Travel Blog

In the studio with Niki Fisher, illustrator of The Cruise Handbook

Niki in her studio near Jindabyne, Australia © Niki Fisher

Illustrator Niki Fisher is no stranger to illustrating Lonely Planet titles – The Cruise Handbook is the 5th one she's illustrated. We caught up with her to find out how she designed the vibrant cover page and how this ties in with previous illustrations for the same series.

Tell us about the brief

The brief was to create a cover that depicted the range of activities available on cruises as well as the broad age groups that cruises attract these days. I was given suggestions from the Art Director, but apart from that, the brief was quite open.

How did you make a start?

I started by doing a bit of research online, finding out about the huge variety of activities on offer on cruise lines – it was actually quite an eyeopener. I would never have imagined that there are entire water parks, tennis courts and rock climbing walls on a lot of these huge ships! Once I had collated a range of activities and popular cruise destinations I started doing some rough pencil sketches of individual scenes. Once I had several sketches done I started to place them on the page next to each other and work out a composition.

Were there any challenges?

It’s a bit of trial and error working out what scenes go well side by side, ensuring that each of the scenes was strong in isolation as well as collectively working in harmony in the overall illustration. Also, considering how the illustration is going to tie in with the title can be a bit like a game of Tetris.

What’s the one item in your studio you can’t live without?

That’s hard, out of necessity I couldn’t do without a pencil. I could always draw on the walls or any other surface if I had to. I like working in a very sunlit space. Having lots of pot plants in my studio as well as a green wall helps create an illusion of the outdoors which helps to make my workspace a happy place.

How did you get into illustrating books?

The first book cover I ever illustrated was The Solo Travel Handbook for Lonely Planet, and I'm now working on my 5th new title. Book covers are a really satisfying thing to work on, a lot of the work I do is editorial which is very conceptual and the actual illustrating is something I do right at the end once the concept is sound. A book cover requires a lot of process for it to come together, which is often something that isn’t afforded on fast turnaround jobs.

Where in the world do you usually work from?

I work from my home which is a small cottage in the Snowy Mountains of Australia, just outside of Jindabyne. I live with my partner and two sons. We moved here from Melbourne last year, we wanted lots of space for our kids to grow up in and explore.

See more of Niki's work at @nikifisherdesign.

Niki's illustrations

The first rough sketch for the layout of the cover
Draft sketch of a bass player
Final illustration of the bass player
Sketch of couple dancing
Final of couple dancing
The final layout of the cover page without the title text

Just back from: South Korea, Portugal, New England and Slovenia

Peace ribbons at the Demilitarised Zone in South Korea Peace ribbons at the Demilitarised Zone in South Korea © Chris Zeiher

As always, our travel-obsessed staff have been off exploring new destinations around the globe. This month they share some of their recent adventures from hitting the hiking trails in New England to finding the perfect pastéis de nata in Portugal.

Exploring the DMZ in South Korea

Clutching a piping-hot coffee I attempted to warm myself on a cold winter’s morning in Seoul, South Korea, as I located a small tour bus emblazoned with three letters: DMZ. The ‘Demilitarised Zone’ is one of Korea’s most popular tourist attractions, but what makes a visit to this 4km-wide buffer zone between the North and South so fascinating?

I’d heard stories of K-Pop being blasted over loudspeakers as the South attempt to block out the constant din of propaganda messages from the North. But on arrival at Imjingak, a park dedicated to the 10 million South Koreans separated from their families, it was oddly silent. The audio war is at an end and the park itself is now a mixture of memorials and carnival rides. Ribbons, containing messages of peace, tied to the border fence flap in the cold wind as merry-go-round music softly plays in the background. Weird.

The zone continues to offer up oddities from the unused Dorasan Train Station, where the platform to Pyongyang (North Korea’s capital) sits deserted, to the Dora Observatory offering telescopic views across the zone – all topped off by a claustrophobic walk down the Third Infiltration Tunnel which gets you within 170 metres of North Korea. Part creepy theme park, part unsettling testament to an unresolved conflict, and part symbol of hope, the DMZ has everything a dark tourist could desire.

Chris Zeiher, Director of Sales and Marketing in Australia and the Pacific. Follow his tweets @chriszeiher.

A secluded beach in Portugal How can kids resist the bright sandy beaches and hidden coves of Portugal? © Becky Henderson

Keeping the kids happy in Portugal

There’s no doubt about it, travelling with your children can be a stressful experience. Before kids, travel meant taking long-haul flights to far-flung places, enjoyable days of exploring and doing pretty much whatever I wanted to do. Now, before we can even get to the exploring part, I’m sweating at the prospect of two hours in a confined space with two mini people, hoping I have enough snacks and entertainment to stop them annoying other travellers. Then once we’re there, will there be enough kid-friendly activities to please the little ones which will also allow us to really experience the destination?

