Luxury Stays: Pullman Kuala Lumpur City Centre

Aren’t five star hotels the best? The squishy pillows, the cozy duvets. Room service, rain water shower heads, bath tubs. Turn down service, concierges, valet parking. Pool terraces, rooftop bars, fine dining restaurants.

I found all this and more at my recent stay at the Pullman Kuala Lumpur City Centre.

Located conveniently between Bukit Bintang and KLCC, the Pullman KL City Centre is impressive from your first step into the lobby. Check in was swift and efficient, something I appreciated after flying through the night from Colombo to be here. I was introduced to my Executive floor manager, who escorted me and my over stuffed backpack to my room. And when I stepped through the door, I realised why the location was unsurpassed.

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Yes friends, this was the view from my bedroom window. I could say good morning and good night to those two beautiful towers without leaving my bed. I have never stayed in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur with such a clear view.

Now, obviously I couldn’t give you a good understanding of what it’s like to stay in this hotel without exploring a little. As itching as I was to get out to the streets and get some noodles, I went instead to the pool terrance to eat at the restaurant there. The only disappointment in this menu, was the lack of local choices. I saw satay, but other than that it was a wide choice of Western food. Which is fine, if you’ve been in town for a while and you’re sick of noodles… but who could ever be sick of noodles?

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The few days I spent in KL meant that I had plenty to revisit in the city, as well as some new sights to check out. But the Pullman gave me a truly wonderful welcome back at the end of each days explorations, and a super comfy bed to rest my weary head at night. The location meant I was close to major transport links, including the new free bus system. Only a hop and a skip away from Chinatown meant that I was never far away from a bowl of noodles, and being located so close to Bukit Bintang I could get myself an overpriced cocktail every evening if I wanted.

I highly recommend this one. In fact, I’ll definitely be heading back. Pullman, you have my heart.

This post was sponsored by Pullman Hotels.

Top 10 FREE Things To Do In Western Australia

My home state has some of the best undiscovered and undeveloped land in the country. I’m a little biased, sure – but I think you can all appreciate the following FREE things to check out over here in the West.

BIBBULMAN TRACK: The Bibb (as it’s known) is one of the world’s great long distance walks, stretching over 1000kms from the suburbs of Kalamunda in Perth’s hills all the way to historic Albany in the great south of the state. The track takes you through towering karri and tingle forest, over giant granite boulders and across breathtaking coastal scenes. There are a wide range of experiences on offer, from an eight week epic adventure staying in 49 campsites along the way, to day walks staying in comfort in quaint country towns. The track passes through beautiful spots, like Dwellingup, coal mining Collie, Walpole and Denmark. The campsites are well appointed, with sleeping shelters, pit toilets and rainwater tanks. The track is well marked with yellow triangular markers symbolising the rainbow serpent of the Aboriginal Dreamtime.

humpback-whale-breachingWHALE WATCHING: To get this for free, you’ll need to do it from land. You can go on the charter services out on the water, but these are expensive – although the view is much better! The fact remains that good ol’ WA has the world’s longest whale watching season, and lands in the path of the annual migration of humpback, southern right and the rare blue whales. The season begins in May and ends in December, and the whales will travel up the coast of WA hugging the continental shelf. In some areas, whales play close to the shore, and you can clearly see them from set vantage points. The best time to view is at midday, when the sun is directly overhead. Best places to spot whales are Flinders Bay, Augusta, and King George Sound (Albany), where they ironically get spotted just meters from the old whaling station. In the north of the state, best spots are Exmouth and Kalbarri. During September and December, humpbacks take a rest in the coastal waters off the capital – Perth.

DIAMOND TREE LOOKOUT: Not for the faint hearted, the gruelling 51 meter climb to the top of the world’s only wooden tree top tower rewards you with panoramic views of the beautiful Karri forests of the state’s south near Manjimup. Explore the forest and the surrounding area, perhaps have a picnic at one of the many spots dotted through the area. There are plenty of easy walk trails in the area, and if you manage to time your visit for the wildflower display (September – November), you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic display of colour.

Cottesloe Beach sunsets, Perth

Cottesloe Beach sunsets, Perth

HIT THE BEACH: I’ve said it before, but WA really has the most beautiful beaches in the country – maybe even the world. Suburban beaches are vast expanses of white sand, protrolled and protected by the Surf Lifesavers in their yellow and red outfits. Lucky Bay is officially Australia’s whitest beach, the sand is so clean it squeaks when you walk on it. World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef  lies at the shoreline of the Coral Coast, surrounded by qwhite beaches. My favourite – Turquoise Bay. Suburban Perth surfer seekers should head to Scarborough Beach and Trigg, in the northern suburbs of the city. The gnarliest waves in the south can be found at Surfers Point, near Margaret River. If you’re chasing wind, head north of the city by about an hour and a half to Lancelin, where you will find Windsurfers Beach. Remember though – the Aussie sun is HOT, so slip, slop, slap.

