Your guide to the food and culture of the tropics

Category : Travel

Durian: What You Need to Know Before Eating This Smelly Tropical Fruit

I tasted Durian for the first time at a night market in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia with a group of happy, drunk couchsurfers. We purchased the fruit, as heavy as a baby and as sharp and prickly as a hedgehog, then watched the seller hack it open with a huge knife.

As soon as the creamy, soft flesh was exposed the odor hit our nostrils. It reminded me of rotting compost, or what my socks smell like in the Southeast Asian heat when I haven’t done laundry for a while. Even with the husk unbroken, this notorious fruit is so pungent that it is banned on Singapore Rapid Mass Transit and in many other public places in Southeast Asia. It’s aroma has been compared to rotting meat, feces and dead bodies.

I reluctantly sampled a spoonful of the gooey fruit.

At first, I was fooled into thinking that the taste was sweet. The initial impression on the tongue is sugary, but as the aftertaste takes over the flavour is pungent and bitter like rotten mushy onions. The final flavor stings the mouth with an acidic burn, like after vomiting.

I’m not a fan – and I’m not the only one. Writer Anthony Burgess compared the taste to “eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” In this Munchies article, the writer describes it as a “hellish monstrosity of Satan food”. There’s something quite heady and nauseating about the combination of sweetness and the earthy, ripe, rotten smell.

In an article in China’s Global Times newspaper there was a story of an early importer who brought samples of Durians to China. When a hotel cleaner opened the door to the importer’s room, she immediately vomited in reaction to the stench of the fruits inside.

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However, a surprising number of people like it! It is known as the “King of Fruits” in Southeast Asia and it is commonly used as a flavour in many yummy edibles including baked goods, biscuits, milkshakes, ice creams, candy and more. In fact, Pizza Hut in China is even using it as a topping! When durian is combined with other flavours such as in baked goods or pizza, some find that it’s potent taste is balanced and more palatable. You may agree, or you may think that there is no way this fruit could possibly be delicious.

Whether you love it or you hate it – sampling Durian is a must when you are traveling in Southeast Asia. Be adventurous and go outside of your comfort zone! Just be prepared with a drink to wash the taste out of your mouth if you don’t like it!

Things You Should Know About Durian

  • When choosing a durian, look for a fruit with light coloured spikes and avoid the ones with dark brown patches. Also, avoid fruits with bits of white between the spikes, as they are signs of over-ripeness.
  • Be careful when handling the fruit – the spikes are sharp enough to cut your skin. 
  • Watch where you eat durian – it is banned in many public places.
  • When it comes to washing your hands after eating the fruit, try running hot water on the durian skin. It will create a mild lye water which you can combine with soap to get rid of the smell.

Have you tried durian? Would you try it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

How to Recreate Travel Food at Home

Discovering unique travel food from foreign countries you’ve never dreamed possible is half the fun of traveling. After diving into food classes and local markets, you may miss that favorite new dish when you’re back on familiar soil. What better way to take a trip down travel memory lane than recreating that dish once you’re back home?

Follow our tips outlined below for travel food and you can take your taste buds on vacation again and again —  right from the comfort of your own kitchen.

Start your research while you’re still traveling

The most important part of recreating travel flavors at home is to start your investigative journey whilst you’re still actually traveling. Take cooking classes, source authentic recipes, search for local English-written cookbooks and bring home the most essential ingredients, especially if you’ve never heard of them before. Everything back home will be a lot easier to source if you have detailed information and actual tangible ingredients to compare, as well as first-hand experience on how a dish is prepared. Locals the world over are always more than happy to enlighten you – and your taste buds – by helping you source out any travel food recipe or particular ingredient you’ve fallen in love with.

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How to find a local supplier: start local

Once you’re home and your precious supply of exotic spices is dwindling, it’s time to find a local supplier. First of all, it’s worth noting that just because an ingredient is foreign to you, it doesn’t mean you won’t find it at your local grocer’s. Our own local supermarkets can be full of surprises, especially as ethnic cuisines gain in popularity. Just a few years ago, you’d have to buy a return ticket to Jordan to restock your sumac supply but, nowadays, sumac is easily found alongside dried rosemary, thyme and basil at most supermarkets. So start with your local and most obvious choice first, before moving to dedicated exotic spice stores and specialty food stores nearby, which are only a Google search away.

Hone in on the foreign community closest to you

Your own wonderfully multi-cultural country is possibly a hub of delectable concoctions, with entire suburbs renowned for hosting specific communities, be they Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican or Malay. Whatever dish you wish to recreate at home, start with its corresponding community that’s closest to you. Or, if one can’t be found, a restaurant which specializes in the desired cuisine. Go straight to the source and ask locals in the know (ie. restaurant owners and chefs) where they buy their supplies and the best dedicated grocery store can be found.

