Travel Photography – getting the most out of your iPhone camera

Travel Photography – getting the most out of your iPhone camera

Does every photo need to be perfect?

Let’s start off by getting a couple of things clear. The Up Sticks N Go crew have no special photographic skills and we don’t use equipment that costs an arm and a leg. We do carry an SLR camera but it seldom leaves its carry bag.  It’s heavy, bulky, conspicuous and we really don’t know how to use it properly. We did consider sending it back to Australia but the telephoto lens is useful and it’s a great camera to use on a tripod for long exposure shots. But the best camera for travel is the one you have with you. I know you have heard that before, but it’s true.

We find the iPhone is an exceptionally good camera for travelling. It’s light, quick on the draw and most importantly close by when you need it. Does the iPhone give you the best quality, highest resolution image every time? Is the exposure always correct and focus crisp? Of course not, but the iPhone is a point-and-shoot camera with an amazingly small lens.

It can’t possibly compete against the expensive, large aperture cameras on a technical or image quality level. But it’s there when you need it. You don’t have to haul it out, remove lens caps, adjust focus, check setting and then finally frame the image. You just select camera mode, aim, frame and shoot.

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So does every photo have to be perfect? For us the answer is NO, our travel photography does not have to be perfect. We are journaling our adventure so the stories are more important than the quality of photos. Our viewing audience want to know how we are going, what we are doing, the issues we face and the places we’ve visited. The images are a vehicle to convey that information quickly with only a few words.

But that’s not the whole story.

We also want more people to follow the Up Sticks N Go adventure and photographs are one of the ways we attract followers. We find better quality images do attract more people and receive better engagement. As a result we have concentrated our efforts to improve the quality of photographs we publish, by reading more on the subject and through a lot of trial and error.

I’ve compiled a series of posts detailing photographic techniques we are using to get the best out of our iPhone cameras. Michelle and I use iPhone 5s cameras and have both developed methods and techniques to achieve those special images. We want to share what we have learnt so others can capture their travel moments and proudly share them with friends and family.

We are Apple iPhone fans, no surprise there; we love the consistent quality of the iPhone 5s camera. We also love the amazing photo applications available to shoot, edit and publish our photos on the move. These will be iPhone specific tutorials, but most techniques will be transferable to all point-and-shoot cameras.

TUTORIAL ONE: The best camera for travelling is the iPhone in your pocket

The Up Sticks N Go crew are very Apple centric. We love our iPhones, iPads, MacBook Pros etc. and have carried a selection of Apples devices around the world. They work every time we turn them on and last a lot longer than similar competitor models.

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The iPhone is the device we use most, but we seldom make a call. The iPhone is our travel camera and video recorder. We’ve taken thousands of photos and published a fair percentage of those shots on Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and Pinterest. We attempt to create at least two videos a week, which we publish on YouTube. I had ambitions of publishing one a day but the lack of high speed internet in many places visited made a video a day rather ambitious.

So why is an iPhone the best camera for travelling?

I’d love to say it’s because of super high quality images and how easy it operates, which are all great reasons. But it’s the fact it’s close by and easy to access that truly makes it the best camera.

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It’s smaller than an SLR by a mile, with a 35 mm lens and only a fraction of the weight. In fact an iPhone is smaller and lighter than most compact cameras and I’d say many of the smartphones we see fellow travellers carrying. Its weight and size mean it fits in your pocket or nestles comfortably in your hand. So when that photo opportunity presents itself, it is right there with you.

As travellers we are aware we’ll be taking photos regularly, but we are not on a photo shoot. We don’t carry around the paraphernalia of a professional photographer and we don’t necessarily have the time to pose photos or arrange props or achieve the perfect position. We walk and sometimes run into a location, assess the photo opportunities at the time, snap what we can and then move on.

To get the best shot in these situations, we often take many images or use the iPhone’s burst mode to capture that special moment. The iPhone has an amazing amount of memory. We can capture thousands of eight megapixel images and hours of video before needing to download or back up the images. As a result we go for days travelling and recording our adventure before we need to think about memory space.

Just knowing we have a camera with us means we take pictures. If we had to get a camera from the car or out of a bag and then lug it around we probably wouldn’t bother. We know this because we have an SLR in our kit and given the choice between lugging it around on a day excursion or just pocketing an iPhone, it’s very simple. We leave the SLR at home as it’s unlikely we’ll pull it out of the case in time to make the shot.

With so much going on around us, the speed that we can get a camera out and capture a shot is important. The operation speed of the iPhone camera really helps. The slide to reveal camera function and its default photo setting means we can draw, activate and shoot in under a second. We don’t always capture every spontaneous shot as finger fumbles are common, but we’ve captured some amazing spur-of-the-moment images.

Adding up physical size, memory size and speed of operation means an iPhone is a great travel camera, but it’s the close proximity of our iPhone that make it the best camera for travel.

TUTORIAL TWO: How to take a better iPhone travel photo

Carry your iPhone/camera on you at all times. You can’t take a great shot if the camera is in the car, on the bus or worse, in the hotel room.

Practice make perfect. If you have a camera with you, use it. Shoot every chance you get. Just by sheer volume alone you will get one or two great photos. But if you learn by doing, you’ll eventually find more than just the odd few shots are great. Practice certainly does improve your photographic skill. We are living examples. We couldn’t take a good shot to save ourselves when we first started, some may say we still have a long way to go, but our photos are getting better and more and more people are commenting on the quality, not just the content.

Try not to develop bad habits. Stop reviewing every shot just after you take it. You’ll have plenty of time to mull over shots once back to your accommodation or once finished your holiday. Shoot the action around you; trust the camera to do its stuff. Move to capture the scene; think about light and shadow, slow down to ensure the perspective and subject matter capture the essence of the scene.

Without my reading glasses I can’t clearly see the camera’s digital screen, so quality of the last shot is undefined even if I do review the photo. So I tend to pull the camera out, get into position, frame, focus then shoot three or four photos from slightly different angles before putting the camera down; all without looking at those photos. Later in a coffee shop I can put my reading glasses on and really study the photos. As a result, if something amazing happens around me I’m not focused on the digital screen and can snap that next shot without delay.