WANDER THE WILDFLOWERS: Certain parts of the state are renowned all over the world for the display of wildflowers, and come spring the roads are chock full of people escaping the city to go see them. From Perth, get in the car and head north for a picnic with the white, pink and yellow everlastings. Seek the Wreath Flower  on the Coral Coast, or go hunting for orchids in the south west. If time is not on your side though, you can take a wander through Perth’s King’s Park Botanic Gardens, and see the entire state on display in one place.

Margaret River wineries, Western Australia

Margaret River wineries, Western Australia

WINE TASTING: WA wine is renowned all over the world for its distinctive notes, and premium quality. There are nine sensational regions to discover, including internationally acclaimed Margaret River and the Great Southern. Venture off the well known trails and you’ll discover there are many more bottled treasures to taste. The majority of the regions can be found in the state’s south west – with it’s Mediterranean climate and rich fertile soils it has the perfect environment for growing premium grape vines. Margaret River produces outstanding chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and semillon white varieties, and wonderfully full bodied cabernet sauvignon reds. Located approximately three hours south of Perth, it’s a pretty wonderful weekend getaway. The cooler climate Great Southern region produces light rieslings and rich cabernets. The oldest wine region in WA is located just a short 45 min drive from the city of Perth, in the pretty Swan Valley. On the banks of the Swan River, you can indulge all your senses, with family run fresh produce and cheesemakers sitting between various vineyards and cellar doors. The Swan Valley is also home to award winning restaurants, boutique breweries and chocolate makers. If wine is your thing (and it’s definitely mine!) I suggest you check out the Wines of Western Australia.

Kangaroo_1786273cWILDLIFE SPOTTING: Our cousins from England get inexplicable joy in the sighting of kangaroo. I’ll never understand it. They’re literally everywhere, except in densely built up areas. Best spots for wildlife spotting are Whiteman Park, Apex Park, Avon Valley and Prevally Park in the south. Alternatively, Perth Zoo has a wonderful Australian animal set up, complete with koala, echidna, wombat and of course – the kangaroo.

LOCAL GALLERIES: WA’s art scene is far from emerging – it’s emerged. So much so that there is actually a coastal art trail, if you’re keen you can wind your way down south toward Margaret River, and stop in at Busselton, Bunbury, Dunsborough and Yallingup. Between the breweries and wineries there are some truly spectacular local artists showcasing their work in small local galleries. Keep your eyes out for the signs.

To those who pity me for travelling alone

Dear every person in the world,

Please stop looking at me with those pitying glances in restaurants when you see me eating by myself. Please stop giving me furtive worried looks from behind your menu. If you’re a man, no I do not need or want your company for the evening. Seriously, you don’t even know me – please don’t judge. Instead, reflect on how much more awesome my life is compared to yours.

I choose to travel solo. I choose to live my life as a free woman, in a world where women are too frequently questioned for exploring and wanting to learn. I know, it’s very strange of me. Maybe I’ll buy five cats and be the crazy cat lady.

I am not lonely; I am alone. By choice. And I love it.

This morning, I woke up and stayed in bed for an hour. Then I made myself a cup of tea, the way I like it – and didn’t risk it being the worst tea ever, because I MADE IT. No one makes my tea the way I like it.

Last month I spent two weeks in Sri Lanka, alone but not lonely. In years gone by I have travelled through more than 50 different countries; sometimes with a friend but mostly alone. I havemade spur of the moment travel choices, because I don’t have to check in with another person. My money is MY money, and I can and will spend it on what I choose. I don’t have to wait for someone to ok my choices, I just make them and go. I have never lacked for an experience, never missed an opportunity, never felt as though I was missing out on something simply because I had to wait for someone else to give the final clearance on a decision that should have been mine solely to make in the first place.

So please, spare me your pity. I neither need nor want it. Keep it. You’ll most likely need it before I do.

Love,

A totally fulfilled 30-something woman.

