, exclusive.

For various reasons, your intrepid Blogger has a wealth of experience of holidaying on Corsica. It’s a funny thing: once you’ve been a few times, you’ll decide for yourself: you’re either a “Northerner” or a “Southerner”. Corsica is split into Haute Corse, having Bastia as the capital and Corse du Sud, having Ajaccio as the capital. But, as Napoleon himself put it, nothing smells quite like Corsica. He claimed to smell it before he could see it through his telescope on his ship. It’s the smell of the “maquis”: wild Corsican herbs which grow all over the island. Once smelled, never forgotten.

The North

If you chose to go to the North, you’ll either fly into Bastia or Calvi.I love flying into Calvi, over the Citadel. If you go to Calvi, be sure to stay somewhere like Hotel La Villa or La Signoria. If you want the comfort of your own villa, then your Blogger would recommend Villa Cala Di Mare. Visiting the port is a must. It’s like St Tropez 30 years ago. So chic. So trendy. So beautiful. Admire the yachts moored there. If anyone has visited Puerto Banus in Marbella, there are better and bigger yachts in Calvi! You must prop yourself up in the luxurious cushions of Bar Du Golf, sip a Muscat, and watch the beautiful people. Not forgetting to pop into a little chic boutique or two, then head for dinner at Le Magnolia.

The Citadel is magical. Go and have a potter round it, then when night falls, either get tickets to watch I Muvrini perform in the moonlight (enchanting, you’ll never be the same again… although your Intoxicated Blogger may have fallen asleep at one point…) or head with the trendy crowd to the infamous bar and nightclub, Chez Tao (you’ll never be the same again, but for different reasons this time!).

If you want a beach club and want to hang out with the likes of Kate Moss, then head to L’Octopussy on the beach.

If you want quiet beaches, even in peak season, then hire a car (which is a must anyway) and pop to Marine de Davia. Your Blogger’s FAVOURITE beach. So clear is the water, and so clean and quiet, that in the mid-afternoon heat, the haze is the most stunning pink colour.

Ile Rousse is lovely, and the drive there from Calvi is beautiful. Head to the square and sit under the orange trees to watch the locals play petanque.

Carry on you’ll get to one of my favourite hilltop villages, Lama. Right up in the mountains, the views are unrivalled. Head to St Antonino as well, it’s just so beautiful. St Florent, over the Desert des Agriates, is another beautiful port, and if you’re a bit of a racing driver (who, moi?), the road there is wicked! Once there, visit Saleccia beach, one of the best on the island.

Another wicked road, but definitely not for the faint hearted, is the road up to Asco and Haute Asco…the former ski resort, from which you can get a wonderful view of Monte Cinto, Corsica’s highest peak at 2,706m. It’s a real experience driving up there, and even in the height of the Summer, you’ll feel the cold.

Bastia is the county town of the North, and also well worth a visit. Perhaps not in mid-Summer as it gets pretty busy, with all the ferries coming in, but out of season it’s just lovely.

Going inland a bit, Corte, the ancient capitol, is definitely worth a visit. The situation of the University of Corsica, it is the most beautiful hilltop town. The museum is fascinating and brings all the history we have spoken about above, to life.

Another route worth a mention is West from Calvi, and down towards Galeria and so to Les Calanches de Piana, the stunning series of red cliffs which will take your breath away.

For a free, and very, very amusing activity, do this (a Travel Trend in its own lunchtime): as you potter round Calvi or Ile Rousse, for example, read the English translations of the menus on the restaurant menu boards. More than once, I have been virtually hospitalised with laughter. Although the best has to be a translation of a coach trip to Spelunca Gorges…remind me to send it to you…


There’s no easy way to drive from North to South, and it’ll take a while, I kid you not. But it is an undeniably beautiful drive.