Use the light around you. Don’t shoot with the sun directly behind you. Sun behind you causes the image to look flat and, of course, your shadow gets in the way. Shoot from either side (about 5 – 45 degrees) so the sun is over your left or right shoulder. See the light around you and use it to your advantage. Is the light interacting with the scene highlighting an area or casting interesting shadows? If so, use this to create an extraordinary photo.

Use shade during the day. Sunlight between 10 am to 3 pm can be harsh and creates deep shadows, especially on faces. During the day you’ll often find enough light in the shade to take a great photo, without harsh shadows and overexposed areas caused by midday sun. Walk in the shade as you travel, it’s better for your skin and take photos of subjects that are shaded but not in front of large expanses of sundrenched backgrounds.  If you are competing with a well-lit background, get in closer and use the camera’s flash to lighten the foreground subject.

Take photos at either end of the day. Early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky, is the best time to snap full sun photos. The shadows are longer but less visible to a camera held one to two meters from the ground. The light is softer, yellower and lights up a subject more evenly. However it’s not the perfect time of day for travellers whose focus is not purely about photography. But if you want a great shot, get out of bed early and visit those special places when the sun is low in the sky and most other visitors are still in bed or eating.

Check what’s in the background. Too often we see images of people with a tree sticking out of their head, garbage bin prominent in the background or some annoying tourist messing up a photo. When you visit tourist locations you will have other people milling around in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Try getting in close and obscuring any foreign object you don’t want in the frame. Move left or right to place a wall, pole or tree so it obscures unwanted or unsightly objects in the frame.

Here we used daughter Tash to obscure a group of tourists lined up at the castle’s front door.POST 3_NO 2

Perspective. An image is more engaging when you shoot it from a different vantage point to the normal observer. Crouch down, lie down or, if you’re tall like me, stand on your tippy toes and hold the camera up high. The change in perspective will make the image different and often more pleasing. Changing your observation point in this way also enables you to remove those unwanted background elements. Get down so a foreground object fills the gap between you and the background you’re trying to capture. The object will obscure the unwanted cars, people and garbage you don’t want in the photo.

Focus on the Subject. The subject of your photo should be in the right spot to achieve an extraordinary image. So slow down and think about its placement in the field of view.

Move a few steps closer. Fill your photo with the subject you wish to capture. Move closer to the foreground subject and position it at one or two sweet spots within the photo. The “Rule of Thirds” always applies, but getting up close and personal with the subject and filling the frame will make the photo “POP”.  See how much better your photo looks without the wasted nondescript foreground and background space?


POST 3_NO 3Rule of Thirds. If you are uncertain about the “Rule of Thirds” in photography, I suggest reading Darren Rowse’s blog post; one of thousands of photography posts on the web explaining this rule. In essence, if you divide the photo into thirds both horizontally and vertically the four intersection points form “sweet spots” of the photo where focal points of the subject matter should be aligned.

If it’s the portrait of a person, their eyes should align to the top two intersections or at least sit on the horizontal line marking the top third of the image. If it’s a subject or scene, then the subject should fill two thirds of the background with its focal point falling along either the right or left vertical line.

Framing. To further draw a viewer’s focus towards the subject, the subject can be framed by a foreground or background feature like a window, street line, door or even a shadow.

Look out for Simon’s next post in the series “iPhone apps for travelling Photographers”.

ABOUT: The family behind Up Sticks N Go are official Outbound Ambassadors. Michelle Frost and husband Simon are travelling the world with their three kids for 18 months while working online – how cool is that? They’d love to catch up with readers somewhere in the world. If you’d like to see more you can follow their adventure via their website: or on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest or Twitter.

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Making Money While you Travel

Making Money While you Travel

We have all read those articles: How to Make Money While Traveling. And we see the same things; flight attendant, tour guide, writer, government jobs, etc. But how applicable are all these jobs, and can I really obtain these? What about budgeting before you actually go, isn’t it equally as important? We interviewed five travelers to get the scoop on how it really happens.

Dylan – The Go-Getter

aboutpicDylan has been traveling for years now; his most recent trip has been about six months (Indonesia à Thailand à Cambodia à Vietnam back to Thailand). His route? He convinced his boss to let him work his job remotely. He is a salesman through a music company, along with this; he rents a house back home in Canada. He is experimenting with some new business opportunities, which will only help him to travel even more!

Dylan’s advice to travelers: “To take action and go. You can sit, contemplate, wonder, and research forever. The only way to actually experience something is to go out and experience it. You can’t really prepare for the unknown, so simply get up and go. You’ll figure it out.”

Ryan – A tech-savvy adventurer traveling the globe

10454253_297569960404651_1242103321613676246_oRyan gets away whenever he can; he fell in love with the art of traveling the world after moving to London post graduation. He covered most of Europe while he was there and after that backpacked from Egypt to Cape Town (and everywhere in between). Ryan has designed the Outbound App, which has opened up several new opportunities for him! The key to his travels is to save, save, save. The longest spree he went without working was three months, while backpacking. Advice to you:

“I think the key is to just go. Don’t wait for the ‘right time’ because life will always get in the way. I am yet to meet someone who has said ‘I really regret going on that trip’. So I think my best advice is to just throw the dart at the map, book the ticket and go!”

Michelle – Digital dreamer

1907456_10152257452663156_20069537_nMichelle and her family have been traveling for 10 months. In 2002, Michelle and her husband started an online business so they could work and travel. They create and sell digital products, coach small businesses via webinars and provide digital marketing service to bigger business. Together they have combined their passions, travel and the World Wide Web. Some advice from the family of travelers:

“Find someone who’s doing what you want to do and follow them, find out how they got where they are and emulate them. One word of caution, if you decide to start a location independent business so you can travel make sure it’s something you’re passionate about – it’ll be much easier to focus while you travel around.”

Spencer – An aspiring writer

11208644_10153238176461221_6280883887901575769_nSpencer has been traveling since he was a young boy and as of right now actually doesn’t work! Yes. It’s possible. You do have to save though and he does occasionally pick up a side job here or there on a beach somewhere. His dream though? Writing freelance. It is a great way to make money; plus there are many different ways to find a job doing this. He is on the right track too. Spencer just recently got published. The best way to get your name around is to get noticed! Spencer has never been happier.