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8 things I wish I had known before I went to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful, exotic island full of ancient culture, breathtaking scenery, wildlife, and smiling faces. For a country with such a recently violent history, the island is actually home to some of the friendliest people out there. Located in the Indian Ocean, just off the southern coast of India, Sri Lanka is neither quite like India nor Asia, leaving it in somewhat of a curious middle ground as far as geography, features, culture, landscape, and customs. You might already assume that some places here don’t serve beef (12 percent of the island’s population is Hindu), but here are some not so obvious things I wish I had known before I arrived in Colombo.

  1. DON’T SKIP COLOMBO:

It would be easy to take advantage of all the information out there that tells you to skip over Colombo, but there is actually a lot to this multi-layered city. Like all capital cities, Colombo is a bustling town with a lot of traffic; on the surface it seems to be all there is to it. But if you slow down, open your eyes and look beyond the cars and tuk-tuks, you’ll see something beautiful. A city of contrast, Colombo is a product of Sri Lanka’s colonial history. Around Pettah and Galle Face Green the architecture is a nod to the colonial past with Buddist and Hindu temples rubbing shoulders with Christian churches. For some peace among the frenetic pace, head to Galle Face Green and play some cricket with locals; or to Beira Lake and take in the tranquility.

2. ALWAYS BE RESPECTFUL OF THE POLITICAL PAST

The civil war may be over, but it only ended a few years ago. While things are safe now, you should definitely be aware of the past and show respect when talking to locals. While it’s totally cool to ask locals generic questions about their lives and families, I probably wouldn’t bring up or get involved in any type of political conversation. It’s still a delicate subject and, unless you’re a scholar on Sri Lankan politics and policy, it’s best to stick to the simple stuff. More than 70,000 people lost their lives in the civil war, so chances are pretty high that the locals you’ll meet either lost family or know someone who did.

3. IT IS SAFE TO TRAVEL HERE

There is a huge misconception out there about how safe Sri Lanka is, and I get it. Call it civil war or terrorism (your word choice will depend on which side of local politics you sit on), it raged for 26 years, and killed more than 70,000 people. Since the war’s end, the Sri Lankan people have been rebuilding their country and tourism has boomed. The aim is to make tourism their biggest industry by 2020, and with more and more people visiting this little gem it won’t stay like this forever.

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4. TOURISM IS STILL DEVELOPING

Tourism is booming. Sri Lanka has more visitors each year, and the numbers keep growing. While this is actually a great thing, you can get around the country without seeing another tourist for a few days; it also means that outside of the major tourist hubs of Colombo, Kandy and the more popular southern beaches places might not exactly be tourism ready. Don’t expect to order your lunch and have it arrive in the next 20 minutes. Or even be the correct food for that matter. Communication can be difficult, especially if English is not your language. English is fairly widely spoken, but in more rural areas tuk-tuk drivers and back street vendors may not understand what you need. Transport can be difficult away from hotels, and where there might be a hotel does not necessarily guarantee plenty of activities. It’s not super convenient to pick up things you might have forgotten at home, like power converters or even shampoo once you’re outside of Colombo. If you’re a five-star luxury lover, you’ll be disappointed in a lot of hotels on offer, don’t expect the same standard as you would get at home. At the moment, Sri Lanka demands patience. But don’t wait. Go now, while she is still finding her feet. You’ll be richly rewarded.

 

5. IT’S NOT BACKPACKER CHEAP

Sri Lanka isn’t like Thailand or Vietnam, those two have been well established on the backpacker trail for years now and the sheer volume of tourists banging down the door makes for cheap options for backpackers. Add to that the fact that a lot of the island’s goods are imported, taxes hike up the cost of drinks and some foods. That said, you can always find a cheap place to eat if you’re happy to eat curry for three meals a day. ATMs can be hard to find outside major towns like Kandy and Colombo, so make sure you always have plenty of cash on you – hidden of course!

6. YOU HAVE AMAZING WILDLIFE SPOTTING CHANCES

I know, you might not have immediately thought of safari when you think of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s varied landscapes make it a perfect spot to spot some of the world’s biggest and most fascinating animals we usually only connect to Africa. In fact, Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park in the south has the highest concentration of leopards in Asia, while Minneriya National Park, located near Dambulla, is where a yearly elephant gathering takes place. Elephant are literally everywhere; I fell asleep on our bus and woke up stuck in traffic with an elephant staring through the window at me. On the southern coast, Mirissa shows off an annual production of blue whales meandering through. Hiking through Horton Plains you have the potential to spot several species of monkey and colourful birds hanging out of the trees.