Places of note in the South are obviously Ajaccio, the modern capitol of Corsica and also the birthplace of Napoleon. Being another port on the sea, it has a similar feel to Bastia. Although you’ll find the whole flavour of the South much more Italian, than French. Perhaps you’ll also notice the increased prevalence of the “mafia”…but let’s not get too “Godfather” about the whole thing. Something people asked me, certainly from the UK, when I first started my Corsican Affair: was I not worried about the terrorism?! What terrorism? They have never once hurt a single hair on a tourist’s head. Unless you are a French Prefet that has annoyed them, you are perfectly safe. Corsicans understand that tourism is their greatest industry nowadays, and no, you are not going to get taken out by a Corsican sniper or wake up with a horse’s head in your bed…

Propriano is one of my favourites, and a lovely place to make your home whilst you’re there is Hotel Marinca in Olmeto Plage. Plenty of access to beautiful beaches, and a lovely atmosphere. If you do stay there, go, for the evening, to “Chez Mimi” at the Santa Maria hotel in Olmeto. Like visiting Chez Tao in Calvi, your Esteemed Blogger promises you, that after a visit to Chez Mimi, you will never be the same again…It is a peculiar experience, especially for the Brits amongst us…Undeniably picturesque, you’ll arrive at Chez Mimi not believing your luck…You have found the holy grail, the sort of restaurant that Peter Mayle talks about in A Year In Provence: undiscovered, strung with fairy lights, cheap, and, well, quirky. As another aside, if you loved A Year In Provence, please also read A Year In The Merde and more importantly, Merde Actually by Stephen Clarke. You will be crying with laughter. But I digress. Mimi (although I think she must have been replaced by now as she was certainly very old the last time we were there) and her team tell you what you are having to eat. No arguing. There are vats of strong local red wine, cooled (this is a normal thing to do in Corsica. No, I’d never come across it either, but in a hot climate, it sort of make sense) which are copious. You are then served what could be classed as a “tasting menu” but the difference being that the board of charcuterie or the casserole of tripe (yes, tripe, your Horrified Blogger has never quite recovered) is plonked between you for you to help yourselves…it’s such a fun, and pretty odd experience.

Whilst you’re there (having recovered from your red-wine hangover which you blame on dodgy tripe), head down to Bonifacio. You’ll be able to see Sardinia from there. It’s a really dramatic town, and something well worth doing is a boat trip round the bottom tip of the island. Again, very Italian feeling.

Arguably the most beautiful beach in the South is Palombaggia.  This is North East of Bonifacio and just before you get to Porto-Veccio.  You’ll find that with the South, the beaches to tend to be quieter in the high season, than in the North.  Santa Giulia is an absolute must, and the scene, with its jetty, of many a famous publication.

I could go on all day, but I won’t.  So there you have it:  Corsica.  Chic, mysterious, undiscovered, and probably one of my most favourite places on earth.  Once bitten, once you smell the maquis and taste the Pietra (local lager brewed using chestnuts), you’ll never not return…

And one of the best things, too?  It’s only an hour and a half flight from the UK…


Friday 15 March 2019

Travelling the Indonesian Islands - Part 1

Island hopping has long since been a travel trend. In this post, we explore the best ways to island-hop in Indonesia. A mysterious and undeniably beautiful place in the World, in the spirit of “Travel Trends” we are going to look, across two Blog posts, at different ways to travel and enjoy Indonesia, from the hip, trendy backpackers to the luxe-seeking spa-ers! In this Blog post, we’re looking at the place itself, and in the next one, the best places for different travellers.

It’s such a huge topic. Where do you even start? How about some stats:  

  • “Indonesia” is actually the World’s largest island nation.
  • The archipelago (love that word) consists of 17,000 islands! 
  • Covering 12 million square miles. 
  • 300 ethnic groups (all pretty much living in harmony I might add). 
  • Contains 20% of the World’s (living) coral reefs.

Bali is clearly the best known of the Indonesian islands, and we’ll talk a little about it, but Travel Trends is all about the lesser-known, so that’s what we’re going to focus on in this post.


Considered the “heart” of Indonesia, did you know that Java is the World’s most populated island?

Let’s not, also, forget “Java Man” one of the earliest fossils of “homo erectus” found on the island of Java in 1891, giving us one of the biggest insights into our ancestors.

You’ll most likely fly into Jakarta, the capital of the Indonesian Islands. Perhaps a shock to some, but it looks like any modern capital…but maybe more beautiful… A kind of fusion of Western skyscrapers and traditional Indonese elegance. It has a mixture you wouldn’t find in a lot of modern cities, however, in terms of handmade artefacts to one side and haute-couture to the other! You’ll also find beautiful colonial buildings, many of which are now used as fine-dining restaurants, dating back to the 16th Century. However street-food is a must-do, with Chinese being the predominant influence here.