Step up Portugal! A super family-friendly, laid-back, welcoming country that had us all enthralled. Travelling out of the main tourist season, we spent lazy days exploring hidden coves along the Algarve’s glorious coastline, pottering around small towns and searching for the perfect pastéis de nata (custard tarts) in local markets. Once the sun went down and the kids were asleep, we relaxed with a drop or two of the excellent local wine. Kids happy – tick. Adults happy – double tick!

Becky Henderson, International Licencing Manager.

The Pogue, decked in fall colours, in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park The Pogue, decked in fall colours, in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park © Katie Clowes

Veering off the beaten path in Vermont, New England

In hindsight, leading my mum who suffers from incapacitating vertigo along the ‘Precipice Trail’ probably wasn’t my best idea. However, after consulting the map at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, we'd realised it was the quickest route to the South Peak of Mount Tom, where we were promised a fantastic lookout over the charming town of Woodstock, Vermont. Short on time before our afternoon of cheese, maple syrup and craft beer tasting we decided that, as the trail was only two miles each way, it would make for a nice morning walk to work up an appetite.

One panic attack, nine miles and four hours later we made it back to the car. Whilst we did eventually reach the Mount Tom lookout and saw the stunning view of Woodstock and the surrounding valley in all its fall glory, it was the extra hours spent in this beautifully tranquil park and the unforeseen adventure that I’ll take away from our walk in the woods. That and a promise never to take my mum hiking on an unknown route again!

Katie Clowes, Marketing and Communications Executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Follow her on Instagram @kclowes3.

Misty Bled Island (centre right) looking like a scene from a fairy tale Misty Bled Island (centre right) looking like a scene from a fairy tale © Laura Brown

Castle-hopping and fairy-tale frolics in Slovenia

Even in winter, Slovenia is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Stone castles are nestled on mountainsides and cobblestone streets wind around picturesque canals and traditional European architecture. We began our trip in Ljubljana, the country’s capital city. Cars are not allowed in the city centre, so we spent an entire day freely wandering up and down the canals, drinking gluhwein and exploring the Christmas markets.

The next day, we drove out into the countryside with a tour guide to see the Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle carved into the side of a cliff face, and ended the day at the magical Lake Bled. We took a traditional Pletna boat to Bled Island, before watching the sunset over the region from yet another castle perched on a mountainside.

The whole experience was like being in a fairy tale. The people were marvellously friendly, the scenery was beautiful, and I’m completely in love with Slovenia. I can’t wait to go back in the summer when I can get stuck into the mountaineering and hiking that the country is known for.

Laura Brown, Director of Business Operations.

FREE mini-guides: Hamburg, Antwerp, Florence, Istanbul, Las Vegas and Belfast

A double-page spread from the April edition of Lonely Planet Magazine (UK) The April edition of Lonely Planet Magazine (UK) is out now! © Lonely Planet

The latest edition of Lonely Planet Magazine (UK) has hit the news stand! This April marks the mag’s 10 year anniversary, and to celebrate the occasion a special guest editor has been handed the reins – renowned adventurer Bear Grylls.

Alongside stories about Bear’s life in travel, features in this month’s issue include tales of reclusive artists in Alaska, a lowdown on Madrid’s newest attractions and a round-up of Lonely Planet staff members’ best ever souvenirs.

To whet your appetite, take a sneak peek at this month’s selection of city mini-guides – from quirky Florence to Vegas on a budget – that are found in the back of the magazine each issue and available to download here for free!

Hamburg's Elbe River fish market in the morning With its magnificent markets, cool cafes and renowned restaurants, Hamburg is a great city for foodies © Roy Jankowski / Getty Images

Eating in Hamburg

Hamburg’s appeal can be narrowed down to one simple calling card: it’s one of the coolest cities on Earth. Here’s where to sample some of its hottest cafés and restaurants.

> Download free PDF

Jenever cafe De Vagant on Reyndersstraat, Antwerp Antwerp is home to a fine assortment of drinking establishments © Jonathan Smith / Lonely Planet

Drinking in Antwerp

Belgium’s second city and biggest port, easygoing Antwerp is where the country's hip kids come to have fun and unwind, with a slew of drinking dens to suit every taste. Read on to uncover the best places to get a beer, wine or genever.

> Download free PDF

The skyline of Florence, Italy, dominated by the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower) Seek out Florence's quirkier side © Catarina Belova / Shutterstock

Quirky Florence

Cradle of the Renaissance, romantic, enchanting and utterly irresistible, Florence (Firenze) brims full of world-class sights, restaurants and attractions. Here’s our guide to its more offbeat charms.