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7. THE LANDSCAPES ARE MASSIVELY INSTAGRAMMABLE

I don’t know if you caught it, but if you checked out my Instagram anytime while I was in Sri Lanka you’ll know that the country if beyond stunning. The rolling greens hills of tea plantations, Horton Plains and the end of the world, the sandy stretches of the beaches in the south – I can’t pick one highlight.

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8. YOU’LL NEVER BE MADE TO FEEL MORE WELCOME

My tour guide told me, “You come to Sri Lanka for the first time as a stranger, but you leave as family. And now you always have somewhere to call home.” This is just about the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me while I have been travelling, and the best part was that he truly meant it. I’ve been back at home in Australia now for just about a month, but I’ve already had a few emails from him and the other friends I made while I was away. I thought Africa was a friendly continent, but Sri Lanka takes that cake.

Lavish testaments to love

History tells wonderful love stories. Even through war, behind all the politics and the fighting, there are some truly remarkable stories. Josephine and Napoleon; Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler; Cleopatra and Antony; Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, the world is fascinated by these stories, some of which are so idolized that we actually think them to be fiction.

These stories are survived by some of the world’s most lavish monuments, some more famous than others, and people have been flocking to them for an age. Everyone knows the Taj Mahal, but what of the others? What are the most romantic buildings and monuments in the world? What are the original Valentine’s?

Chester Thorne was a 20th century millionaire, a founder of the Port of Tacoma, and a man known to indulge his wife’s every wish and desire. Architect Kirtland Kelsey Cutter was commissioned to indulge the new Mrs Thorne’s desire for a palace of her own. The result is the 54 room Tudor-Gothic mansion, known as Thornewood Castle, Lakewood, Washington. You can now indulge your own desire for a palace of your own, for a starting price of US $275 per night, plus tax.

In Versailles, Louis XV commissioned Ange-Jacques Gabriel to design a “small” chateau for his ladylove, Madame de Pompadour. Since Madame passed away four years prior to the completion of the building, Petit Trianon was re-gifted to the King’s new squeeze, Madame Du Barry. The building itself is a beautifully designed, elegant, neoclassical manse, that actually received most of it’s notoriety when the lovely King Louis XV regifted it again, this time to the more famous of his loves, Marie Antoinette. She used the manse as an escape from life at court, opening it only to her inner circle, which mostly consisted of her lovers, or so it is said. Visit Petit Trianon as part of a tour to Versailles, there are many that leave from Paris – usually bookable through your hotel concierge.

Love runs rampant in Japan as well. It isn’t limited to English millionaires and French kings. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a 16th century warlord, who made his name reforming class structures, abolishing slavery in Japan, consolidating the political clans of Japan and of course, waging war on neighboring countries, had multiple wives. While out and about pillaging and tormenting others, he would write to his favorite wife, Nene, the daughter of a samurai. The two were so in love, that upon Hideyoshi’s death, it was Nene that had the Kodai-ji Temple in Kyoto built. She honored his love of tea ceremony by installing two teahouses, both of which are still functioning today.

Image via

Image via

In an unmistakably medieval tale, noble-born Scot, Devorgilla of Galloway’s response to her husband’s death was to embalm his heart and have it placed in an ivory casket, to be carried with her at all times. In memory of her late husband, Devorgilla performed many charitable acts, the most noted of which was the founding of the Cistercian monastery – Dulce Cor – in 1273. The complex was originally spread over more than 20 acres, and included a large English-style church, complete with bell tower. When the widowed Devorgilla died in 1289, she was buried in the church’s high alter, with her late husband’s enshrined heart. Abbey grounds are open year round, and you can visit the widower, or at least, a stone effigy of her clutching her beloved’s heart.

What better way to capture the spirit of love than with a kiss? That’s exactly what they have done in the Miraflores district of Lima, with a larger than life sculpture titled “El Beso” or “The Kiss”. It is framed by spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, behind wavy mosaic-tiled walls, this monument to love, which depicts sculptor Victor Delfin and his wife in a lusty embrace, was unveiled during the park’s opening on Valentine’s Day in 1993. According to local tradition, the mayor of the district holds a kissing contest here each year. Couples who hold the pose of the sculpture the longest are proclaimed the winners.

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Image via

Royal romance and loss were the inspiration for the Eleanor Crosses. The glorious gothic crosses were erected by a disconsolate King Edward I following the death of his beloved wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile, in Lincolnshire in 1290. One cross was built to mark the nightly resting places along the route taken by the procession, which carried the Queen to her final resting place at Westminster Abbey. Of the original 12 crosses only three — Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire and Geddington and Hardingstone Crosses, both Northamptonshire — remain today. Outside Charing Cross Station in London is a 19th-century reconstruction.