Find alternative travel food ingredients

Ginger is the best substitute for Cambodian galangal and, if for some reason you can’t find Moroccan ras el-hanout spice at your local store, you can easily make your own by grinding together coriander seeds, cumin, chilli, cinnamon, paprika, cardamom, ginger and turmeric. For just about every exotic ingredient you discover on your travels, you will find either a substitute back home or, better still, a recipe to make your own. So get creative with your Google search and become the resourceful chef you always knew you could be.

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Order ethnic spices and pastes online

When all else fails and you really couldn’t possibly recreate your travel flavor at home without a teaspoon of whatsitnot, then look for it online. There’s a ton of amazing online spice stores, some offering over 450 hard-to-find spices hailing from every corner of the globe. From SpiceJungle to SpicesInc and a head-spinning array of Amazon online stores, you could easily fill your pantry with all sorts of incredible spices and flavors, without ever leaving the comforts of home.

There’s no better way to relive an unforgettable journey – and to cure the post-holiday blues – than by recreating travel flavors at home. Because even if you can’t pack your bags and travel the world at a whim…it doesn’t mean your taste buds can’t! So enjoy your culinary journey and continue the feasting long after the vacation has ended with these handy recreation hacks.

5 Tropical Getaways for Active Adventures

Some of us travel for relaxation, others for food, but for many of us — travel is about finding active adventures. We want to hike mountains, explore ancient ruins, snorkel to new depths — anything to keep us moving and excited. If you’re a body constantly on the move, we have 5 tropical getaways to satisfy the most active adventurers.

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Nosara, Costa Rica – Surf, Paddle, Snorkel

Nosara (Playa Guiones), Costa Rica is a hidden gem in the surf community that is not quite as tourist driven as Tamarindo or Jaco beach. With over a dozen surf schools available, Nosara Beach rivals among the best surf beaches in Central America for both advanced and novice surfers. Here you will find protected forest full of wildlife, quiet beaches, and long stretches of shore break.  Among the multitude of outdoor activities offered Nosara is also a yoga meca.  Yoga retreats and practices are easy to find as the sounds of the jungle or ocean are only steps away no matter where you practice.

Belize – Best of Land and Sea

Belize will keep you moving throughout your trip with plentiful activities on both land and sea. Along its coast you will find snorkeling and scuba-diving among multiple areas including Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island, Laughing Bird Caye, one of Belize’s National Parks, and World renowned diving at The Great Blue Hole at Lighthouse Reef. Travelers can also rent kayaks along its beaches or partake in a cave kayaking tour in Belize City.

Back on land, strap on a helmet and tour Actun Tunichil Muknal “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher” where you will hike, climb, and swim your way through these pristine caves. There are over a thousand pieces of pottery, skeletons, and ancient artifacts left just as they were discovered to maintain its unique presence in time. Belize is also home to the Xunantunich Temple and Lamanai Mayan Temple where you can hike ancient temple ruins and gaze at the wonderment of the Mayan Era. Take a tour or hike on your own, this experience is an unforgettable sight.

Machu Picchu, Peru – The Advanced Explorer

Machu Picchu is a historian’s dream. Most travelers are so consumed with the intricate details left from the Incan culture that they leave wanting more. Tours are available to grasp the most of this ancient civilization. You can customize trips to Machu Picchu to last a day with use of buses and tour guides, or a week by camping the original Inca Trail through mountains and jungle terrain of Peru. To see the lost civilization that remains is worth the time and hike no matter your skill level.

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Galapagos Islands, Ecuador – The Wildlife Adventurer

The place where Darwin developed his theory of evolution is a must see in South America for the wildlife adventurers. In the Galapagos Islands will you will find a wide range of wildlife. Due to the lack of predators in the area, you can find blue footed boobies, albatross, and even penguins roaming around the Islands. Hike craters and volcanoes, kayak, surf, or snorkel around Santa Cruz where you will be sure to see sea turtles, sea lions, and exotic fish. Dive around the Darwin Islands to see even more amazing creatures like the hammerhead shark and the whale shark. Guides are available or rentals are located all around the Island. If you are feeling extremely adventurous you will find packages that offer trips from Machu Picchu to the Galapagos island, a great way to kill two birds with one stone!

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Maldives – Paddle your heart out

One of the most beautiful places to stand up paddle board is along the Maldives of South Asia. Known for having beautiful reefs home to exotic wildlife, it is comprised of over 1,000 islands with beautiful lagoons and beaches along its coasts. The Maldives are famous for  vibrant teal-blue color waters with clarity that allows you to view wildlife up to thirty feet deep. Rentals for a full day is only thirty dollars and will get you a total body workout.  Not only known for paddle boarding you can take part in other fitness experiences such as pilates and yoga classes or retreats, clear bottom kayaking, scuba, and snorkeling adventures, and the pristine white sand beaches host rentals for jet-skiing, water skiing, and parasailing.

 

7 Travel Apps to Help You Eat Like a Local

Discovering local food treasures in a new country rates as one of the best travel experiences you can have. Yet sometimes, no matter how much research you do, or how clever you think you are at spotting an authentic local eatery, falling victim to a touristy-food-trap happens. Want to know how to eat like a local when traveling the world? Then tuck these nifty apps into your smartphone and take your taste buds on a delectable (and trap-free!) culinary adventure.