> Download free PDF

Interior of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul with colourful produce on display Istanbul has always been a market town and is still one of the world's great places to shop © Ayhan Altun / Getty Images

Shopping in Istanbul

This magical meeting place of East and West has more attractions than it has minarets (and that’s a lot). It’s also a place where the locals have perfected the art of shopping – join them with our tips on top boutiques.

> Download free PDF

High-angle view of the Las Vegas Strip Enjoy a break in Vegas without blowing your budget © f11photo / Shutterstock

Las Vegas on a budget

An oasis of indulgence, dazzling in the desert, Vegas promises excitement, entertainment, fortune and fame. Here’s how to enjoy the city if your ambition is bigger than your budget.

> Download free PDF

Irish musicians perform while seated on a table at the John Hewitt pub in Belfast Belfast's music-filled pubs are one of the city's prime highlights © Steve Raymer / Getty Images

Best of Belfast

There’s plenty to fill a short break to Belfast, from beautifully restored Victorian architecture to a glittering waterfront, fantastic food scene and music-filled pubs. Here’s our guide to the highlights.

> Download free PDF

Want more freebies? Check out last month’s mini-guides.

Pathfinders: best blogs, Instagram shots and videos from February 2019

Koh Lipe, Thailand Get a unique perspective of Koh Lipe from our incredible Instagramers © Golf Photographer / Shutterstock

As always our motley crew of ever more adventurous Pathfinders have been off exploring the far corners of the globe. This month we dig into the cool and quirky – whether it’s getting a fresh and unusual perspective of well-travelled destinations like London or discovering a lesser-visited (and slightly bizarre) towns and regions like Užupis in Lithuania.

Best of the blogs

Užupis: A quirky independent republic in the heart of Vilnius – Dave McClane

The Uzupis Republic, Lithuania Uzupis is every bit weird and wonderful © Julia Khvoshch / Shutterstock

You may have been to Paris and Rome, maybe even Minsk, but here’s one European destination you’re unlikely to have ticked off your travel list. Užupis is a tiny breakaway ‘republic’ (complete with its own constitution, currency and ambassador – who is, in fact, a cat) located in the heart of Vilnius, Lithuania, and in this post Dave documents his day exploring the quirky district. It’s all a bit of fun, and Dave’s observations make for entertaining, light-hearted reading, but there’s also a deeper gratification here that comes with knowing that even in the age of global homogenisation, peculiar places like this still exist – and that’s something worth celebrating.

Dave is a Yorkshireman on a quest to see – and photograph – as much of the world as possible. See more of his work at manvsglobe.com.

Japan road trip: Iga and Shigaraki Anja Ben

Pottery on sale in the village of Shigaraki Pottery on sale in the village of Shigaraki © Stray Toki / Shutterstock

It’s the entire aesthetic of this post that successfully captured our intrigue: saturated imagery of sweeping landscapes and chic ceramics puncturing a thin strip of text focused on a lesser-visited artsy town in Japan – it all just feels very cool. That’s not to take anything away from Anja’s writing – she weaves an interesting tale about following her passion for pottery to the village of Shigaraki, keeping the story nice and light thanks to the presence of Ninjas, a wonderfully-welcoming host and, of course, karaoke en route.

Anja is a writer and photographer who believes slow travel is the way forward and tends to avoid the crowds (though she will wait in line for good food). Read more at themintstory.com.

Top Instagram shots

London, UK – Romi Nicole Schneider

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Why we like it: London’s Tate Modern gallery is no stranger to an Instagram feature, but Romi’s shot of the building’s viewing level is fresh, considered and hugely effective. The structure’s sloping angle provides the perfect balance for the image, naturally dividing it into two and drawing the eye across. The sky’s dappled hues blend beautifully with the textured brickwork, resulting in a delicate colour palette which runs throughout the entirety of the frame. This is a truly original take on a famous city landmark.

Romi is a roaming photographer, constantly on the hunt for her next perfect frame. Follow her on Instagram @romiaround.

Koh Lipe, Thailand – Xavier Marchal

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Why we like it: Ocean drone shots can provide a completely new perspective on a picturesque shoreline, and Xavier’s image is a great example of that. The contrast between the shallows’ rocky texture and turquoise colouring and the white sands studded with blue boats creates a vertical central focus, pulling the viewer’s attention from top to bottom. This is a well conceptualised, expertly captured shot that we could happily stare at for hours!

Xavier is a full-time backpacker who has been on the road for 15 months. Follow him on Instagram @xaviermarchal.

