“I’m not where I thought I’d be this year…”
“Am I doing what I want to be doing for the rest of my life?”
“Their life looks way better than mine”
“New Year, new me”
Sound familiar? The start of the year always seems to see people dole out the classics…
But have you ever heard the phrase ‘start as you mean to go on’? Put simply – don’t start the year putting yourself down like this. It shouldn’t be about reinventing yourself, it should be about doing more of what you love and being kind to yourself.
Improving your own mental health and wellbeing should be top of the agenda for 2019. One thing that we at STA Travel HQ think helps improve wellbeing? Travel. Duh. But we also know that not everyone has the money to go flying off to a new country every time they feel a bit of stress creeping in (if only), so we’ve come up with some ideas of how to look after yourself this year. Travel or no travel.
Travel is great. But what about travelling in a tin can complete with Pot Noodle cooker (kettle) and a beer fridge? Yep, that’s right. It’s time to give some serious kudos to the campervan…
I’m Rachael – Nutella lover, binger of Netflix crime documentaries, and ardent solo traveller. I did an epic 2.5 years of travelling solo between 2014-2017, and on my way around the world I joined on to some group tours (because who wants to do everything alone?!) So I’ve compiled a list of 9 reasons it was amazing travelling as part of a group – as much as I’m an advocate of going off on your own…
Transylvania, it’s a real place, and Dracula is a real person – sort of. Stories of the creepy Count were inspired by the real life of Vlad Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler) – a little pub quiz trivia for you, if you ever need it. So, what can you get up to in this mysterious town of bloodthirsty vampires in the heart of Romania?
If you haven’t heard of it or watched it already (who are you, and what are you doing here?) Queer Eye is about 5 fabulous gay guys driving around the southern part of the USA, making over straight guys. And now we, at STA Travel HQ, have a total obsession with them. Watching it gives us happy tears, warm fuzzies, and has taught us 101 new ways to use an avocado.
So, we thought what better way to celebrate Pride, the release of Queer Eye Season 2, and our love of Antoni, Jonathan, Bobby, Karamo and Tan than a travel-related Queer Eye blog. So here are our 15 lessons:
In a region that’s often thought of as flashy and expensive, Oman is a country where you can still experience authentic Arabian culture.
I jumped at the chance to visit when my friend and her friends spontaneously organised an overnight stay on a traditional dhow boat while I was visiting them in Dubai. It was my first time in the Middle East, and I’d just got back from travelling Asia, so I was keen for a totally new experience. I had no idea what to expect, and it ended up being one of my best travelling experiences so far.
So, you’re thinking of heading out to the other side of the world to see what this working holiday fuss is all about? You may have considered the usual suspects on the East Coast, but what about The Top End… Darwin? It’s closer to the UK (hello cheaper flights), it’s got year-round sunshine, it has next-level national parks, and it’s the perfect place to start your adventure Down Under.
Amber Dacres is a Newcastle University student, total foodie, and lover of NYC. She’s combined the latter two into one tasty blog about her ultimate food stops when in the city.
If you don’t live under a rock you will have seen the many ridiculous, coma-inducing, beyond-delicious-looking food videos on Facebook. My ultimate goal is to visit every single one of those insta-worthy restaurants – call it a foodie road trip round the world. But seeing as I’m not rich (and let’s be honest, bikini body season is right around the corner) I shall take you on a virtual food tour instead, of one of the foodie hotspots of the world – NEW YORK NEW YORK! (If you’re not singing the song right now I’m disappointed in you).
Apparently, you’ve not been to New York unless you’ve had a pastrami sandwich with mustard, and Katz are known to be the best of the best.
Katz Delicatessen is a family business and has been knocking around since 1888 so they obviously know what they’re doing.
Where: 205 E Houston St, New York
Hours: 8am – 10.45pm
Anyone that knows me will know that cheese is my pride and joy.
Seriously, anything with a mass of cheese on it sounds good to me and when it comes to raclette, what a thing of beauty. If you’ve never had it, raclette is a special kind of French, super melty cheese, traditionally eaten over potatoes and cured meats – dreamy right?
At Raclette NYC, choose your meats or salad and then your cheese to be lovingly poured on top. Or, don’t fancy meat and salad? Get yourself one of their legendary raclette burgers with crispy sweet potato fries. Cheese is a beautiful thing ain’t it?
Where: 511 E 12th St, New York
Hours: 12pm – 11pm
Who doesn’t like pizza?!