  1. Meal Sharing Apps

Committed foodies have been rejoicing ever since virtual peer-to-peer agencies started to pop up on every corner of the globe. With these kinds of unique culinary experiences, you can hook up with a like-minded local who’ll prepare you an authentic local meal in his or her home. Think of it as a private dinner invitation where you pay a modest fee and, in return, you are guaranteed a local feast you’d be hard pressed to enjoy in a restaurant.

There are a ton of meal-sharing apps out there and although most are country or region specific, some are spreading their wings. The most comprehensive of these is EatWith, which has set up services in about 150 countries and now boasts over 500 chefs which have all been vetted. Check out TravelingSpoon to eat-off-the-beaten-path in Southeast Asia and Japan, with hosts offering home cooked meals as well as cooking classes and food tours. Download Cookapp if you’re headed to Argentina (now also includes a few cities in the US) and definitely use Home Food when visiting Italy. The brainchild of an Italian professor keen to help nurture traditional regional cuisine, Home Food encourages the preparation (and enjoyment!) of traditional dishes, the way nonna used to make.

  1. Colunching

A fantastic meet-up service that’s ideal for solo travelers, Colunching is set up in 20 countries worldwide, and lets members organize an informal group dining experience in authentic local eateries. A great way to make new friends and feast like a local when traveling, Colunching lets you tag along and even initiate a group meal out when traveling.

  1. LocalEats

An impressive directory of the best local restaurants on your phone for less than a dollar? Now that’s what we call a fantastic travel app! LocalEats prides itself on recommending only personally vetted independent restaurants that are a world away from your run-of-the-mill chain eateries. From delicious food stands to fine-dining establishments, LocalEats offers every dining experience imaginable all over the US and in over 50 cities abroad, sourcing info from local food bloggers, guides, travel writers, and restaurant critics. The handy GPS feature allows the app to notify you when an authentic dining experience is just around the corner.

  1. Field Trip

Keen to learn fun facts of your chosen destination while enjoying an authentic meal? Then Field Trip is for you. This handy app is a treasure trove of recommendations, from what to see and do, to where you can enjoy your next scrumptious local meal. The app bases its recommendations on your GPS location and sources its info from hidden-secret sites like Atlas Obscura, Zagat, EatOut and Spotted by Locals. You can set up your interest to only include eateries and the app will ping you when something utterly delicious pops up near you. Field Trip was launched by Google in 2013 and has now extended to operate in over 80 countries worldwide.

  1. Vayable

Vayable brings together a host of unique travel experiences and the most popular, by far, are its food-themed tours. From pizza-crawls in Rome to winery tours in Austria and cooking classes in Slovenia, Vayable connects you with local guides running personalized food tours and experiences, all over the world.

  1. Foodict

While Google Translate may come in handy when perusing menus in restaurants abroad, Foodict Gourmet Food Dictionary goes a lot further and includes thousands of food-specific translations of dishes and what they’re all about. The great thing about Foodict is that you can download the content and use it offline no matter where you are.

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  1. Foodspotting

What so many apps and sites offering recommendations for the best restaurants, it’s refreshing to find a service that hones in on specific dishes and where to find the best in town. With Foodspotting, you get personal recommendations, descriptions, and even photos of amazing dishes local foodies enjoy. Time Magazine has rated this one of the 50 best apps to download, and we couldn’t agree more. Foodspotting lets you see the best-rated dish in specific restaurants or entice you to travel far and wide to satisfy a unique craving. Currently, the app works extensively in the US, as well as several destinations in Europe and Asia.

The World’s Most Unique Coffee Experiences

To any coffee obsessed traveler, there’s nothing more rewarding than sitting at a local café — in some far-flung corner of the globe — and enjoying a cup of coffee whilst people watching. There are some coffee experiences, all over the world, that are bona fide travel highlights in their own right. Keen to take your taste buds along for an unforgettable ride? Then you’d be well advised to add the following to your must-drink list.

From the smooth taste of an Italian ice cream coffee to the long and laborious Ethiopian coffee ceremony and some seriously questionable drops in Vietnam, Indonesia and Senegal, the world’s most unique coffee experiences are guaranteed to make you, and your taste buds, stand up to attention.

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Affogato, Italy

Italy is one of those countries where it’s literally impossible to have a bad coffee. You can order the wrong coffee, mind you (ordering a cappuccino after 11am is a cultural faux-pas bar none) but never a bad one. Long considered the world’s original and best coffee mecca, Italy boasts an extensive list of coffee options, including the ubiquitous short black (espresso), with a dash of liquor (caffé corretto) or with a splash of hot milk (macchiato). Our favorite coffee of all, however, would have to be the affogato, which is a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla gelato. On a hot summer’s day, and after spending hours on end wandering among millennia-old ruins, a sublimely creamy affogato is like a drink sent from the heavens.