Our favourite footage

Why we travel: 10 countries in a yearMark Hadj Hamou

Why we like it: Aside from Mark’s incredible footage, which includes sweeping aerial scenes, close-ups of people and smiling faces and dynamic point-of-view shots, we loved this video because it truly tugs on the heartstrings. Without saying much he manages to paint a complete picture of the travel experience from fulfilling your dreams to skyping your parents and linking up with friends along the way. Combining travel inspiration with raw emotion we think this video will answer the question of ‘why we travel’ for many people.

Mark is a photographer, videographer, and Creative Director based in Paris. Check out more of his videos on his YouTube channel.

Find out what else the Lonely Planet Pathfinders are up to by checking out the Pathfinders forum on Thorn Tree.

Wonderings: what can Charles Darwin teach us about travel?

Illustration of a traveller looking out of a train window at a lake with mountains and forest in the background © Joe Davis / Lonely Planet Wonderings: rambles through and reflections on travel... this month, James Kay ponders what travellers can learn from the father of evolutionary theory © Joe Davis / Lonely Planet

Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm’s marble sculpture of Charles Darwin sits at the head of the Hintze Hall, the ornate central chamber of the Natural History Museum, London. With legs crossed, overcoat laid across knees and hands resting in lap, the great naturalist is the lord of all he surveys.

His seat on the half-landing of the imperial staircase looks out upon Hope, the skeleton of a blue whale suspended from the hall’s vaulted roof. Roughly four and a half million people pass before Darwin’s unblinking gaze each year, as this ‘cathedral of nature’ is one of the capital’s greatest tourist attractions.

The museum – itself a masterpiece of Gothic Revival and Romanesque architecture built by Alfred Waterhouse – opened in 1881; sadly, Darwin died a year later at the age of 73, having never visited the place which his life’s work had helped to inspire.

Darwin’s night at the museum

If his statue came to life, Night at the Museum style, Darwin would first explore the Wonder Bays, the alcoves on each side of the hall, whereupon he’d… well... wonder, slack-jawed, at the Ice Age mastodon and the spiky-thumbed Mantellisaurus, the stuffed giraffe and the blue marlin floating in a tank of glycerol.

One can only guess at his reaction to the rest of the museum’s 80-million-strong menagerie – a display of biodiversity that illustrates his theory of evolution in a way no scientific paper ever could – not to mention what he would have thought of the £78m centre that bears his name.

The great white cocoon of the Darwin Centre contains specimens that he brought back from a five-year voyage aboard HMS Beagle, the ship on which the then 26-year-old famously sailed to the Galápagos Islands during a circumnavigation of the globe in the 1830s.

Extracts from his account of the trip – The Voyage of the Beagle – appear in Lonely Planet’s anthology of travel writing, Curiosities and Splendours. They’re fascinating, whether or not you have an interest in natural history or science generally.

Marble statue Charles Darwin by Joseph Edgar Boehm in the Hintze Hall of the Natural History Museum in London What would the great Charles Darwin have made of his extraordinary legacy? @ Riccardo Bianchini / Alamy

Contrary to what one might imagine (but consistent with how creativity works), Darwin didn’t have a blinding flash of insight amid the lumbering tortoises and lounging iguanas of the Galápagos; rather, he studied his surroundings, carefully documenting what he saw.

Only after digesting his experiences aboard the ship and other data for more than two decades did he go public with the paradigm-shifting On The Origin of Species, the book which expounded the mechanism of natural selection.

The extracts in Curiosities and Splendours illuminate the mindset of this methodical and meticulous man – a true scientists’ scientist whose ideas forever changed the world. But they also have something to say about an attitude or approach to travel in general, I think.

Be here now

Reading his observations of the environment, the animals and the interaction between the two, you get a sense of just how present Darwin was – of how his eyes, ears, and most importantly his mind, were open to everything around him.

In short, he was an exponent of what is fashionably described as ‘mindful travel’, a simple idea dressed up in stockings and suspenders for a modern audience: the practice of keeping one’s attention on now, the experience unfolding around you, rather than letting it wander to the past or future.

You don’t need to be a gestating genius – or indeed a Zen master – to do this; keeping a journal forces you to observe the world more keenly than normal, as does sketching scenes from your adventures, which is why seasoned travellers recommend these complementary activities as ways to get more out of a trip.

Travel journal on a wooden desk Keeping a journal is a great way to focus your attention on the here and now © marekuliasz / Getty Images

Photography? Not so much, according to the Victorian art critic John Ruskin. Roughly a century and a half before the advent of Instagram, Ruskin railed against a new contraption called a camera, arguing that paper and pen was still the best choice if you really wanted to 'see' something.

I’d say… it depends. Some people put just as much effort into the creation of their images as others put into writing a journal or completing a sketch, soaking up every detail before deciding on a subject, a mood, a perspective, and so on. They are deeply engaged with their environment.