If you’re interested in the original culture, you should definitely visit Setu Babakan in Srengseng Sawah, South Jakarta. Your Blogger believes that this is a must wherever you go, because you’re showing respect to the country you’re visiting that you’re interested in their history, their essence. This is one of the very last in-tact Betawi village communities in Jakarta and here you can see how they live, experience their culture and dance, fish, generally get a flavour of this area of Indonesia.

Whilst you’re here, you should also visit Yogyakarta, Indonesia’s “second city” and a pretty cool one at that. Jakarta is the responsible big sister, and Yogyakarta is the naughty little brother! All spiritual, cool, with all-night shadow puppet shows if that’s your thing! Still headed by a sultan, Yogyakarta is far from old-fashioned, as you’ll see from the shopping malls and fast-food places. It’s also a great place to base yourself if you want to visit the two major heritage sites of Borobudur and Prambanan.

You really should visit Borobudur. It’s the biggest Buddhist temple in the World. Built in the 8th Century. Now, your esteemed Blogger isn’t particularly religious but she is keen on the principles of Buddhism, and if you’re making the trip there, to get the most dramatic views, you should go at dawn or dusk…very spiritual, very enlightened, built with over 2 million blocks of stone, you will see ancient reference here to many things, one being cause and effect ergo karma.

Prambanan is Indonesia’s largest Hindu site, consisting of 244 temples. Not much is known about its origins, just that it was started in the 9th Century and is thought to have commemorated the return of a Hindu dynasty to sole power in Java. Due to seismic activity (a bit of an occupational hazard in Indonesia), the temples have been knocked down and lovingly restored more than once. It is the most breath-taking place, and you need at least a day to do it justice.

Right, this is a massive topic, so guys, we need to move on. You wanted off the beaten track Indonesian Islands? Let’s go native: the Karimunjawa Islands. 90km or so North of Jepara on the mainland (you’ll need to get a boat from there, and also find your sea legs as it can be extremely rough), Karimumjawa is an archipelago (that word again) consisting of 27 islands, only 5 of which are inhabited. Most of the population are Javanese, but there are some Bugis and Madurese families as well. Basically think white sand beaches and turquoise seas. Nothing too fancy. Very unknown. And where many Indonesians go for their holidays, so it must be good!


Often in the news for its lively volcanic situation, in short you should expect to find a wild, wanton landscape, with beautiful lakes, and jungles straight out of the Jungle Book, filled with elephants, rhinos, tigers and of course, orang-utans! Then down to sea level, and idyllic, deserted beaches with the sea of your dreams…take me there right now!

 Still pretty wild and undiscovered, here you’ll find a melting pot of religions from Muslim, to Christian to Minangkabau of Pedang…all living in harmony thanks to their love, and fear, of their land.

At this stage, still, you’re probably better to do an organised tour, if nothing else, to get the most out of this wild place! And to have the chance to see the animals, swim in the right lakes, and find the right beaches.
Weh Island is off the scale… again, definitely off the beaten track.


This is not for the faint-hearted. You need to be a proper traveller here, or at least, relatively fit and raring to have a go…You are quite likely to travel for weeks and not actually meet anyone who isn’t a local, so it’s advised that you learn some of the local lingo (Bahasa Indonesia) before you go. To get back en piste however, this is actually the Indonesian part of Borneo, so think rainforests and adventure. Also the best place probably in the World to see the orang-utans which is pretty awesome.

Let’s go even crazier and braver now, and let’s take a trip to the Derawan Archipelago (there we go again) where you will hang up your jungle trekking hat, and put on your bikini.  Out of the 31 named islands, the most accessible and, well, inhabited, are Derawan and the Maratua atoll.  For divers, the uninhabited Sangalaki and Kakaban islands are, basically, Mecca.  Here you’ll find stunning, undisturbed reefs, turtles, sharks, barracuda and mantas…it is very, very remote, so you must plan in advance.  No phones.  No Google.  Nothing.  But guess what, how wonderful.


We must touch on what is pretty much the best-known Indonesian Island. And really, Bali has something for everyone, as we mentioned before. 

Kuta is the budget traveller’s destination really, where you can stay for very little and party all night. Those with more money, or basically more grown-up travellers, would head to Seminyak for its beach clubs and designer kaftans…The beaches in this area are so great for surf, that Quicksilver and Rip Curl both have schools here! Further South it becomes more secluded, with some mind-blowing places to stay on a promontory known as the “burkit” with unrivalled clifftop views over the Indian Ocean.