“For the first time in my life, I’m thoroughly excited when I sit down and begin to write.” – Spencer

Advice: “Get up and just go. The hardest part of travelling is actually committing to it. If you can find the courage to book the ticket then you’ve made the most difficult step. And go into new places with an open mind; don’t judge a new place off of reviews or rumors. My favorite places have often been the ones where I expected nothing and was rewarded with paradise.”

Yeager and Beth – Equal opportunity employees

untitled-1-5-copyTogether this inspiring couple has been traveling for about two months. They have a multitude of skills, which allows them to do different jobs as they go. They will cook, clean, bartend or just about anything that comes up! Yeager and Beth are always up for learning something new also. They strive to balance out working and traveling; working for a month, then traveling for a month, on and off.

Their advice: “Work your butt off and save up. You need less than you think and you can always find ways to make ends meet. Money comes and goes, but the experiences in life are far more rewarding than a large bank account – so don’t be afraid to go for broke if it will give you an experience of a lifetime!”

Brooke – A wandering spirit

unnamedBrooke started traveling when she was 20 years old and after that she fell in love with the world. Over the past 14 years she has spent nine of those living and traveling abroad.

When Brooke first left she had a one-year Canadian working visa and $5,000 in the bank, working various jobs in different towns. From there she made her way through the UK and Europe with money saved from those jobs. After a few years back home earning and saving in Australia, she next traveled Asia and Europe for five months without even working! Now with her husband by her side (whom she met that first year in Canada) they are traveling the seas on their family sailboat. There is no credit in this family. When they run out of money, they just stop and get a job.

For Brooke, she’s never worked on-the-go, she just bases herself somewhere for a few months or a few years and works for a local business. Her jobs have ranged from: snowboarding into work on a Canadian ski resort to serving at weddings in a 700-year-old castle in Scotland! Simply put, Brooke is addicted to travel and her advice to you?

“Unless you are looking to settle longish term as an ex-pat and score a professional job, don’t go in search of work abroad expecting to earn the same kind of money you did at home. There are some exceptions, but most employers know you are transient and will usually get away with paying minimum wage. Sometimes you can make this up with tips (say in North America), or your employer will provide staff meals, discounted accommodation or other perks (such as free ski season pass). But the pay-off is you’ll be doing something ridiculously memorable (like a mountain-top ski lift host or snorkeling guide in Belize) with like-minded people who’ll likely become life-long friends.”

ABOUT: Megan and Andrew are Official Outbound Ambassadors. Currently based in America, they are a long distance couple that met in college and were brought together through their crazy life journeys. They share a passion for adventure and are determined to make their dreams of traveling the world a reality. Megan and Andrew are constantly looking for new thrills and enjoy sharing every experience via their blog:

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Hiking for a Cause: Yosemite National Park

Hiking for a Cause: Yosemite National Park

This year marks Yosemite National Park’s 125th Anniversary. To commemorate the anniversary, I’m hiking Half Dome on Friday July 10th and raising money for the Yosemite Conservancy. That means 15 miles roundtrip, a 4,800 foot elevation gain, and an estimated 12 hour journey!

As you know, I love camping, backpacking, and the summer mountains, and Yosemite in particular has a special place in my heart. My family has vacationed there every year since I can remember, and the connection it has provided me with the outdoors, with family, and with other tree-loving folks from around the world, has made me a better person and a better steward of the land. Please help preserve this National Park for generations to come by donating to my Crowdrise campaign (100% tax-deductible!):

I’ve set a goal of $1,000, but I hope that we can blow that out of the water. My company does a corporate match, so if I raise $1,000, it will really mean $2,000. Want to know how your money will go to use? Check out some of the Yosemite Conservancy’s programs you’ll be supporting:

  • Visitor Services, such as leadership development for underserved youth and expanding the preventative search and rescue program
  • Habitat restoration, such as protecting old-growth forests and removing invasive weeds from meadows
  • Wildlife management, such as using cutting-edge technology to protect frogs and returning the Bighorn Sheep to the wilderness

I’m not hiking alone though. I’ll be trekking with two of my sisters and any friends who are up for the challenge. I invite you to join us! While the pre-season lottery is over, you can request to secure a permit two days in advance. I would love to see faces from around the world out on the trail and up at the top.

So what the heck does the Half Dome hike entail? The National Park Service put together an incredible video. Check it out:

What are you all waiting for? Doesn’t it look like the hike of a lifetime? Come hike with me, donate to my fundraiser, or both! We’ll be on the lookout for you! I’ll be using the hashtag #HikeHDwithNikki on Twitter and Instagram so those not on the trail can follow our journey.

Nikki 2014 Yosemite Valley


















ABOUT: Nikki is an Official Outbound Ambassador. She’s an outdoorsy adventurer who marvels at natural wonders, world cultures, and really old stuff. She’s talented at climbing mountains, making crafts, and eating cheese and chocolate. When she’s not off exploring the world, she’s uncovering off-the-beaten path adventures in California. What to read more from Nikki? Visit her website here:

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10 Must-See Sights in Istanbul

10 Must-See Sights in Istanbul

So you’re off to Istanbul? Lucky you! There is so much to see and do in this exceedingly interesting and vibrant city. Here are 10 things (in no particular order) not to miss during your stay.

1. Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)

Known most famously for its extraordinary interior covered in blue iznic tiles, this truly is one of the most beautiful places of worship in the world.



2. Grand Bazaar

Although chaotic and now very touristy, one still cannot miss slowly strolling around the maze of shops overflowing with wares ranging from gold jewellery to turkish carpets to ornate ceramics. Bring your bargaining power!


3. Spice Market

Whilst breathing in the heady mix of spices and herbs, make sure you pick up some dried fruits or nuts as you wander around this bustling market in Eminönü. Constructed in the 1660s, it was originally built to sell Egyptian spices brought in from Cairo on the trade routes.

spice-market-1 spice-market-2

4. Galata Tower

Built on a hilltop overlooking the Golden Horn, the Galata Tower was originally constructed by the Byzantines as a lighthouse. The Ottomans used it as a dungeon after they conquered the city and it was later used as a fire tower. The tower, visible from most areas of the city, offers 360 degree views of Istanbul.


5. Sip tea and smoke nargile with the locals

Do as the locals do and engage in their favourite pastime.


6. Topkapi Palace

An opulent palace built for the Ottoman sultan after the conquest, Topkapi Palace is not to be missed. Perched on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus Strait, the grounds offer magnificent views. Leaving without a visit to the Harem is just not acceptable – why would you pass up the opportunity to wander around the beautiful living quarters of the sultan’s concubines?