On the other hand, we have examples of selfie-takers seemingly so unaware of their surroundings that they endanger life and limb, gurning inanely at the lens as they back toward cliff edges, raging rivers, onrushing trains, etc. Their eyes are on the prize of more likes and shares rather than the thing in front (or rather behind) them.

Watch your step

Aside from being a model of mindfulness, Darwin – whose name, incidentally, has been appropriated for a set of awards ‘honouring’ those who remove themselves from the gene pool in such spectacular fashion – reminds us of something else, too: we’re not so special.

First, we learn the Earth is not the centre of the universe (take a bow, Copernicus); then Darwin slides in, studs up, to deliver the discomfiting news that humans are, in fact, just a modest upgrade on apes. Turns out we share nearly 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees; hell, we share about 60% of it with fruit flies.

Noble Prize winners, pink fairy armadillos and blobfish alike can trace their family tree back to LUCA, the last universal common ancestor. And what, precisely, was that? We can’t be sure, but the smart money is on a microbial mat that formed around a thermal vent in the depths of the primordial ocean.

For me, that knowledge of the interconnectedness of life is yet another reason for responsible travellers to tread ever so carefully – to, in the words of Chief Seattle, ‘take only memories, leave nothing but footprints’ – as they step out into the fragile world. You’re no more entitled to it than pond slime, remember.

Lonely Planet talks to… sustainable chef Kamilla Seidler

From humble beginnings, Denmark-born Kamilla Seidler has rocketed to the elite ranks of the food world, landing the role of head chef at renowned La Paz restaurant Gustu – where her skills earned her the title of Latin America’s Best Female Chef in 2016 – and championing gender equality in the industry as co-initiator of the Freja Symposium.

Lonely Planet caught up with Kamilla ahead of her appearance at SXSW to talk about her travels, burgeoning foodie destinations and the impact robots will have on our future eating habits.

A portrait shot of Kamilla Seidler in a white apron Kamilla Seidler was named Latin America’s Best Female Chef in 2016 © Luis Fernández

Looking at what you’ve done in your career you seem to be driven to explore the places food comes from all over the world. Not every chef does that. Why do you?

From when I was a kid I have always been very curious. I never liked coming home from summer holidays as a child and would cry when it was time for them to end! Gastronomy is a business where you never stop learning. And I learn something new about food in every place that I go.

The Kamilla Seidler Expedition (a four-month gastronomical world tour) took you to some pretty amazing places. What was the stand-out place?

No two journeys are the same. The ones that made the biggest impact are the ones furthest from my own culture. However, the contrasts between the places visited (the expedition included cooking in destinations as varied as Pakistan, Austria, the Philippines and Spain) makes them impossible to compare. The differences in experiences explain why – while being careful with your CO2 footprint – you should travel as much as you possibly can.

Denmark, Bolivia.. What’s a new hotspot for foodies to think about travelling to?

Georgian cuisine is really exciting right now, but there are a lot of other places popping up that weren’t really on the map before. Odessa is an exciting food city. There’s a lot going on in Slovenia, and Eastern Europe as a region is putting out incredible cuisine. Generally we’re going to see more plant-based cooking, from bistro right through to take away, and this is driving some real creative gastronomy.

Landscape of Coron, Busuanga island, Palawan province, Philippines Kamilla's four-month gastronomical tour took her to a variety of culinary destinations, including the Philippines © Sean Hsu / Shutterstock

Looking into the future, how do you think technology is going to change how we eat?

The future of food is going to be you waking up in the morning and saying ‘Siri, I’m hungry’ and Siri saying ‘I know’ and telling you what you should be eating based on your nutritional needs. It sounds crazy but it’s not that far off!

What have you learnt through cooking with waste ingredients?

I’m really surprised by how people are using more and more vegan and plant-based options. I find it makes you more creative if you don’t have much to work with. In more abundant food cultures it is harder to be creative. There’s incredible innovation in less-developed economies. The creativity around the use of manioc (cassava) in Brazil, for example, sees it prepared in hundreds of ways. The Indian and Pakistani use of vegetarian ingredients is mind-blowing.

You’ve spoken about ‘nudging’ people in the right direction when it comes to sustainable practice. Is this how some of the changes you’re arguing for around food waste and development goals can be met?

Both coaxing people along and being more black and white have merit and it’s important to know when to use each one. Small nudges or small changes to behaviour is a good way of getting people on board rather than lecturing them. If we manage to explain and show by example, with little steps at a time, the impact is easier to achieve. Then again, this is serious stuff and you can’t be so gentle that you reduce the seriousness of the issue.

A selection of vegetable curries at an Indian takeaway in a London market The creative use of vegetables in Indian and Pakistani cuisine blew Kamilla's mind © Alex Hubenov / Shutterstock

Who else do you think is doing great things on the global food scene in terms of sustainability?