Ethiopian

In Ethiopia, drinking coffee it isn’t something you do in an absentminded hurry. This gorgeous African country — the birthplace of coffee —  may indeed boast the most elaborate coffee ceremony in the world. Recognized as an intangible treasure of the local culture, the renowned Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a very social event, one that requires an audience and a lot of patience. The event can take hours from beginning to end and is preceded by a young woman dressed in traditional costume, who’ll wash the raw green coffee beans and roast them in a pan over an open fire, right in front of you. Once blackened, the beans are crushed by hand using a mortar and pestle, and the powder boiled with water in a heavy-based clay pot called a jebena. The resulting liquid is passed through a sieve several times before being finally served to expecting guests. Coffee is poured in small intricately hand-painted cups, and each participant is expected to drink three cups. Interestingly enough, coffee in Ethiopia is usually served alongside crunchy popcorn.

 

Cà Phê Trứng – Vietnam

Firmly in the ‘What the…?’ category of unique coffee experiences, the Vietnamese egg-coffee rates as one of the most unusual blends you could try in all of Southeast Asia. Cà Phê Trứng is a traditional coffee prepared with condensed milk, sugar, and beaten egg yolks, and although this may sound odd at first, you’ll be surprised just how deliciously smooth and rich the taste really is.

In the preparation of this coffee, the egg yolks are beaten vigorously with the condensed milk and sugar, creating a fluffy cream that’s not unlike custard. The cream is then dolloped in a glass and a shot of unsweetened coffee poured over it. Due to the density of the cream, the coffee tends to settle at the bottom, so every sip delivers a mouthful of silky cream mixed with strong coffee. As an after-meal drink, Cà Phê Trứng is simply superb, especially if you’re craving a sweet treat. Cà Phê Trứng was invented in Hanoi in the 1940s and although this variant is nowadays found all over Vietnam, it is still best enjoyed in the country’s capital where you’ll find quite a number of dedicated egg-coffee shops.

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Mazagran – Portugal

Originally from northern Africa, Mazagran is a cold coffee and lemon drink that seems to be taking over most of Western Europe. Legend has it that members of the French Foreign Legion stationed at the Mazagran Fortress in Algeria in the 1840s brought home an impromptu coffee concoction they created, using lemon juice, sugar, ice cubes and rum. Not long after, a few Parisian cafés started serving the refreshingly unique beverage, minus the alcohol. Fast forward a century and a half and it’s next door, in Portugal, where you’ll find Mazagran served and marketed as an iced coffee lemonade, sometimes with the addition of sparkling iced water for added bubbles.

 

Café Touba – Senegal

Need a serious coffee hit to wake up in the morning? Then a shot of Senegalese café touba may be just the morning drink you need. Prepared with a generous serving of freshly ground Guinea black pepper, which is roasted alongside the coffee beans, café touba is swiftly becoming the drink of choice throughout all of Western Africa. It’s become  so popular that Nestle reacted to a drastic decrease in the amount of Nescafe sold there by creating and marketing a ‘spiced coffee’ instant blend in the region.

To prepare a café touba, the coffee beans are roasted alongside a specific type of African black pepper (called djar). The powder mix is then boiled, sweetened, and filtered. In Dakar, you’ll come across a multitude of touba stands and although we urge you to try a cup of the intense, sweet and spicy brew, we also urge you to have a bottle of water at the ready. That first sip can be quite breathtaking! Said to have wonderful medicinal properties, touba is part and parcel of Senegalese culture nowadays and you just can’t visit without trying it at least once.

Kopi Luwak – Indonesia

Widely reputed to be the most expensive (and questionable) coffee in the world, kopi Luwak is made using coffee beans which have been eaten, digested and secreted by Asian civet cats, known as Luwaks in Indonesia.

The production of the world-renowned Luwak coffee started in Indonesia in the colonial 1800s when local Indonesians were forbidden from consuming the coffee beans they farmed because all had to be exported to Europe. In their coffee-withdrawal desperation (OK, we all get that!) local farmers resorted to collecting partially-digested coffee seeds which had been eaten and secreted by civets. Soon enough, the Dutch farmers came to taste and enjoy this special brew and the rest, as they say, is coffee history.

Civets love the pulpy flesh inside coffee beans and the seeds pass through their digestive system untouched. Proponents say the digestion process adds a unique taste to the coffee, yet critics say any roasting would surely rid the seeds of that. Instead, it is claimed that the smooth taste of a good cup of Luwak coffee is simply due to the civet’s propensity for only picking the best and juiciest coffee berries in the first place. In Asia, and indeed the rest of the world, Luwak coffee has a dubious reputation. The novelty factor alone would certainly make it worth a try, yet nowadays unscrupulous farming practices in the region – which see civets kept in deplorable caging conditions and force-fed coffee beans – make it difficult to pinpoint an authentic coffee made from beans collected in the wild. Still, as far as crazy coffee experiences go, a cup made from beans pooped out by a wild cat rates right up there among the most unique coffee experiences in the world.  

Cooking on the Trail: Tips from a Veteran Backpacker

Planning to backpack the world or hitting the road in your camper? There are a few things you should know about cooking good meals while camping. 