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7. Gaze over to Asia from a rooftop bar

Sip on a cocktail at 5 Kat as you watch the sun slowly set, lighting up Asia across the Bosphorus Strait.


8. Bosphorus cruise

Get out on the water and take a trip on one of Istanbul’s famous ferries. It’s not everyday that you have the opportunity to sail between two continents after all!


9. Basilica Cistern

Let your imagination run wild as you explore this ancient underground cistern, built to store water for the sultan’s palace.


10. Aya Sofya

Don’t miss Istanbul’s most famous monument. Constructed as a church in 537 and commissioned by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, it became the greatest church of all of the Eastern Roman Empire. After the Ottoman conquest, it was transformed into a mosque and remained so until it was converted into a museum in the 1930s. It truly is an extraordinary structure with an incredible history.


ABOUT: Rachel Bale is an official Outbound Ambassador. She is a transplanted Australian who has ventured about as far from home as she can get, adopting Berlin as her new city. Working in Europe means that her weekends often feature a little getaway to Rome, Amsterdam or maybe Barcelona. This expat can’t keep still for long! If you’d like to read more from Rachel, visit her blog:  

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Earthquake In Nepal: My First-Hand Experience

Earthquake In Nepal: My First-Hand Experience

Words by Spencer Giese: Pilgrim of Tomorrow

Photo by Shilpa Balakrishnan

As I’m sure many of you have heard, a few days ago there was a major earthquake that crippled the country of Nepal. I still happened to be in the beautiful country, roaming through the crowded streets of central Thamel in Kathmandu at the time of the 7.9 quake. It is with the deepest sense of gratitude that I can announce that I am finally safe and sound away from the immediate dangers which inevitably coincides with a natural disaster: famine, homelessness, threat of epidemic breakout, death.

I was in the middle of central Kathmandu when the earthquake initially hit. Walking down the crowded streets with a friend of mine, all of a sudden it seemed as if the ground had dropped away from where it had been a second ago, and then everything around us started shaking and swaying as if it were intoxicated. Buildings began to crumble and fall, bricks and dust rained down from above, people scrambled in mass hysteria like a colony of ants; in these long moments that lasted an eternity the world had ceased to abide by the laws of gravity and physics. It was impossible to try to stand still because one second you would be standing there and then the next, the solid pavement was no longer beneath your feet and you were left falling down onto uneven ground below where you were just standing. Solid, firm ground had become a precarious suspension bridge of terror without railings and surrounded by buildings with poor structural integrity.

I thought I understood what fear was. Until this moment, I hadn’t even come close to comprehending true fear. Less than 50 metres to the right of where I was standing, just one block away from where I was staying for the night, a hotel collapsed down into a washing pit trapping 40 people and killing around 25. Instantly. I was less than 50 metres away from my own death on a few different instances throughout the events of the earthquake, but this instance has been burned into my memory. The dust and rubble that lingered over the desolation, the people that emerged covered in demise, the cries for help from the trapped and inaccessible, the bodies we could see but no longer moved, the dust and rubble created a haze where all of this seemed like some sort of disgusting nightmare. The adrenaline pumped through my veins as the shock began to set in. I felt sick to my stomach as I began to hear a chorus of sirens filling in the ominous silence that had hung heavily over our heads like stormy rainclouds.

My eyes scanned our surroundings as quickly as possible and saw roads that had cracked and fissured up like tectonic plates, creating miniature mountain ranges in the middle of the streets. Buildings that were not reduced to a pile of debris were laden with cracks which spread up like reaching roots. Everything shut down immediately as all the store owners fled home to check on loved ones.

Kathmandu was a nightmare of falling buildings and crushed people. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for the hundreds caught in the avalanches up near Everest Base Camp and along various other treks in the numerous mountain ranges Nepal has to offer. I was in the process of writing a blog on my own experience hiking up to EBC when the earthquake hit. It’s very difficult to imagine that this incredible landscape I had been exploring has been drastically altered and claimed the lives of hundreds of people from all over the world.

I have never been in a situation in which, for days on end, I was scared for my life. Where, for days on end, it seemed as though the aftershocks would never stop, the horrible reports would never cease, that it was impossible for the world to keep spinning when everything around me had just been brought down to its knees in one fell swoop.

My heart bleeds for my fallen brothers and sisters I leave in Nepal, the roof of the world. The thousands of individuals who have lost their lives, the hundreds of thousands whose lives have been forever altered by this devastating disaster, the ones who have lost everything, and the ones who are giving everything they have, my heart beats for every single one of them. I was lucky enough to call Nepal home for the last two months and I had nothing but unforgettable experiences while there. That my departure came at a time in which the entire nation is in such a severe crisis is a bitter end, to say the least.

All I’ve mentioned so far have been my immediate after thoughts regarding my personal experience during the initial earthquake and the subsequent waves that followed. I’d like to finish on a positive note.

The last few days before my evacuation – amazing to reach personal safety but still very reluctant to leave this country in worse shape than when I found it – were spent helping one another in any way possible. It was heart-warming to see such warmth and determination from people who had just lost their families and homes. Their entire way of life had just been destroyed on scale difficult for us fortunate westerners to even begin to fathom, and yet they found ways to smile, to laugh, to love, to cry.

My eyes caught a local man who had just walked up to a stranger sitting alone in the dirt and without saying anything, this man pulled the stranger to his feet and wrapped his empathetic arms around him. He held him with such love and warmth that within a few seconds the strangers arms swung up and clung to this man as if he were a life-raft. The tears streamed down their faces as a single unit, one affected soul bleeding with another, and together they stood crying with each other for a long time. After this moment had passed and the two men said thanked each other and went their separate ways, I watched the local man walk away with a broad smile on his face. I struck up conversation with him and plucked up enough courage to ask him one question:

“Sir, I don’t want to be rude but how is it possible that you can find anything to smile about in this tragedy? How does that even begin to make sense that you, a man who has lost nearly everything but your own life, can find something to smile about during this suffering?”