Ubud is the spiritual and cultural capital with beautiful performances of the arts, places to visit and some beautiful spas. Head North for trekking through rice fields and visiting volcanoes, or the Bali Barat National Park for boar and deer. Should you want diving, you’ll find batfish, giant trevally and jacks off Menjangan Island…

In short, Bali has everything. Fabulous for the traveller on a budget with World class beaches and inexpensive hostels, and don’t forget, Bali has long since been a backpacker destination, so they are set up for younger visitors. Equally, you can find some of the most expensive hotels and resorts in the World there, too. Spas to die for. Yoga retreats galore. The World, in Bali, really is your oyster.


Only 30 miles East of Bali, you’ll find Lombok. More chilled, with excellent surfing in the South, you’ll find Mount Rinjami and the stunning crater lake at its summit. Only 30 mins by boat will take you to the Gili Islands. Literally the islands of dreams, you will not believe the beaches and the ocean is real. There are no cars, so the means of travel is bicycle (we all know how that works for your esteemed Blogger…not!) or a type of horse drawn cart called cidomos. Here you’ll find retreats, spas, villa resorts the list is endless, and breathtakingly beautiful.


If we carry on along this route, we’ll encompass islands of dramatic, smoking volcanoes and caldera lakes, we’ll also take in Sulawesi. This is real travelling now, where the adventurous can take in Bunaken National Park and homestay with the Toraja people. Flores and Timor are pretty, colonial towns, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Once there, you must visit Komodo National Park and Rinca, the home of the famous Komodo Dragons, the biggest lizards in the World.


Did you know that New Guinea is the second biggest island in the World? Papua is the Western, Indonesian portion. Here you’ll find rainforests that the Raja Ampat archipelago (last time) which is part of what is known as the “Coral Triangle” and is recognised as the most biodiverse marine habitat on the planet with some of the World’s most coveted dive spots.

Here, dear Readers, we end our whistle-stop tour of Indonesian Islands, because I don’t know about you, but I am a bit island-hopped out!  However, one Blog post engenders another, so watch out for the next one, as we stay in Indonesia, and examine the best places to stay if you’re a backpacker, a luxe traveller, or anything in between!

We hope you’ve enjoyed your travels with us today! Until next time, dear Readers, happy travelling!


Thursday 7 March 2019

Interesting Dos and Don'ts When Travelling Abroad

When you’re travelling abroad from the UK, every new moment beckons excitement. Everything is so fresh and unique that sometimes you may get fully caught up in enjoying your experience… and accidentally disregard local manners. This is quite a typical situation for anyone who sets out to explore a very different culture, where social conventions may dictate guidelines that often seem rather counterintuitive to visitors.

How can you avoid being accidentally rude to people of a different culture that you’re immersed in during your travels? You should, of course, take a little time to learn about the local customs and even do quick research to learn about glaring, yet typical, cultural clashes. This is actually easy to do in this day and age of global connectivity… and a little research will go a long way, to keep you from looking like a clueless tourist.

In short, the best way to avoid looking bad when exploring a new culture is to genuinely take an interest and learn about the local dos and don’ts. For a general frame of reference, you will find the following sections useful and informative. 

When traveling, be mindful of your feet as well as your shoes

If you’re a Western visitor spending some time in Asian countries, one of the first widespread and striking cultural different relates to how people handle their shoes – most specifically whenever they’re indoors.  In the vast majority of Asian countries, as well as in many countries around the world like the Caribbean, people do not wear shoes inside their homes… and it’s very rude to step into a home in these areas without first taking off your shoes. 

(In fact, we don’t know about you, but we’re pretty strict with people coming into our home, and do insist they take their shoes off, but it’s not a cultural thing, just for hygiene and the fact that we’ve just had new carpets…apart from the mother-in-law, she refuses to take her shoes off…but that’s for another Blog…or possibly a psychiatrist…)

Always watch how others act before stepping step into a house, public building or temple, and make sure you follow the expected rituals. Don’t hesitate to ask the locals if you are not clear on how to proceed since asking is generally regarded as a sign of good faith. You’re much likelier to offend locals by walking around absent-mindedly than by showing curiosity and taking interest in their customs.