New York’s John’s of Bleecker Street has been churning out legendary pizzas since 1929. Before you say ‘surely you should go to Italy for pizza’ well in this case, Italy came to New York! The pizzeria is the business of an Italian family that immigrated and perfected the recipes to their standards, and to this day it is still a family owned business and their pizzas look unreal! Get yourself there for a coal-fired homemade pizza – you can’t go wrong!
Where: 278 Bleecker St, New York
Hours: 11.30am – 11.30pm
I know, pizza again – but, hear me out because this is pizza with a difference!
Trapizzino is home of the deep-filled pizza pocket. A freshly baked Roman bread stuffed with all sorts of deliciousness for you to choose from. From oxtail ragu to chicken, white wine and garlic and seasonal greens, chilli and garlic for the vegans – you can’t possibly not find something that tickles your fancy.
Where: 144 Orchard St, New York
Hours: 11am – 11pm
You cannot, I repeat, cannot go to New York and not have a classic New York bagel.
What is the flavour of New York? Salmon and cream cheese – an absolute classic and the best bagel filling that there is.
At Russ & Daughters they have 9 different types of cream cheese (Yes, I said NINE!) and 15 different kinds of salmon – didn’t know that was possible? Me neither.
Russ & Daughters has been a staple in New York for over 100 years, so it’d be rude not to visit!
Where: 179 E Houston St, New York
Hours: 8am – 8pm
I kid you not this place literally makes burgers out of avocados.
Instagram worthy avocado toast, stuffed avocados, salad and smoothies are the order of the day. Healthy but doesn’t taste healthy – just what you want.
Where: 238 36th St, Brooklyn
Hours: 11am – 4pm
And because I’m that person that will glare at you if you tell the waiter we don’t need to look at a dessert menu. Seriously. Don’t do it. Its rude, unacceptable and a crime against food. Onto the sweet stuff…
This place makes donut ice cream sandwiches (?!!!!)
Homemade warm gooey donuts loaded with a massive dollop of ice cream of your choice, it doesn’t get much better. Mmmm…..
Where: 727 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn
Hours: 4.30am – 8pm
Cookie dough? Good.
So obviously the three combined make for a magical treat. There is nothing more to say other than get yourself a big old lump of cookie dough slathered in sprinkles.
Where: 550 LaGuardia Pl, New York
Hours: 10am – 9pm
This place is home of the snap-worthy birthday cake croissant with sprinkles baked into the dough itself and filled with sweet cream and yet more sprinkles. Heaven in a croissant.
Where: 6 E 18th St, New York
Hours: 8am – 11pm
Allegedly the best bakery in New York according to Foursquare, this place does gooey cookies the size of hamburgers. Massive lines out the door but definitely worth it and of course, busyness is the sign of deliciousness.
Where: 2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York
Hours: 8am – 7pm
Now I’m hungry, you’re hungry and we all really want to go to New York – so get on a city break with STA Travel…. yes please!! Get your butt to New York and start your food journey. Want general USA inspiration? Head to our destination guide!
Beer, chocolate, waffles – three of the most beautiful words (and foodstuffs) in the world, in my opinion. That’s why a weekend getaway to Bruges sounded like a dream – and it was. Here’s how I spent 48 hours soaking up those magical medieval vibes (prewarning: a lot of this involves food and drink – I’m not sorry).
I kind of avoid these like the plague when I visit a new city, but after this walking tour I have no idea why! Bruges is steeped in history, legends and old tales and the best way of learning about it all is with a local guide, so I 100% recommend it – we saw so much. And it’s a beautiful city to wander around – the Gothic architecture is next level! Although, by the time we hopped on the canal tour, we actually already knew the majority of the information the guy was saying, it was still a pretty way of seeing the city though. Plus, the walking tour is free, and the boat tour is €8 – so it’s not like you’re spending a lot of money.
Time and time again you’ve seen friends come back wearing baggy elephant pants you wouldn’t dream of wearing in the UK, arms full of rope bracelets and a cracking tan, musing about their fabulous trip to Thailand, how much they’ve learned about themselves/the culture and most importantly, how bloody cheap it is. It’s all strangely endearing isn’t it? So, if you’re thinking about travelling to Thailand and experiencing this amazing country for yourself, you might want to arm yourself with our Cheat Sheet – telling you everything you need to know about this little Asian paradise.
When to go | Phrases | Food | Where to go | Packing tips | Transport | Budgeting | Top tips
We’re all used to being told to use our manners by our parents, so if you want to sound more polite when greeting someone in Thai, you need to add ‘khap’ to the end of the greeting if you’re a guy, and ‘kha’ if you’re a woman.
Sa-wat dee (hello)
Used for both hello and goodbye.
Khop koon (thank you)
How to show your appreciation once you’ve been handed your Singha beer and pad Thai.