He looked at me a second, looked away, then he took another hard look at me. He truly saw me, everything I was in that moment, standing there with my bleeding heart in one hand, my frightened and confused soul in the other. He locked eyes with me and with all the truth, love, and goddamn bravery any human could ever muster he replied:

“Why do I smile in the face of suffering? Because if I don’t smile, then there is no more hope. If I don’t smile, all that is left is suffering, and I will not let Nepal become a hopeless place of suffering.”

In the face of horror, of loss, of death, of despair, the human spirit can find the slightest glimmer of hope. With hope, humans can do amazing things.

ABOUT: Spencer is an official Outbound Ambassador. Check out his blog here:

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Happy New Year From Thailand – Songkran Festival

Happy New Year From Thailand – Songkran Festival

Well, Songkran has just blown my mind and is one of the funnest things I’ve ever taken part in. All I knew was it’s the Thai New Year celebration and there was going to be a huge water fight for three days. After it was all over and I learned more about it, I’m convinced this is one of the best festivals the world has to offer.


When, where, and what is it?

Songkran is held every year on April 13 – 15 all over Thailand and is a celebration of the Thai New Year. It is a time of renewal, cleansing, and starting fresh. Traditionally the Thai people would sprinkle scented water on monks as a symbol of cleansing. Soon this tradition turned into splashing a little of the leftover water on your family and loved ones. Then that gave way to friends and love interests. Now it has morphed into a giant super soaker fight where everyone is involved and everyone is fair game. The old traditions of Songkran are still very much alive and prolific throughout the festival, but the water fight is just a really fun time had by all… for three whole days.


Who takes part?

Toddlers to the elderly are all taking part in the fun. Everyone is acting like a kid and having the time of their lives. Imagine your grandma with a constantly full bucket of water that she pours over people at every chance she gets, with a smile on her face. Now imagine a little five-year-old armed with a giant super soaker who’s encouraged to get everyone he can all day long.

That is Songkran.


How much does it cost?

It’s free! No tickets to be bought, no cover to pay, no lineups, AND you aren’t being sold anything. This is huge. I really felt the absence of a big Mega-Globo-Whatever sponsoring this thing. The people are what make this happen, whom it is for, and the reason it is what is.


You are going to get soaked, and you are going to like it.

I was amazed at how gentle and nice everybody was about getting each other wet. As it is still a very special day for the Thai people, it is still a very sincere thing to sprinkle water on someone. When I would be getting pelted with water it would come with a smile and a gesture of politeness that left me truly feeling renewed and happy the wetter I got. If you are thinking you can skate by without getting soaked you are very wrong. If you’re in Thailand during Songkran you aren’t even safe in your hotel – the front desk people will soak you. If you step foot out onto the street, forget about it, you’re soaked.

IMG_3279-1024x1024It’s fun and not aggressive.

Even the foreigners were polite about the water fight as there are no drunken hooligans to be seen. This is because they don’t sell alcohol anywhere during the day until about 5pm. You can, of course, have your own booze that you bought earlier with you, but I think the ban on liquor sales really adds to the atmosphere. You’re there to have fun and not focus on getting hammered.


The vibe is infectious.

As a foreigner taking part in Songkran, I was definitely taking note on how my other travellers were handling it. It seemed that everyone was sharing the same really fun loving, happy, and positive experience. I really think the attitude and vibe of the locals was rubbing off on everyone. I don’t think you can be in energy so positive and not feel it yourself.

IMG_3296-1024x1024Incredible food is everywhere. 

Amazing and cheap food is conveniently located everywhere you turn and people are very careful to not spray out towards the food vendors. I was amazed that two feet away from the mayhem, on the road were food tables that didn’t have a drop of water on them. That didn’t stop the vendors from getting in on the action though.


Chiang Mai is the place to be.

I was in Chiang Mai for Songkran this year and I’ve been told it is the place to be in Thailand for it. I’d have to agree; as I’m still wiped from an intense three days of water fights in the day, and then party hopping at night. The night parties tend to run late as, for the Thais, this is New Years but pumped up and stretched out over three days at the minimum.

I’ll hand it to Thailand, it knows how to party.


Ice water surprises to keep you guessing.

Oh, one little tip – watch out for the tuk-tuks and trucks with a barrel of water. The drivers keep huge blocks of ice in them and trust me; it couldn’t be colder when a full bucket of ice water goes cascading down your back. Of course, it being sweltering hot in Chiang Mai made it pretty bearable. Also, you are getting pelted with pretty warm water all day so the change of temperature is refreshing.


Have fun but stay safe.

Songkran is amazing and one of the best things I’ve ever done. However, the already dangerous roadways of Thailand become even scarier when there are more drivers on scooters flooding the roadways and getting blindsided by buckets of water zooming by. This Songkran there was 2754 road accidents claiming 282 lives. I can’t stress enough for you to stay off your scooter for Songkran. The locals may be used to driving during the festival, but why take the chance yourself if you are new to driving in Thailand?


Go if you can!

So wrapping up, I want to give my vote for Songkran as something you should not miss when coming to Thailand. If you can aim for mid-April in Chiang Mai you will not be disappointed. Songkran is amazing.


ABOUT: Dylan Basile is a Vancouver-based world traveler who is on a quest to explore 100 countries. Along the way he has started a campaign to raise money for building a school through Pencils of Promise for kids who really need it! If you’d like to join him, drop a line on his blog or through Outbound as he’d love to connect. If you’d like to read more, visit Dylan’s blog:


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Riding through the Himalayas on a Motorbike: The Ultimate Guide

Riding through the Himalayas on a Motorbike: The Ultimate Guide

The thought of a motorcycle ride to Ladakh is not for the faint-hearted. With a bit of resilient nature and will-power, one can easily conquer the ride through the mighty Himalayas. There are two ways to head to Ladakh by road: Srinagar and Manali. Either ways, you’ll get to see beauty at its heavenly best. However, this guide is for those who are driving or riding from the state of Himachal Pradesh – Manali.

The Manali-Leh roads are open only from June to September, which means you can only ride during these months. Because of heavy snowfall between October and May, you are left with the only option of taking a flight to Ladakh and absolutely no means of travel by road (for your own safety). With Himalayas on its south-west and Karakoram Range on its north-west, this Tibetan region has one of the most dangerous roads in the world – it’s a biker’s Mecca. With this being said, it is imperative that you ensure you stay as safe as you can on these roads. Although it is adventurous, you’re safety should be just as important as having fun. If this is a trip that you are thinking of being a part of, you’ll need to be prepared. As the change in the weather is apparent in different months, one tip to remember when buying a new helmet for your adventure is that motorbike helmets should be waterproof so you can protect your head from the rain. It may seem obvious, but this is just one out of many things you’ll need to think about when you go for a ride like this.