Even when standing outside, Asian etiquette requires you to be especially mindful of your feet. Since your soles are literally and figuratively regarded as the lowest part in the body, you should never touch another part of anyone’s body with any part of your feet. If you happen to rub your feet on anyone by accident, you are expected to apologize, and in some areas, a ritual may be in order - to touch your own hand with one hand while touching the arm of the offended person with your other hand. 

Hand gestures that might not mean what you think it means

When it comes to carrying around your hands, being mindful is of the essence; in specific countries, there are very offensive gestures which have absolutely no meaning elsewhere in the world.  Here we include a few notable examples to help grasp this point, but you may want to check the Internet for specific “offensive hand gestures” for any country you visit – so you can avoid offensive gestures.

A shining example of a gesture that is very innocent throughout the world but very offensive in a specific region is something as simple as a thumbs-up.
 In most countries this gesture stands for a universal “OK”, but in Turkey it’s regarded as a violent way to accuse someone of being homosexual (which in that country is still an unlawful act).  Never do this gesture in Turkey, or you could get in trouble fast.

Similarly, you should never expose your palm when greeting a person in Greece. In that region, showing your palm to someone is the equivalent gesture to poking the middle finger in our culture – it stands for rejection and aggressiveness.  So unless you’re deliberately trying to infuriate a Greek native, you should be very mindful to avoid exposing your palm in a way that conveys a decisive gesture.

Whenever you’re having a meal in the Middle East, there’s a common hand gesture you’re actually expected to flourish in order to show appreciation for the food: do lick your fingers after enjoying a meal, since that’s how appreciation for the chef is expressed in this area of the world.

If you’re ever in the Philippines, do not go around shaking hands with people you meet, since in that area of the world people reserve handshakes for confrontational and aggressive situations.

Drinking related habits and proper toasting procedures

Even when you’re offered a drink whilst visiting a foreign country, you should pay attention to the local protocol.  In fact, this is one of the situations where you have to be particularly attentive to how you act, since subtle but important implications are typically at play.

For example, whenever you’re out in Russia having a toast of vodka, you must wait for a cue before raising the glass – and if you’re a man, you’ll be expected to drink your vodka in a single shot.  Women won’t be looked down upon for sipping on a glass of vodka, but males will have their strength of character immediately questioned.

If you happen to go through Armenia and find yourself sharing a bottle of wine with the locals, you should never be shy about pouring the last of the wine into your glass.  Just remember that as soon as do that, you’re taking responsibility for buying the next bottle – and people will expect you to do just that.

No matter where in the world you are, it’s usually a good idea to look people in the eye while having a toast, since failing to do so is regarded as either bad omen or a sign of disrespect, in many countries.  In European countries, making eye contact whilst toasting is a sign of enforcing virility (we’re being polite).

Knowing how to eat and where to avoid doing so

Eating is often while of the greatest pleasures to be enjoyed while travelling… but here too, you should make sure to be tactful in order to avoid rubbing people the wrong way.  In places like Japan, for example, it’s regarded as bad manners to eat food in public transportations or other public spaces.  Often in London, we wish it was banned on the tube…no I don’t want to share your MacDonald’s smell…

In some countries like Rwanda, it’s actually rude to consume food in just about any place that doesn’t sell food; it may be worth to check where you stand before indulging a bit of foreign country snaking.

Even when you just want to have some chewing gum, you need to watch out for local sensibilities. In Luxembourg, France and Switzerland, this act is regarded as very impolite and even vulgar. Some countries like Singapore have outright banned chewing gum, so you won’t even be able to get any in the shops. 

Splitting the bill and knowing where never to do it

In many countries, splitting the bill is regarded as the natural thing to do, whenever you go out to dinner with friends (or even as a family).  In some places however – like France, this kind of act is regarded as the pinnacle of unsophistication and it’s something most restaurant owners will actually scoff at.

Whenever you’re unsure about the right way to express something (or to otherwise keep from expressing something inappropriate) while visiting a different culture; whenever you want to keep translation losses to a minimum, start by looking around for context and cultural cues. If the appropriate action is not clear to you, it’s best to err on the side of caution and simply ask someone around you – asking about local customs can be a nice way to strike a conversation, and the locals will typically appreciate that you’re trying to learn about their ways of life and making an effort to fit into their culture. For best results, you should adopt an interested and sensible approach, wherever you go.