With a little time and a lot of imagination, you can create some truly amazing meals while camping. Combine a few basic dry ingredients with fresh produce you can buy on the road, and you can create a surprising array of tasty epicurean treats. Because cans of baked beans are fine occasionally, but your taste buds will demand variety when you’re out exploring the world.

I’ll give you a couple of camping cooking tips which I’ve learned along the way. For some easy-on-the-trail recipes, see my post with camping recipes.

Dehydrated meals have their time and place – There’s a very good reason dehydrated meals are popular with backpackers, campers, and hikers. They weigh next to nothing, need only a two-minute soak in boiling water to cook and are relatively filling. If you’re off on a multi-day hike in remote wilderness, dehydrated meals can be a (literal) lifesaver. However, unless you are that desperate for food and out in the wilderness on foot for many days on end, then forget dehydrated meals. There are plenty of healthier camping recipe options out there, which only require a few extra minutes to prepare.

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Keep it simple. 

My daily staple camper recipe includes one vegetable, be it an aubergine, a zucchini or a bunch of fresh spinach, one protein source (fresh meat, one piece of fish or a can of lentils or tuna) and one carbohydrate, which is usually one potato, a serve of pasta, half a cup of rice or one bread roll.

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Go fresh as often as possible.

Shopping at wet markets for daily fresh ingredients is one of the things I love most about traveling the world. I discover weird and wonderful new produce, mingle with locals and ensure I load up on my daily dose of vitamins. Although you can carry a few days’ worth of fresh veggies, it is best if you can buy one a day, as it saves you space in your backpack and any squishing problems. When buying meat or fish, I prefer to buy them frozen in the morning (pack in 2 plastic bags) and by the time dinner comes around they’re perfectly defrosted and ready to be cooked.

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Spice up your life. 

My entire camping recipe repertoire would cease to exist without my extensive array of exotic spices. From Moroccan to Italian, Indian, Mexican and Chinese All Spice, my ‘mobile spice rack’ is my ultimate cooking savior and creator. There’s not a dish in the world that can’t be improved with garlic salt, dried onion flakes and one exotic spice of sorts. Rotate daily and you can seriously eat the same meal everyday (chicken, vegetable, and couscous, for example) and feel like you’re enjoying a varied and exotic culinary itinerary.

Love thy cheese. 

Tasty, filling and a great source of both calcium and protein, cheese has become a staple in my backpack over the last few years. This is especially true of stinky cheeses, which keep well outside of the fridge and actually get better as the days pass. A good sprinkle of pecorino cheese or chunk of gruyere in your dinner stew and your taste buds will be jumping for joy.

 

Ready to fire up the camp stove? Here are a few fantastic camping recipes to try next time you hit the road.

Best 5 Travel Destinations to Find Yourself

The Best Travel Destinations to Find Yourself – your guide to push you out of your comfort zone, disconnect from the world, and gain a new perspective on life.

Nowadays, heading off to explore the world in order to ‘find yourself’ has become a hot trend. Whilst some experienced travelers roll their eyes at the phrase, it’s undeniable that travels to far-off destinations have the potential to revolutionize the way one thinks and feels.

A life changing journey is usually taken to a part of the world that is drastically different to home. Experiencing different cultures, languages, and lives, in general, has a wonderful way of making you question and analyze everything about you. Traveling alone is also a must. When you are forced to rely only on your resourcefulness — you can really find yourself, take control of your life, and realize what it is that makes you happy.

If a life-changing journey appeals to you, here are some destinations to look.

  1. Sumatra, Indonesia

    Bali has become synonymous with inspirational and esoteric travels, the kind of place where you go to yoga, namaste and find yourself, with the help of a few exotic cocktails. The only problem with Bali is that it’s become so mainstream that, no matter where you go, you’ll undoubtedly come across approximately 3.1 million foreign tourists looking to do the same. This kind of crowd and popularity defeats the whole purpose, as far as I’m concerned. So go to Sumatra instead. This spectacular Indonesian island offers everything you need for an adventure that’ll blow your mind. The nature is resplendent, English is not widely spoken, tourists are few and far between and the internet connection, the rare times you find it, is simply woeful. This makes it the ideal destination if you want to disconnect from the world and have an introspective travel experience. Hike in search of elusive orangutans, climb the peak of stunning volcanoes and cast your eyes on startling sandy beaches with nary another surfer in sight. And when you need to regroup, head to Lake Toba for good wholesome food and a chat with just a few like-minded adventurous travelers. Perfection.

  2. Patagonia, South AmericaPatagonia, South America, travel, TropicsGourmet

    The southern tip of South America is usually referred to as ‘the end of the world’ and when you’re there it will certainly feel like it. The utterly mesmerizing nature is soul-reviving. In places like the Tierra del Fuego National Park, the colors of the landscape will have you rubbing your eyes in disbelief. Mother Nature boasts a color palette down here that’s simply incredible. Patagonia also happens to be one of the more remote and hard to reach destinations in the southern American continent, and a place where the rest of the world feels nonexistent. Hike the vertiginous peaks of Torres del Paine, explore every nook of the Lakes Region of Argentina and, as you stand on the harbor of Ushuaia, consider hopping on an expedition ship to Antarctica, the last truly unspoilt continent on earth. This is the best destination if you want to get off the grid, test yourself physically and feel like an old-world explorer.