My husband and I started this trip without a clue of how a solo couple travel is especially going to be on a motorbike trip through one of the scariest roads in the world. Though we had planned the entire route, little did we plan on the places to stay (turned out for the best). The ride took us about four days to reach Leh, while we stayed in beautiful Swiss tents along the way.

The Journey

To begin with, Rohtang Pass is a perfect riding exercise for those who’d like to experience how the rest of the journey is going to be. The roads at Rohtang are well-maintained but there have been plenty of accident cases at Rohtang; a reason it’s called body of the corpses. At 13,000 feet you will not feel the Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) yet, especially after seeing multitudes of tourists playing with the snow and dotting the pass top. However, the weather conditions are still unpredictable at the top.


Traffic on route to Rohtang Pass. Super narrow roads, lorries, and fog, makes one re-consider overtaking.

The best part is, most tourists do not go beyond or to the other side of Rohtang but that is where the exciting part begins. You pass through isolated villages but still each house has a little corner that has tables spilling out of their compound. These serve delicious local food. For a heavy local meal, stop at Koksar or Tandi.

goat-herder in Ladakh

After a couple of hours of riding, you hit a huge square red arc and a board that says ‘Welcome to Keylong‘ – it’s more like ‘Welcome to Civilisation’. There is a motorbike repair shop just a little further to the arc. A little further, you hit Jispa where you can stay for the night.


Set for the next day, you will still enjoy the ride through Darcha and towards the gorgeous Bara-lacha-La (pass). This is one of my favorite roads as the winding roads are flanked by mountains of ice. It is Narnia.


While you’re here look out for Suraj Tal, a lake that is completely or semi-frozen depending on the time you visit. There is no sign board that says you have reached the Baralacha-La Pass but the fluttering prayer flags makes even the atheist stop by for a silent prayer – after all the mountains are your only God for the next few days.

Royal Enfield Classic 500

Many riders decide to continue beyond Sarchu, but it is advisable to stop and stay to enjoy slow travel with less stress.


The winding and cracked roads from Sarchu can add onto altitude sickness that make many people sick at this stage. The solution is to remain calm, sit for a cup of tea at a stall and take sips of water to avoid dehydration.


A little help from the locals to push our bike.


The ride will take you amid pristine beauty; each has distinct features. The Gata Loops, a stretch of 21 hair pins, can give you a perfect-postcard picture from the top – an epic picture of the 21 twisting roads. As we rode to the top, my eyes stumbled upon a pile of water bottles on the left-hand corner of the last bend. Legend says that decades ago, a truck driver and a cleaner were driving to Leh from Manali, when their truck broke down on the loop. The driver opted to walk to the nearest village seeking help while the cleaner stayed back to watch the truck that was loaded with valuable goods. Meanwhile, the weather conditions turned bizarre closing roads from the both the ends to stop any vehicles because of heavy snowfall. Due to this, the driver also could only return to the truck after a week, to find the decomposed body of the cleaner who passed away because of hunger, thirst and weather with absolutely no help. Apparently, since then many passers-by have seen a beggar pleading for water on the loops, and if nobody offers water, they suffer with AMS or accidents. For peace, the locals of Manali and Leh have made a small memorial. Perhaps these ghost stories of Ghata Loops were created by somebody hallucinating due to the altitude?

After Ghata Loops, be prepared for the two pass Nakila Pass and Lachung La Pass at about 16,000 feet. Stop by for a meal in Pang. In case you are feeling dizzy, most stalls offer beds to sleep in for the night at a very minimal rate. It’s best to keep your options open even though it may not be the best. After a while the road leads to beautiful Moreh Plains.


Notice the quirky signboards by Border Road Organisation.


While I was glad to be back on the plains, it began to drizzle. What a perfect way to enjoy different shades of weather through mountains, high altitude lakes and plains. Moreh Plains is home to the migrating Changpa nomads living in tents dotted in an isolated corner of the vast plain. They graze goats and yaks, but most of the time there are hardly any settlements in the region.

Many riders choose to ride directly from Moreh Plains to Leh through Upshi. This is a straight road, but to enjoy more of the frozen lake take a detour (towards the right) to Tsokar. Stay here for the night, as you will find guest rooms have windows facing the beautiful Tsokar Lake. During season you’ll even get to see the black-necked cranes.


Tsokar lake – Frozen salt lake ( June 1st week).


Happy little sweetheart in Tsokar.

With slight snow showers, Tanglang La couldn’t look more beautiful as I experienced snow for the first time. The rugged mountainous terrain majestically sits at an altitude of 17,480 feet. The last leg of the trip features a ride directly to Leh through a small village of Rumste.


Once you reach Leh, take a few days to settle in, in order to acclimatize. From here, plan for an overnight stay in Pangong Tso via Chang La Pass; day trips to Khardungla (claimed as ‘World’s highest Motorable Road’) or overnight stays on the other side of Khardungla top – Hunder – Nubra Valley.


South Pullu, Khardungla.


Khardungla Top.


Chang-La Top.

There is no better way to explore Leh than on a motorbike. It’s been a few months since we returned from the trip and I’m still unsure of what made this journey epic, whether it’s the: ‘Juley! Juley!’ greetings expressed by workers clearing up the ice blocks; soaking in the cool breeze while listening to the Buddhist prayers at Shanti Stupa; witnessing the beautiful white and green lights dancing amid the mountains like an Asian aurora; the joy of completing our 32 Kms white water rafting at Zanskar River in -4 degree; staying in tents surrounded by snow-capped mountains, or craving for Ladakhi chicken curry everyday as a treat to ourselves for surviving the day.


Best Time to Ride to Leh

The best time to start your road trip to Leh is June, as the weather is inviting and you can also enjoy snowfall at times. But if you are an inexperienced rider and not a fan of cool temperatures, your best bet is August during summer.

