Tag Archives: USA

My travels in 2009

2009 was a pretty good year for me as far as travelling is concerned – I managed to spend 289 nights outside the UK, and visited 17 countries (beating the 8 I went to in 2008, my previous best). I’ll save a full round-up until I finish my round the world trip in March, but for now here’s a nice little montage of my favourite photo from almost every country I visited in 2009, kindly created for me by Matt.

Featured photos (from top to bottom left to right) are:
UK – London in the Snow (January)
France – Skiing in Les Arcs (March)
Guatemala – Indigenous woman on the streets of Antigua (May)
USA – Art Deco Miami (June)
Bolivia – The Salar de Uyuni (September)
Australia – Kata Tjuta at sunset (November)
Peru – Sunrise over the Cordillera Huayhuash (August)
Chile – Grafitti in Valparaiso (October)
New Zealand – Jumping on the Tongariro Crossing (October)
East Timor – Beware the crocodiles on Baucau beach (December)
Belgium – Antwerp Docks (February)
Mexico – Mazatlan beach (March)
Honduras – Utila beach (June)
Colombia – Fruit sellers in Cartagena (July)
Easter Island – Moai (October)
Indonesia – Sunset over Senggigi beach, Lombok (December)

The only countries missing are Norway (from January, where I forgot my camera), Argentina (from October, where my camera was broken), and Switzerland (from March, which was just a brief stopover on my way to France).

Sadly I won’t be doing quite so much travelling in 2010 – but with Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma & France to come, as well as the Philippines (where I am now) and Malaysia (where I was earlier this month) there’s still lots to look forward to. Stay tuned for further installments – and click here if you want a look back at any more of my photos.

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Art Deco Miami

Miami was never somewhere I was desperate to go to, but with my round the world ticket it was the easiest way to get from Central America down to South America. Once the ticket was booked I figured it would be nice to spend a weekend relaxing on the beach, and enjoying the benefits of being ina developed country for a few days, including things I used to take for granted like not worrying about tap water and flushing paper down the toilet. Other than that, I really didn’t know what to expect, other than being vaguely aware that it had some nice Art Deco buildings.

I had no idea there were quite so many – I spent most of sunday just wandering around the streets of South Beach, and there are hundreds of them. So many in fact, that despite being so beautiful there are actually quite a few, especially off the main streets, that are semi-derelict, which is a shame. Most of the rest have been very well-preserved and maintained, and it makes the whole area one of the most beautiful beach resorts I’ve seen.

Other than wandering around taking in the local architecture, I spent most of the rest of the time relaxing on the beach, which was mostly fantastic (the water was the warmest I’ve ever swam in), although I should have paid attention to the clouds on sunday afternoon, as when I was swimming quite far out from the beach a thunderstorm suddenly broke out, and by the time I made it back to the beach my stuff was soaked right through. Luckily my camera was wrapped in my towel and survived unscathed, but my ageing mobile wasn’t so lucky, and despite drying out for several days since, it’s not quite the same again and the battery dies very quickly after charging. Think I may need to invest in a new one (or maybe just buy a watch, seeing as that’s all I use it for).

The one big downside to my weekend was the cost. I knew it would be more expensive than Central America, and it was certainly a shock to the system: I totally blew my budget on every score – Transport costs were the highest yet ($14 a day), thanks to awkward flight times making public transport unfeasible and having to use an airport shuttle instead. $22 a day for the hotel is pretty reasonable for South Beach, but it’s still double what I spent in Mexico, my previous highest. Biggest of all was food and drink – nearly $70 a day, probably not helped by my Friday night out (at $7 a beer. Ouch). Total budget came in at $116 a day, which is not as bad as I was expecting, but quite a hit all the same.

You can see the full set of pictures here

Top 10 Favourite Countries

I have no plans to make lists a regular feature here (even if people do love them apparently), but I thought it’d be worthwhile to list my favourite places over the next few days, so that I can revisit them when I get back in 18 months’ time, to see how these have changed. So welcome to ‘top tens week’. And if you find lists boring, normal service will resume next week.

1. Mexico

San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal de las Casas

My trip to Mexico in 2007 first got me thinking seriously about taking a year off to see more of the world. I only saw a small portion of the country (the Yucatan Pensinsular, Chiapas, and Mexico City) but it was more than enough to make me fall in love with the place. Aside from the obvious bits – beautiful scenery, stunning beaches, Mayan temples – two things in particular help seal Mexico’s spot at the top of this list: the friendliest locals of anywhere I’ve ever visited, and best of all, the food. I don’t think I had a bad meal the whole time I was there. The only downside being that Mexican food in the UK now tastes like a very, very poor imitation (other than the terrific Mestizo). As I wrote in one of my earliest postshere, it’ll be the first stop on my trip, and I can’t wait.

2. Laos

Wat Ho Pha Bang, Luang Prabang

Wat Ho Pha Bang, Luang Prabang

Only narrowly beaten by Mexico, it was in Laos at Christmas that I decided for certain that I was going to head round the world in 2009. Everyone I met whilst there agreed it was the surprise highlight of South East Asia. Easily the most laidback country I’ve been to, it’s another place I’m heading back to, but this time for longer, so I can enjoy the relaxed pace of life for a while longer without having to rush.

3. Spain

I’ve had more holidays in Spain than any other country, and it hasn’t let me down once, and (along with the next country on the list) is one the only countries in Europe I can imagine living in. The Spanish lifestyle seems so much more civilised than ours back home.

4. Germany

I’m a little biased here – six years living there have left a special place in my heart for Germany (and the Germans). It’s pretty sad that a combination of history and stereotypes dominate the British perception of the country (although I suppose it could be a blessing in disguise…Germany is unlikely to ever end of overrun by the types of British tourists who have ruined large chunks of meditteranean Europe)

5. France

Beaches, mountains, great cities, fantastic food…France has just about everything you could want out of a holiday destination. What’s not to love? (Well, apart from the French themselves…)

6. Portugal

It’s remarkable how few tourists you come across when you get away from the obvious bits (Lisbon, the Algarve). They’re missing out.

7. Australia

The country is so vast, and I’ve only scratched the surface so far. If & when I get to explore the interior more, I can see Australia working it’s way further up my list. Although that won’t be next year – other than a brief stop in Melbourne, I’ve decided not to spend too much time there, as it costs a a fair bit more than everywhere else I’m going.

8. USA

Very similar to the above, there’s so much I still want to do in the US. But what I’ve seen so far, I love. The strangest thing about visiting is that it all seems so instantly familiar, thanks to a million Hollywood movies and TV shows.

9. Georgia

The highlight of my school trip to the then-USSR back when I was 13, which makes recent events all the sadder for me. It’s a truly beautiful little country, and I long to go back to see how much it’s changed in the last 20 years.

10. Azerbaijan

When I visited back in 1988, the combination of modern, brutalist Soviet & older Islamic architecture with deserts full of oil wells, made Azerbaijan feel a world apart from the other Soviet republics I visited, and far more exotic than anywhere else I’d been.

And the biggest disappointment? Well, mentioning this to most people in the UK appears to be tantamount to sacrilege, however my two trips to Italy have not overly impressed me so far. I think I’ve been unlucky, and missed the best bits to be honest, but on both visits I’ve found the locals to be less than friendly, and the cities lacking atmosphere.