  3. Costa Rica

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    One of Central America’s most popular destinations is a wonderful compromise for those who wish to find somewhere close to home, safe, and offering an array of fun and adventurous travel experiences. One of the world’s most biodiverse nations, Costa Rica is an active traveler’s dream, with ziplining, whitewater rafting, mountain hiking and cycling and wildlife spotting part of everyday life. For adrenalin-pumping adventures far removed from the banality of everyday life at home, Costa Rica is a treasure. Plus, there’s no better place to find yourself than soaking up the therapeutic effects of a hot volcanic thermal pool.  There are even those who came to find themselves and stayed to help others do the same!

  4. Spitzbergen, Norway

    From the balmy climate of the tropics to the brutal colds of the Arctic: you’ll be surprised what a colossal shock to the system will do for your wellbeing. The easiest Arctic destination to reach and a polar bear’s divine playground, Spitzbergen is that final frontier you’ll need to experience, when you wish to totally explode out of your comfort zone. Go in winter to marvel at the Northern Lights, or in summer to cruise the breathtaking fjords. No matter when you go, you’re bound to enter a white wonderland that’ll offer you the peace and quiet you need to find yourself. The climate is harsh at best, the infrastructure is minimal and adventures in the world’s craziest wilderness are plentiful. The ideal combination for an out-of-this-world travel experience.

  5. Kruger National Park, South Africa

    Although South Africans do speak English and the country is exceptionally modern, the largest wildlife reserve is big enough to enjoy some salutary aloneness in an animal world that is totally spellbinding. The best way to experience Kruger? Fly in, rent a fully kitted 4WD camper, buy a weeklong Kruger pass and get lost (and found again) in the most glorious animal kingdom on our planet. Next, wake up with a lion on your bonnet. When living in a reality where you are considered lunch, you simply can’t help but gain a new perspective on life. Africa is one of those places which offers life-changing experiences, and a week spent immersed in its most revered wildlife park is your express ticket to a new and enlightened you.

 

Your Travel Guide to Totally Unique Spring Break Adventures

Drinking to excess on sun-soaked beaches are wonderful — if that’s what you’re looking for. But if you’ve outgrown frat-boy parties and wet t-shirt contests, you may be searching for a more meaningful or impactful spring break (that you’ll actually remember!). Cruise our travel guide for some unique spring break adventures that could fit the bill.

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Get SCUBA certified on the Komodo Islands of Indonesia

The Indonesian hub of Bali is swiftly becoming popular with spring break travelers, and although we wouldn’t begrudge its appeal (from ankle-deep snow to tropical bliss in just a day!) there are certainly plenty more fish in the sea. Pardon the pun. Indonesia, in fact, has over 15,000 insanely enticing islands to explore, and the islands of the Komodo Marine National Park rate as some of the best. This superlative UNESCO-listed archipelago is home of the magnificent Komodo dragon, the largest lizard on our planet, and boasts one of the world’s richest marine biodiversity. SCUBA-certification trips to unspoilt coral reefs, meeting schools of tropical fish, the ever-elusive manta rays and reef sharks, is an out-of-this-world spring break experience. Although many people base themselves in Labuan Bajo on Flores Island and take day trips to various dive sites every day, we recommend you plan a liveaboard experience to make the most out of your spring break in Indonesia.

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Explore the remote Amazon Jungle in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

A multitude of nature lovers on spring break head to Costa Rica for a week of jungle experiences. Bona fide travel explorers and nature fanatics, however, choose to dive into the heart of the Amazon rainforest instead. In Bolivia’s Rurrenabaque, a remote and fascinating place about as far away from civilization as one could get, you’ll find your springboard to fantastic jungle experiences. From La Paz, the Bolivian capital, you must hop on a 6-seater plane, fly over the highest peak of the Andes Mountains, land on a strip of grass in the jungle basin and take a 4-hour SUV & canoe transfer to reach a smattering of incredible jungle lodges. These, by the way, are nothing more than simple cabanas on stilts. What a Bolivian Amazon experience lacks in comforts and luxury it more than makes up for in wilderness and wildlife perfection. Sloths, pink-bellied dolphins, caimans, howler monkeys and an infinite array of other creatures will be your daily companions, as you walk and canoe your way through impenetrable forests and ethereal waterways. This is one of the most remote – and expensive – places to visit in South America, but if you’re looking for a life-changing wilderness experience then it’s also one of the very best.

travel guide, spring break, rio, amazon

 

Take a historical tour de force in Colombia

The hit Netflix show, Narcos, may have caused a resurgence in interest in Colombia, a country which was – once upon a time – plagued by crime and drugs. Yet the country has actually been one of the most rewarding off-the-beaten-path spring break destinations for a number of years now, and recognized as one of the most culturally immersive places to visit in South America. The capital, Bogota, is only a 3-hour plane ride away from Florida and is the ideal base from where to explore the rest of the country. As vibrant and interesting as Bogota is, however, Cartagena is the city you really ought to spend most of your time discovering. This is one of the most revered destinations for US families wishing to experience a spring break vacation with a little more substance.