Special Thanks


The soldiers living in this risky and fierce weather need a special bow. We realised the intense effort on our way back from Pangong Tso Lake to Leh City on Chang La Pass. The weather was hovering at minus temperatures and it was impossible to ride or even sit idle as a pillion as our toes and fingers were almost blue. Our only rescue was the gentleman at the army camp who offered us hot tea and fire-lit stove to deal with the harsh weather. The story doesn’t end here. The locals advised us to continue riding to Leh instead of stopping on the Chang La top, but the weather insisted we stop for some warmth. As we started the bike, the engine froze. So in an isolated place with heavy snow, we feared if anyone would come by to help. To our luck, a local family stopped and offered to drop us to the city. It’s experiences like these that help travelers connect with the locals and better understand their earnest endeavor to lead a simple yet balanced routine.

ABOUT: Shilpa Balakrishnan is an Outbound Ambassador. She is a travel writer who enjoys documenting her travels to offbeat places – explored by road from a local’s perspective. She also shares her experiences through illustrations inspired from her travels. She is the author and founder of The Satori Saga – a Travel and Art blog that talks about overland journeys and ways to travel responsibly and differently. You can follow her journeys on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Travel in the age of Generation Y




I feel a certain sense of nostalgia when I think about how people travelled in the 60’s and 70’s. It all sounds so intrepid. Far from being the norm, overseas travel was reserved for the true adventurers, pioneers and hippies of this planet. And when you think about the logistics of actually travelling back then – it’s no wonder. I literally can’t imagine a time where I would have to plan my route beforehand on a map and call a travel agent to book a flight ticket, in a world where the only means of communicating with friends and family while on the road was by letter or postcard.

Fast forward to 2008 when I took my first backpacker trip as a fresh faced and inexperienced 18 year old. In contrast to the travellers of yesteryear, I find myself in an internet cafe in Thailand, able to quickly reply to my mum’s “please let me know that you’re still alive!?” emails and I’m surrounded by other backpackers doing the same thing. Since I’m stuck for a travel buddy, I’m also trawling through loads of different online travel forums with varying degrees of success, to see if I can find someone who is going the same direction as me that I can travel with.

The point of technology is that it makes things easier and it has definitely left its mark on how people travel in the 21st century. The world has been opened up to the masses, meaning of course, that previously untouched places are not that “far out” anymore and, as a result, the world feels a hell of a lot smaller than it should do, really. Rather than discovering the undiscovered, backpackers in Generation Y can only look with envy upon the generations before them, as they find themselves traversing well worn trails. Whilst doing so, and perhaps in order to compensate for this mainstream shift, they fiercely guard their “traveller” status, as they seek to smugly differentiate themselves from mere “tourists”.

I honestly can’t imagine what the first generation of backpackers would say if they wandered into a hostel now and saw 10 people with their heads down, typing furiously on their phones, laptops and tablets booking the next days’ tranche of train journeys, flight tickets and accommodation. Would they compare themselves to us and be afflicted by the same sort of superiority complex that the Generation Y “travellers” lord over “tourists”?

Well, I reckon, if they were born in Generation Y, they’d be typing furiously too.

That’s because the beauty of technology is that it solves problems. Fast forward again to 2015 and during a solo trip to Iceland, I find myself at a loose end one afternoon. So rather than lie miserably in my dorm room bunk bed, I am using Outbound App to hang out with three Argentinian ukulele players that night.

Now, I’m all for chance encounters with cool and like-minded people but at the same time, the new wave of awesome travel facilitators like Outbound means that Generation Y no longer have to rely on pure luck to meet the kind of unique characters that makes travelling so wonderful. I strongly believe that the people you meet on the road and the experiences you have with them can be more important than the places you actually go to and Outbound App means that we now have the chance to actually create our own encounters.

In a previous blog, Dan told us how he used Tinder to hitchhike North America because he was fed up of waiting hours at the side of the road for a lift. Technology therefore allowed him to solve a problem, meet new people he would never have met before and make sure he had an awesome adventure.

Podstel envisions a hostel which will inspire, encourage and facilitate everyone with wanderlust to explore and experience much more of our beautiful world. Rather than being reserved for only a select few, we believe that everyone who wants to travel should have this enriching and life changing opportunity. That’s why we value our Crowd so much, and using online technology, every day we are getting ideas, support and inspiration from you guys, the people who will be coming to stay with us. I reiterate – we would never have been able to do this on our own, and that’s down to technology.

So whilst undoubtedly, it would have been seriously cool to travel back in the day, I reckon that if travellers gone by could have looked into the future, they’d be blown away to think that their kids and grandkids would be connecting with like-minded people across the world at the touch of a button. Generation Y’s use of travel facilitators removes unnecessary barriers as former objections, fears and reservations about travelling go well and truly out the window: “I can’t go travelling because I have no one to go with” – well, as Apple points out, there’s an App for that!

ABOUT: to read more of Lyndsay’s blogs and learn about Podstel visit:


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How To Win The Fight Against Jet lag

How To Win The Fight Against Jet lag


Over the past few years of travel, I’ve been a serious victim of jet lag. My first day in Europe, I took a nap that lasted into an all day/all night coma and awoke at the ungodly hour of 4 am – a time where no sleeping pill will do the trick. My second time in Europe, I managed to take a catnap of only three hours. The real kick in the gut was when I traveled over to Australia from the USA. I had no intention of adjusting quickly, as I would be there for a year, and I’m pretty sure I fell asleep for three weeks straight (it’s times like these that make you happy that there are places like Leesa that make comfortable mattresses). So as I prepared for my journey back home from Australia, I knew I had to get it right this time.

After researching tips and tricks and putting into practice on my own, I think I’ve finally hit the nail on the head. After almost 30 hours of flying and layovers, I managed to not only make it through my first day at home, but also go out that night with my parents and stay up late!

I decided if I could manage to succeed over jetlag on my upcoming trip from home to Thailand then I would write about my own personal tricks to jetlag. And here I am, another 30 hours later of flying with four stopovers, and I’m alive and kicking.

So how did I manage to beat jetlag after being so defenseless just a year prior? I’ll let you in on my tips right now:

1. Do the math

The most important thing you can do to ensure you will ease right into the next time zone is to figure out what time it is in your final destination. Set your watch to the local time, and try your best to take a nap (or sometimes a very much needed sleeping pill) in sync with when it would be a normal time to sleep at your destination. If you can manage to sleep even a little bit at the local sleeping time, this will help so much.