I’m part of a network called Chefs’ Manifesto, which is a collaboration of chefs worldwide sharing best practices. I’m thoughtful about how I can use what I’ve learnt in places like Bolivia to help colleagues in other places around the world.

Chefs’ Manifesto also gets chefs more involved in the conversation about sustainable food futures which is important because chefs are the ones who want and need raw ingredients and pass them on to other people. In the past chefs have been on the outside of this conversation. More and more chefs want to get involved and do something which is really positive, and this group is a way to make that happen.

Alongside the discussion about sustainable practice you’re doing some cooking at SXSW. Can you tell us a bit about it?

We’re going to be making a tasting menu based around products usually found in the Nordic region. However, as they’re not going to be available, we’ll have to get creative and rely on locally sourced ingredients! It’s going to reflect the philosophy behind how we prepare and present the food rather than having to fly ingredients in.

Kamilla Seidler will be appearing alongside Tom Hall from Lonely Planet at Copenhagen: A moveable feast, held at the House of Scandinavia in Austin, Texas on Monday 12 March at 11.30am to discuss her perspective on the nordic sustainable food scene.

Pathfinder spotlight: Kalyan Panja, Travtasy

Off-the-beaten-track explorer Kalyan Panja © Kalyan Panja Off-the-beaten-track explorer Kalyan Panja © Kalyan Panja

This month we caught up with Pathfinder Kalyan Panja who blogs at Travtasy. Kalyan is an avid traveller and photographer who is always on the lookout for unusual and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

Give us the low down on your blog...

Travtasy is a space to share travel experiences with the aim of inspiring people and helping them travel the world in a more adventurous way, while prioritising cultural exchange and local experiences. I am driven by my passion to travel and want to share the experiences I have, opening windows to a fabulous world.

Describe your travel style in three words…

Curiosity, adventure, nostalgia.

Top three places you’ve visited?

Difficult one, as every destination gives me new thrills. But randomly I will choose Bhutan, Greece and Chile.

The remote Tiger's Nest temple in Bhutan © Kalyan Panja The remote Tiger's Nest temple in Bhutan © Kalyan Panja

Tell us about your most unforgettable travel memory.

I had just arrived in one of the most touristic corners of Helsinki, greeted by emblematic imperial monuments. It was the early hours of the morning and I was starting to realise the magnitude of my trip. So I left my bag at the hotel and went for a walk. Despite the hours of travelling I had just done, I did not feel any fatigue, I just wanted to see the beautiful city. I particularly enjoyed the white nights, an atmospheric phenomenon in polar areas where the evening twilight extends for several hours.

It was the best walk of my life. I barely even felt the cold because the feelings of excitement and a desire to get to know this city were greater. I had a spectacular night with the faint Northern Lights glowing in the sky above.

Why do you think it's important to travel to off-the-beaten-track locations?

The deserts, mountains and seas make you contemplate existence; how much better it is to be carried away by intuition, improvisation and emotion than by an artificial experience.

Away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday, people are left to connect with the elements, and this reconnection with nature is often a transformative experience. This is why I think it is important to travel to off-the-beaten-track locations.

Exploring less-visited places like the ice fields of Patagonia helps reconnect people with nature © Kalyan Panja Exploring less-visited places like the ice fields of Patagonia helps reconnect people with nature © Kalyan Panja

Why do you love travel blogging?

I have never felt as motivated and happy than when I am blogging. Before, a trip was purely for enjoyment, to live the experience alone. Now, I think about sharing my trip with my readers and followers. The best comments and emails I receive, are when my readers tell me that my travel stories helped them to overcome their fears and inspired them to plan a trip of their own. I'm very happy to have reached that level, to be able to inspire, motivate and help people travel.

If you’re a member of our Pathfinders community and would like to share your story, drop us an email at pathfinders@lonelyplanet.com and tell us what exciting things you’re up to on your blog.

Pathfinder pics: the unusual sports of Kyrgyzstan's World Nomad Games

The skill and accuracy of the nomadic horseback archers © Richard Collett

Lonely Planet Pathfinder, Richard Collett of Travel Tramp, recently returned from a whirlwind trip through wild and beautiful Kyrgyzstan, one of our Best in Travel countries to visit in 2019. In between wending his way across rolling pastures and gawking at dramatic landscapes, Richard also managed to nab himself a front row seat at the strange and captivating World Nomad Games...