A UNESCO-listed architectural and historical gem, Cartagena boasts one of the best-preserved colonial Old Town Centers in all of the Americas. Stay in the heart of town for an added dash of old-school romance, or stay in Getsemani – a tried and tested backpacker haunt – and even the beach hood of Bocagrande, which is only a half-hour’s walk away from Old Town. Easter celebrations in Colombia are the largest and most important of the year, with the Good Friday procession a vibrant and culturally-enriched affair. Take a week or 10- day tour of Colombia and you’ll come home with a host of incredible experiences under your belt, as well as an enviable suntan.

Travel guide, colombia, spring break

 

Tackle an African safari on an overland expedition

Spring break adventures don’t come much better than on an African safari, yet if you think that driving around in a nondescript SUV, just one of two dozen vehicles looking out for a lion, then you obviously haven’t heard of overlanding adventure tours. With unique tour companies like Overlanding West Africa, you get to experience a side of Africa not many get to and have the chance to see off the beaten path attractions and have more in-depth cultural experiences with locals. On a tour, you get a professional and expert travel guide to take care of all the logistics and your own totally cool expedition truck to take you away from the hustle of tourist-ville. The Dakar to Marrakech tour stretches for a month starting from 17th April, which would require additional holiday time, yet know that there are at least a dozen other African overland companies running shorter tours throughout all of Africa. If your heart is set on endless savannah plains and roars of wild lions, then trust your travel agent to find you an available seat on an African adventure truck.

travel guide, spring break, West Africa, safari

So take your next school vacation up a notch and follow our travel guide to a totally AWESOME and unique spring break adventure.

5 Wedding Ideas Pulled from Southeast Asian Traditions

Finding wedding ideas can be a challenging and rewarding experience. A surefire way to throw an event to remember is to incorporate traditions from cultures outside your own. Steer clear of cliche ceremonies and take a peek into some Southeast Asian wedding traditions for some inspiration for your own nuptials. Each tradition is founded in history and heart — you’re sure to find something that speaks to your own love story. 

Wedding, Wedding Traditions, Wedding Ideas, Southeast Asia

 

Vietnam – Dam Hoi (Tea Ceremony)

A common tradition in Vietnamese weddings is the Dam Hoi ceremony. After the exchange of rings couples will pour wine or tea into the cups of attendees as a symbol of respect and sharing. The couple will serve their respective in-laws as a thanks for raising their children and to their new grandparents to show respect and to embrace of their new family. The family return congratulate the couple with jewelry and gifts. Some unique gifts are received among the Vietnamese couple such as nuts and betel leaves, these are to be chewed to symbolize dialogue between the couple and parents. Other more common gifts include wine, tea, fruits, pastries, a whole roasted pig, and sticky rice.

 

Laos – Baci Ceremony (Spirit Calling)

In Laos, betrothed couples prepare for the big day in a 30-60 minute ceremony held days before the actual wedding.The Baci Ceremony is meant to honor the spirits and reinforce harmony. Otherwise known as “spirit calling,” the Baci Ceremony gathers family and friends to prepare for the upcoming nuptials and to wish well upon the couple.

A handmade ‘pha khuan’ centerpiece made of marigolds, bamboo sticks, banana leaves, thread, and rice will hold folded banana leaves and candles placed within. Known as the ‘maak beng’, folded banana leaves will be the foundation of white string to be tied among the couple and guests. The pha khuan is placed on a white linen in the center of the room where the Baci Ceremony is held. The master of the ceremony will present a small amount of whisky and money wrapped in a banana leaf along with candles and flowers to the couple to invite wellbeing.

He then ties the white strings attached to the maak beng to connect all participants to form a continuous bonding of all attendees to the couple to offer blessings and wishes for the couple. Rice is thrown to represent the spirits and to wish good luck. Finally, as the procession finishes, an elder will make future predictions by looking at a formation of chicken wings and claws. This ceremony is then followed by the invitation to eat, drink, and dance in typical Laos fashion.

 

Cambodia – Hai Goan Gomloh (Groom’s Parade)

Traditionally, Cambodia is known for arranged marriages, the giving of dowry, and having weddings that last from one to three days. They hold multiple ceremonies to symbolically unite the couple and their families. One common tradition is the Hai Goan Gomloh, or “Groom’s Parade”. The Groom, along with friends and family bring silver and gold trays of fruit, desserts, and gifts to the house of the bride’s family. Gifts are then showcased throughout the house to show pride and richness brought from the Groom.