2. Eat Breakfast

I know it can be insanely tough to wake up when the airplane lights turn on after a little snooze. Even if it is normally 2 am in your hometown, the airplane is putting on the lights for a reason – it’s morning time at your destination. If it’s a longer flight, they will serve breakfast, and although it may be an ungodly hour to eat breakfast, you need to get on a normal eating schedule. This will wake up your metabolism and get your eating habits in sync, as well.

3. Exercise

For me, the best way to completely relax on an 8-hour plane ride is to have known I worked out at least 12 hours prior to my flight. You feel relaxed, refreshed and, at least in my case, very happy. Exercising will keep you body burning calories, your endorphin levels high and all around, keeps you energized for the long haul. Alternatively, I always love to exercise when I land. No matter how tired I am, I find if I get right to it, walk around the new city I’m in or even go for a run in the hotel gym, this will keep your energy levels high throughout the day. Also, staying healthy while traveling is vital to ensuring a successful trip.

4. Keep Moving

To go along with the previous point, as soon as you land, you have to keep yourself moving. I found that the reason I slept half the day away in Ireland was because I allowed myself to take a “cat nap.” I like to put everything away once I arrive, put on my waling boots and hit the town. Whether it’s a walk on the beach, a hike in the mountain or just grabbing a coffee with a friend, you have to keep both your mind and body stimulated.

5. Keep Those Lids Wide Open

I know this is the easiest advice to give and the hardest advice to take, but it’s imperative to just stay awake as long as you can. If you can keep moving throughout the day, it makes it so much easier to stay awake until a normal sleeping hour, than if you allow yourself to nap. The times I stayed awake the entire day, I woke up with little to no jet lag!

Now, I know it all sounds easier said than done, and trust me I’ve been there once, and I definitely will be there again. If you absolutely need to nap, no biggie! The most important thing you need to do while traveling is to listen to your body, but if you can follow a few of these steps, I promise it will be so much easier to transition into local time and enjoy your adventures.

ABOUT: Kelly Schwantes (otherwise known as KP) is an Outbound Ambassador. Florida-born, Sydney-based KP has traveled to 30 countries, studied in three and lived in two – all before turning 22. In between trips, KP likes to practice yoga, write, run on the beach and plan the next big adventure. If you want to read more, check out her blog on all things travel:


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Gili Islands – A Scuba Diver’s Paradise

Gili Islands – A Scuba Diver’s Paradise

Just a ferry ride away from Bali are the beautiful islands of Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno.

I stayed on Gili “T”, where I put my new scuba certification skills to the test. And this was the absolute perfect location to do it! The water visibility was amazing and the ocean teaming with an incredible variety of coral and fish.


When I arrived and checked into Gili Yoga, I was half-drugged from the dramamine I had taken, just in case my seasick-prone-side decided to rear its ugly head. And I was incredibly hot and fatigued after lugging my suitcase from the dock in the dead heat of the midday sun. A fun fact is there are no motorized vehicles allowed on this tiny island, just bikes and horse carts. Which is fantastic. Except when you are about to keel over in a medicated state. And I couldn’t take a nap because I hadn’t realized this was a Muslim island, so the afternoon prayers were playing on the loudspeaker, rather close to my lodging, right as I was checking in.

Horse and cart

That aside, Gili T and I totally got along.

I rented a bike and in a leisurely couple of hours, I circled the entire island. These are some of the quaint eateries, hotels, shops and beaches I discovered along the way.

Beach Gili


Beach Store

Beach coral shackSwingbeach bar

I carried my snorkel mask everywhere I went because I never knew when I might spot a turtle just 10 feet offshore. I’d wade in waist-deep, duck my head beneath the water and be surrounded by as many as six hawksbill turtles feeding on the sea grass. Totally amazing.

I stopped to get a massage for $15 or less at one of many massage spas, whenever the urge struck. That happened often.

I spent hours in the late afternoon sun ambling along less-crowded stretches of beach, combing the sand and shallow waters for shells. This is one of my favorite things to do on any beach in the world, especially in the wee morning hours or as the sun is fading. You never know what you’ll find. I entertained myself making word art with the prettier pieces of coral I found.

Outbound coral

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And I went scuba diving. It. Was. Awesome. I’d wake up and walk over to Manta Dive to join the 9 am dive, where we would cruise for 10 minutes on a boat to one of the many dive sites. On the first day, I dove Shark Point.  We descended to a 60 foot shelf, then did a drift dive where I wanted to shout “Wheeeee!” as the current whisked me along like I was at a water park (so fun!), and then did more exploring at a 30 foot shelf. We saw three baby whitetip sharks, turtles, needlefish, anemones, lionfish, blowfish, angel fish, sweetlips and clownfish, not to mention huge sea fans and coral. The second day I dove Manta Point, and although I didn’t spot any mantas, I saw more sharks and lionfish, along with a cuttlefish, a bandit sea snake and a bat fish.

Niki Wetsuit

Sea Snake
Where’s Waldo?




















Although Gili T is known as the ‘party island’ of the three Gilis, I was in bed by 9 pm each night. I was flying solo, and I had been traveling for almost two months straight. I was happy as a clam (pun intended) to just chill. Plus, I was a little nervous about my first dives post-certification, and I didn’t want to be hungover and feel like death on the boat. Or worse, I didn’t want to put myself, and the little hole in my heart, at risk of any danger by not being in the best shape possible.

Gili sunset

My verdict of Gili Trawangan: hooked. I would definitely return to the Gilis, and next time I’d check out Gili Air and Gili Meno. Have you been to the Gilis? Which island is your favorite?


Although my room at Gili Yoga was fine, I probably wouldn’t go back. On my bike ride, I decided I liked the south side of the island best for lodging and the north side best for hanging out during the day to swim and snorkel with the turtles. I wouldn’t necessarily stay in the north as it was fairly removed from the main strip (unless you want quiet & seclusion) and there were unlit and non-bike-friendly sections of the road.

So drum roll…these south island hotels would entice me to go back: Hotel Vila OmbakThe Trawangan Resort, and the Pearl of Trawangan.

ABOUT: Nikki Near and Far is an Outbound Ambassador. She’s a San Francisco-based adventurer who marvels at natural wonders, world cultures and really old stuff. She’s talented at eating cheese and chocolate, making crafts and climbing mountains. If you’d like to read more visit: 

Nikki Coral

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