Finally, possibly the greatest, and definitely the most famous tribute to an undying love, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan upon the death of his third wife during the birth of his 14th child. It took thousands of craftsmen from all over India 22 years to build the while marble mausoleum and the surrounding gardens. The structure features touches of Islam, Persian and Hindu cultures. While there are beautifully decorated tombs dedicated to both Shah Jahan and his late wife Mumtaz Mahal, they are actually buried in a plain crypt, beneath the inner chamber, together with their faces turned toward Mecca, in accordance with the Muslim traditions. Though the Shah clearly preferred Mumtaz to his other wives, he did acknowledge them (and Mumtaz’s favorite servant) with several smaller tombs, which sit past the vast garden complex.

What great monuments to love have you visited, and have you been inspired to build your own? Tell me your love stories in the comments below. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sri Lanka, ethical tourism and the elephant issue

Those of you who follow my Instagram and Facebook feeds will be well aware that I have been on the road recently, eating and hiking my way through the lush green of Sri Lanka. What I expected and what I found there were two vastly different things.

Sri Lanka is a tiny drop of an island, lying just off the southern tip of India. The landscape is dominated by mountains and tea plantations, the people are warm and inviting and the food is surprisingly devoid of overpowering chilli. Lanka is a bio hotspot, with an astonishing number of endemic plant and animal species which are under threat as habitats are flattened to make way for urban sprawl and farmland.

Watching locals and tourists alike in wilderness areas, it was easy for me to sit back and pass judgement on the mistakes made and places that could use some improvement in their responsible travel aims. Travel is very much headed in a more ethical and responsible direction, and if Sri Lanka truly wants to make tourism their primary industry by 2020 then they have a ways to go in this department.

From my many trips to Africa, you’ve probably guessed that I like my wildlife to be exactly that – wild. Elephants have occupied a special place in Sri Lankan culture for centuries. In ancient times they were considered Crown property and to kill an elephant was a terrible offence. Elephant iconography is evident in most major temples and ruins, and legend has it that it was elephants that stamped down the foundations of the oldest temples in Sri Lanka; the ruins can be found at Anuradhapura. Today elephant are still held in high regard, even those in captivity; the male tusker that carries the scared tooth relic in Kandy’s Esala Perahera festival is probably the most revered of all.

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Despite being the symbol of Sri Lanka, elephant numbers are dwindling. During the Colonial years, British big-game hunting was ridiculously popular, and the extent of the hunting delivered a huge blow to numbers across the country. Today experts seems to agree that there are approximately 3000-4000 wild elephant, about half of which live in protected national parks. But what of the domesticated numbers?

My research puts the numbers of domesticated or captive elephants at around 300-500. For me, that’s 300-500 too many. We know what happens to captive animals. They don’t usually live as long, especially when forced to carry large loads of visiting white tourists. Fun fact, elephant actually struggle to hold up their own weight. In the wild, you can often see them resting one foot up while balancing on the other three – this isn’t something they do for fun. It’s the elephant equivalent to girls taking off their high heels after a night out on the town. They do it to ease the pain.

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In addition to the dwindling numbers, elephants in Sri Lanka face a similar issues as their brothers in Africa. Farming and elephants don’t mix. Farmers who have set up in elephant country face huge issues with elephant eating or trampling crops, destroying buildings, and even taking farmers’ lives. During the cultivation season, you’ll see farmers keeping round-the-clock watch by rotation on their lands, sitting in tiny tree houses with fire crackers and shooting them at marauding elephant in the middle of the night. For the nation’s poor, losing their yearly crop to elephants is a situation that simply cannot afford.

But how can the issues be solved? 

Don’t ride them to start. Refuse to patronise places where elephants are kept in chains, or poked with mean looking sticks. Trust me, if it looks like it hurts; then it definitely does. No matter what the guy with the stick says. When visiting them in protected national parks, go with an accredited guide, and make sure he doesn’t drive too close to them since this will just cause stress on the animal. Use your visit to the national park to learn about local conservation projects in the area, and give generously. Reward ethical animal treatment by locals when you see it, and speak up against mistreatment when you see that. If joining a group tour, ensure you research your options prior to booking to ensure you travel with a reputable company with a strong responsible tourism background.

Sri Lanka is still a developing tourism industry, and it is up to us as travellers to demand ethical and responsible treatment of animals now, while the country is still growing.