Another common Cambodian wedding ritual is the “Sien Doan Taa” or Tea Ceremony where families bow, burn incense, and offer tea to honor and call upon their ancestors to bestow good wishes and blessings upon the couple.

Malaysia – Berinai Ceremonies (Henna Staining)

Henna staining ceremonies called “Berinai” are very important in Malaysian culture. Henna is extracted from the henna leaf, regarded as a blessed item to cleanse and protect from evil, and is applied to represent unity in marriage. Typically henna is applied by close relatives, usually women and special friends of the couple, and takes place over three days. The first day is applied by close relatives called, “Berinai Curi.” On the second night, “Berinai Kecil,” henna is applied by neighbors and friends. Finally the most important henna ceremony “Berinai Besar” is held after the marriage ceremony. Family members on both sides take turns applying henna and  a mixture of rice and flour to the palms and foreheads of the couple as a blessing.

Thailand – Rod Nam Sang (Shell Ceremony)

Before the wedding ceremony in Thailand, many couples have white string draped between their heads to symbolize independence of each person and their destiny of becoming one. Afterwards, an elder fills a conch shell with holy water and guests —  starting with immediate family and ending with friends —  pour the holy water over the hands of the couple to symbolize unity. The ritual is known as ‘Rod Nam,’ meaning to soak with water. After the Shell Ceremony each guest places a gift into a basket, typically the gift is a symbol of social status, the higher the status the more wealth they give to the couple.

5 Coffee Shops Worth Instagramming

Coffee shops are no longer just for those with newspapers in hand looking to relax or to gossip with your friends on the couch like an episode of Friends. Shops today are not only trying to satisfy customers with their product but are looking for the total package appeal. From engaging interior design, beautiful gardens, and unique exterior appeal you can now find some of the most eye catching, photogenic, Instagram worthy spots to have a cup of joe. This article is going to name a few of the best coffee shops worth stopping at to capture unique photos that will have all your coffee enthusiast Instagram followers beaming with envy.

Truth Coffee, Cape Town, South Africa

Truth Coffee has been recognized as one of, if not the best coffee shop in Cape Town, South Africa. Its outdoor scenery might not be at the top of the list, but its indoor charm is one for the books, simply beautiful. It is so unique and detailed in its decor and not lacking one bit in its quality of food and coffee. It has a distinct modern industrial design with exposed piping, beams, and lighting, displayed typewriters and singer sewing machines, and a vintage cast iron drum for hand roasting coffee. The intention of its interior design matching the quality of their coffee is both unique and detailedly magnificent. Many simply state, Truth Coffee, is THE Truth!”.

Salvaged Ring Cafe, Nha Trang City, Vietnam

The Salvaged Ring Cafe was ranked in the top 20 of the world’s best architectures in 2014 at The World Architecture Festival. This economically friendly and all around beautiful cafe is located among the countryside of Nha Trang City in Vietnam. The cafe was eloquently designed by the architects of a21 studio and constructed primarily of scrap wood, coconut leaves, and locally sourced rocks. The circular flowing architecture blends into its natural surroundings and provides a feeling of being one with the outdoor scenery. Its open contoured design encourages refreshing air flow and natural light, and its curves provide a beautiful outpouring from the highway where you arrive down to a flowing river and lush courtyard. The natural allurement of this cafe will help you relax while you enjoy a cup of coffee in a tropical oasis.

Dreamy Camera Cafe, Yangpyeong, South Korea

The Dreamy Camera Cafe in South Korea is a dream Instagram post for the photograph enthusiast. A bold red Rolleiflex camera makes the shape for this unique cafe that sets among the grandiose South Korean landscape that is picturesque in all four seasons. Inside its camera exterior this cafe also provides a museum where you can interact and marvel at evolving photos and technology.

Take a few polaroids to leave behind and enjoy the view of the rolling hills outside of Seoul, South Korea. There’s good reason why this Cafe is ranked #10 by Buzzfeed’s “Coffee Shops Around the World You Have to See Before You Die.”

Fair Folks & Goat, New York City, United States 

An entrepreneur and coffee addict’s paradise, Fair Folks & Goat describes itself as a “membership cafe.” For $25 a month customers can enjoy unlimited coffee and tea including signature cold brew imported from New Orleans. The funky cafe is also a clothing and accessories shop that helps deliver inspiration to the artists, start-up staffers, writers, and other laptop warriors you’ll see in inside. The turquoise exterior is too cute for words. Oh, and the goat-themed items will be a hit on your Instagram feed.

Open Farm Community, Singapore

Among the open air and lush greenery this farm to table restaurant and cafe has so much beauty inside and out. This is not only a quaint spot for lunch or coffee but a total dining experience. If you’re into Instagramming your food — this is your place. Each plate is a work of art almost too beautiful to eat. You can also take a tour of the farm from its local farmers and immerse yourself in herbs and vegetables soon to be transferred to the table through the Open Farm culinary experience. A cafe, gift shops, and kid-friendly exterior houses activities for all ages.  Enjoy a hot mug in the cafe or sit out on the patio and observe the wonderful 35,000 square feet of charming terrain.