Kyrgyzstan is at the heart of nomadic history in Central Asia. To celebrate the unique culture and traditions of their nation, in 2018 the Kyrgyz hosted the World Nomad Games, which is arguably the biggest sporting event of the year. Nomads, athletes and tourists from across the world gathered on the shores of Issyk-Kul Lake to battle it out for nomadic glory, over a week of sporting events held alongside cultural demonstrations. In a spectacular, mountain-fringed landscape and surrounded by traditional yurts, horseback archers galloped along the ranges, eagle hunters exhibited the prowess of their birds of prey on the Steppe, and mountain dogs raced across the field. The World Nomad Games, held every two years, truly is a sporting and cultural event like no other.

A celebration of nomadic culture

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Kyrgyzstan is the perfect destination in which to celebrate nomadic culture, and at the World Nomad Games, traditional dress and elaborate costumes were out in force. Hundreds of yurts were raised in the valley, and as horses trotted through the encampments the smell of Kyrgyz cooking wafted through the cool, mountain air. Thousands of people had travelled from across the land, and from continents far away to see these ancient cultures and sporting events being revived in Kyrgyzstan – I couldn't wait to witness the incredible show.

Landscapes and lakes

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The event was held on the shores of Issyk-Kul Lake, an alpine lake found in the east of Kyrgyzstan, and close to the formidable Tien Shan mountain range that separates Central Asia from China. The lake was an impressive tourist attraction during the Soviet era, and people would flock to the sunny shores and sandy beaches from across the Soviet Union. The World Nomad Games, being held in such impressive surroundings, are again bolstering tourism in this remote part of the world.

Horseback archery: skill, speed and accuracy

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It was the feared horseback archers of the Mongol armies that allowed them to conquer much of the ancient world, and hundreds of years on, the techniques and skills are still proudly practised. Horseback archery was one of the most intense sporting events of the World Nomad Games, and a true demonstration of skill and prowess. Archers galloped along the range at full speed, drawing their bows and shooting their arrows into the targets. It was tense, thrilling and absolutely breathtaking to watch.

Eagle hunting: the bond between nomad and bird

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For centuries, the nomads of the Steppe in Central Asia have tamed birds of prey to help them survive. Golden eagles are trained from birth to hunt, and over time a unique bond forms between the bird and its trainer. At the games, these glorious eagles were in competition as the handlers demonstrated the quality of training through their eagles' ability to hunt in the field. And it wasn't just locals participating in the event, but people from across the world too, as eagles, falcons and other birds of prey soared through the skies above the yurts.

Taigan Jarysh: the dogs of The Steppe

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The Taigan is an unique breed of hound that has long been trained on the Steppe and in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan by nomads. These fluffy, lovable looking dogs hardly appear menacing, but they're lightning fast and adept at taking down wolves that might threaten a nomad’s family or herd. In the Taigan Jarysh competition, trainers displayed the agility and prowess of their dogs as they raced across the field in hunting simulations.

Mountains, culture, and tradition in Kyrgyzstan

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Kyrgyzstan’s unbelievable scenery, majestic mountains and alpine lakes have ensured that the little known Central Asian nation is slowly making a name for itself among travellers seeking a unique destination to explore. People are no doubt drawn in by the country's rugged good looks, but it’s the years of tradition and history that they stay for. The World Nomad Games is an unusual, yet compelling event to be part of, and I would urge anyone who gets the chance to experience it, to do so.

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Travel quiz: February edition

Many Monarch butterflies on a tree branch, with blue sky beyond What type of butterfly migrates to Mexico each winter? Find out in our quiz © JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock

Do you know which country is home to the Hill of Crosses? Or the city where Aussie soap Neighbours is set? Test your knowledge of travel trivia with the February edition of our monthly travel quiz, based around stories featuring in this month’s Lonely Planet magazine – on sale now. Can you score full marks?


Desperate for more travel trivia? Have a go at last month’s quiz.

Find quizzes just like this, plus plenty of travel inspiration and planning tips in Lonely Planet's UK magazine.

Wonderings: what role will robots play in the travel industry?

Illustration of a traveller looking out of a train window at a lake with mountains and forest in the background © Joe Davis / Lonely Planet Wonderings: rambles through and reflections on travel... this month, James Kay considers what the robot revolution might mean for the future of hospitality © Joe Davis / Lonely Planet

We owe the word ‘robot’ to the Czech playwright, novelist and journalist Karel Čapek, who dreamed it up for his 1920 play, R.U.R., or Rossum's Universal Robots. The plot charts the rise of mass-produced machines who take on the work of humans, then dispense with their now-redundant makers.

Given the level of anxiety about the impact of robots on the labour market, this century-old play looks prescient – late last year, the World Economic Forum cited a report that forecasts up to 800 million people could lose their jobs to automation by 2030 (although that is only half the story; I’m withholding the rest for effect).