 

Orphan Christmas: A How-To Guide

I’ve spent more Christmas’ away from my home town and my family than I care to remember. In fact, the Christmas before my mother passed away was only the third Christmas I spent at home in ten years.

I should point out that when I’m away and people ask me if I’m going home for Christmas, I usually look around me and think “Umm… I am home.”

Recently I’ve had several emails from readers and conversations with friends about how I get around the lonely feelings you get when your loved ones are on the other side of the world. My answers are always the same. For me, I don’t get homesick often, in fact I can put my hand on my heart and give you five examples of the ONLY times I have been homesick during my travels. But I can understand why other people would feel this way, and so there are a handful of things you can do, and here are some of them:

POSTPONE:

If at all possible, postpone your travels. Depart the day AFTER Christmas. You’ll still get to be away for New Year’s Eve (and there’s no better way to ring in the New Year than to be sunning yourself on a tropical island, or exploring a jungle, or diving in an underwater paradise. Trust me!) but you will also get to eat turkey and pudding with your family.

REFLECT ON YOUR BLESSINGS:

If it isn’t possible for you to postpone your travel, then I suggest you reflect deeply on your blessings on that day. Are you missing Christmas with your family because you get to be traveling?! LUCKY!! Does it usually snow where you live? Is it snowing now? No? LUCKY! There are obviously less superficial blessings you could count, like your freedom, the fact you’re alive and living and able to feed and clothe yourself. And the fact that right now, no matter where you are, I promise that your family misses you too. In fact, they’re probably all very jealous, because you’re off exploring and they’re all arguing over who gets white meat and who doesn’t.

CALL HOME:

This is a no-brainer. Honestly, in the digital age we live in now, there is no reason for you to NOT call your mother for Christmas. Or for her birthday. Make sure your Nan knows how to use Skype before you leave. Give lessons to everyone. Send letters and post cards, make phone calls, text, email.

ADOPT A FAMILY FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Christmas is different everywhere, and there are very few countries in the world that don’t have some form of celebration around the same time of year. Book yourself into a homestay, or find a local family to stay with once you’re in your destination and see how they do it. Embrace the culture you’ve come so far to see. No you won’t be able to eat your Nan’s Yorkshire puddings, but you will gain a better insight into local life than you would otherwise. And you’ll still get to have Christmas. I actually did this last Christmas, and got to return to my second home in London’s south east to spend Christmas with my long distance best friend, Ayla and her wonderful family.

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Surprising Ayla for Christmas was the best!

ATTEND CHRISTMAS FUNCTIONS:

Again, the local Christmas celebrations will be different to what you do at home. But if you’re really travelling, and you want to integrate into the local culture as fully as you can, then I suggest you celebrate as locally as possible. In Christian Kenya, I attended a church service on Christmas Eve with my good friend Joseph, a local man from Nairobi, and then had dinner with his family. They are devoutly Catholic, but speak zero English, with the exception of Joseph. The church service was in Swahili. I am not Catholic, but this is one of my favourite Christmas memories. There will be some form of Christmas parade, caroling, lights, outdoor services, ice-skating – it could be anything! Do Christmas the way the locals do it.

REMEMBER THE REAL SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS:

The real spirit of Christmas comes from giving and sharing yourself with others. So find a local charity, homeless shelter, soup kitchen – and give them your time. It won’t cost you anything and you will help change lives. I am living testimony to the fact that love knows no bounds, so send parcels to your family, call them, send letters, engage with the local community, embrace your inner child and marvel in the wonder that is Christmas by giving back to those in need. Because if you can afford to be traveling, then you can afford to give up some of your time to those who need more than you.

Reflecting on my blessings, Christmas Day in Amboseli NP, Kenya

Reflecting on my blessings, Christmas Day in Amboseli NP, Kenya

HAVE AN ACTUAL ORPHAN CHRISTMAS:

Get everyone in your hostel together and have a proper Christmas dinner. I did this once in Prague, and it was sensational. We all brought something to eat, a plate of something. I made pavlova, that quintessential Australian mess of meringue and cream and fruit. Someone brought proper Christmas pudding. Someone else begged the restaurant next door for him to be able to cook a turkey. Someone else brought a curry. It was a mish-mash of cuisines, and an even bigger mix of cultures, but it was fantastic.

And finally, for all mothers out there whose children are away for Christmas, do what my mother used to do for me. She would secretly hide presents and parcels in my luggage right before I left for the airport to fly out. Just make sure it’s not something that will get seized by customs, like food. Wherever your kid is going, there will be food. I swear it.