Are you a secretary? A salesperson? An accountant? Unless you upskill or up sticks, I’ve got bad news: you’re going the same way as the dodo, the Tasmanian tiger and Steller’s sea cow within 20 years. None of the above? Don’t be complacent – there’s a more than 50% chance of R2D2 and C3PO supplanting everyone from florists to farmers in that timeframe, too. My advice? Find out your prognosis, quick.

The future is already here

What role will robots play in the travel industry? If you own a hotel or run a restaurant, the omens look relatively rosy: there’s slim chance of WALL·E taking over any time soon; if, however, you do the dishes or lug the suitcases, some Lieutenant Data-like automaton might well get the gig in the medium-term future, say the oracles from Oxford University and Deloitte.

But hang on a minute. To quote another sort of prophet (author William Gibson, the poet laureate of cyberpunk), ‘the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed’; until recently, robots made up most of the staff at the Henn na Hotel in Japan. According to reports, however, the Henn na has just laid off half of its workforce for… incompetence.

Far from making it the most efficient hotel in the world, these malfunctioning machines failed to move with the times, mishandling check-in, bungling the luggage, waking guests after mistaking their snores for voice commands, and breaking down more often than Basil Fawlty’s car. Come to think of it, the Henn na sounds a bit like a 21st-century reimagining of Fawlty Towers.

A dinosaur robot greets a guest at the Henn na Hotel, Japan You’re sure of a weird welcome at Japan’s Henn na Hotel © YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / Getty Images

Paradoxically, however, the problems at the Henn na reflect the success rather than the failure of technology. In a terrifyingly short space of time, we’ve become accustomed to the smarts of our digital assistants – the likes of Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and so on. So when the animatronic dinosaur in a bellboy hat at the Henn na (yes, they really had one) can’t answer a simple question, guests are understandably nonplussed.

In his book The Age of Spiritual Machines, the futurist Ray Kurzweil argues that technology is the continuation of evolution by other means – and change happens fast; the doddering robots at the Henn na seem strangely old-fashioned, despite being less than four years out of the factory. That's because we already expect more of them.

Model employees

The cautionary tale of that establishment won’t dissuade others from swapping flesh and blood for metal and plastic, of course – to name but a few big players, Hilton, Intercontinental and Marriott are all experimenting with robots.

So far, these companies have concentrated mainly on tasks which break down into a series of easy-to-describe steps; in other words, tasks that lend themselves to algorithms, which are essentially to-do lists for computers. But that’s just for starters.

If you were a hotelier, wouldn’t you be excited by the idea of an ‘employee’ who never got tired, worked 24/7 without making a mistake or airing a complaint and, best of all, had no interest whatsoever in receiving even the minimum wage for their trouble?

A robot receptionist at the Henn na Hotel, Japan Welcome to the uncanny valley, folks © Bloomberg / Getty Images

The thoughtful adoption of technology can enhance the guest experience. No question. But there’s a world of difference between devising a set of rules for, say, mixing a cocktail or delivering the laundry, and developing an algorithm that effectively mimics the empathy of a great host. After all, Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics might prevent machines from casually murdering their masters, but they don’t give much guidance when it comes to mollifying a tricky guest.

It also strikes me as odd that the mainstream hospitality industry is chasing unicorns at a time when the greatest threat to its prosperity is arguably the rise of homestays – lodgings that appeal to a generation in search of authentic experiences (the last time I checked, these experiences generally involved interacting with other human beings, an increasing number of whom see travel as an opportunity to escape the tentacles of tech).

Superbug-infested cesspits

Front-of-house roles might never be their forte, but there’s no doubt robots will transform travel in other ways, both obvious and leftfield. In the former category, I would put self-driving vehicles; in the latter, I give you CleanseBot, a pocket-sized gizmo that disinfects your hotel room – or, to put it in another way, that superbug-infested cesspit where you’ve chosen to spend the night.

Now don’t get me wrong: no one wants to find traces of a previous occupant on their bedsheets (apart, perhaps, from a small minority of perverts). But you’ve got to keep such things in perspective. If you’re the sort of person who freaks out at the sight of a stray hair in a strange bed, you’re not cut out for travel at all IMHO. But who knows? Perhaps it'll be a bestseller.

Like love, predicting the future is a losing game (but no less fun for that); perhaps we will soon reach a point where robots behave, and even look, just like their creators. The hotel of the future might become a next-generation Turing test, where guests are left guessing who is real and who, in the language of Bladerunner, is replicant.

Perhaps, many years hence, the cyberman-concierge who scans my face and checks me in as I enter the lobby of some sleek property, instantly becoming aware of everything I have ever said or done online, will scoff at my myopia and send the following message to the hotel’s network of robots: ‘heads up, guys – here comes another neo-Luddite numpty. Charge him double’.

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