Gee baht? (how much)
Essential for all the shopping you’ll be doing, or when haggling with tuk-tuk drivers.
Yoo tee nai…? (where is…)
Invaluable when lost! Just point at a place on your map or in your guidebook and say ‘yoo tee nai’. Also useful when you are trying to find the right bus to go to Phuket or otherwise.
Mai ow (don’t want)
Useful for fending off persistent street vendors.
Top 5 foods to try:
A tasty noodle dish with egg, peanuts, veggies and your choice of meat (if you want it), you’ll find this dish absolutely everywhere, but you can snag great ones from street vendors from as little as 30 baht (approx 70p).
Thai green/red curry
Where else to try this creamy, spicy curry than in its native land?! You’ll never be able to buy the sauce in a jar again…
If you sweat at a korma then maybe a Thai green curry isn’t the choice for you, however the Massaman curry is a mild but equally delicious local curry made with potatoes, coconut milk and peanuts.
Mango and sticky rice
On a hot day there’s nothing like a ripe and juicy mango to cool you down – pair it with some cold, sticky rice mixed with coconut milk and you’re on to a winner!
Tourists flock to fried insects like moths to a flame – we still have no idea why, but when you walk down Khao San Road you’ll be inundated with great offers of fried spiders, scorpions, frogs, and various insects. Thailand, you do spoil us.
The cosmopolitan side of Thailand, Bangkok mixes the modern with the ‘authentic’ Thailand. In some places, like Koh San Road, you’ll find a lot of tourist traps, but go for a wander and you’ll find temples, landmarks and markets dotted along the streets. Take a taxi to a floating market, visit Wat Arun temple or the Grand Palace.
Chiang Mai is about a 6-hour bus ride north of Bangkok and is well-known for its elephant sanctuaries. Stay for a little longer and you’ll discover temples and shrines around every corner, a famous night market in the Old Town, and lush jungle and waterfalls as part of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park.
A perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, Pai is located about an hour north of Chiang Mai, with accommodation nestled into fields, nightly food markets, beautiful natural surroundings and calming hippy vibes.
A little slice of heaven by day, a crazy party scene by night – at least when the Full Moon Party is happening. If you enjoy chilling on a beach but also appreciate a good party, Koh Phangan is the place to go.
Koh Phi Phi
This island south-west of Bangkok is well-travelled by backpackers, probably due to the diverse lifestyle that you can enjoy while being there. On the one hand, there’s a lot of bars and clubs that cater to a crazy night out, on the other hand there’s some incredibly chilled bars, secluded bays and beaches, and it’s home to the famous Maya Bay (aka the beach from ‘The Beach’).
It’s so hot you’ll barely end up wearing much, plus you’ll need all the space in your case to stock up on all the elephant pants and beer-branded vests your hearts desires. Don’t forget your plug adaptor though!
Pack a good pair of flip flops/sandals
You’ll walk, a lot. So, get a decent pair of shoes to do it in – none of this £1 nonsense.
Camera with waterproof casing/GoPro
Thailand will turn you into a mermaid with all its swimming, snorkeling, waterfalling and diving activities. You want to make sure you capture the footage!
A good book
You’ll tally up a good number of hours on coaches/trains/planes or just chilling on a beach – pack a good book to pass the time, then look out for the book swaps around Thailand so you can switch it out for free when it’s done!
We’re sorry about this one guys, but girls, if you’re going to need them – pack them! It can be hard to track them down in Thailand.
Uber is becoming more and more popular in Asia, but GrabTaxi is just as good – essentially it does the same as Uber, but it hooks you up with registered taxi drivers who don’t rob you blind. Download both apps and use as you want.
A great way of saving on a night’s accommodation, and one of the most fun ways to travel – you’ll get a little bunk with your travel buddies as opposed to busses where you’re constantly struggling to find a comfortable position.
Although it might not always be the most comfortable, it’s often the cheapest way to travel the country and they’re really regular. Plus, you get to see a lot more of rural Thailand this way.
The only option of getting about especially when it comes to the islands in the south of Thailand.
You can fly domestically at cheap prices in Thailand – sometimes you just don’t fancy a 6-hour coach when you can get a 1-hour flight!
Don’t go crazy just because it’s cheap
We’ve all been there – completely disregarding how much money you have because you think you don’t need to worry… food is like, 40p right?! Sure, you can go a little crazier in Thailand due to their insanely low prices, but it’s still handy to give yourself a daily budget.
Thailand is the perfect place to practice your haggling skills – almost everywhere the prices are negotiable. Just don’t take the piss – the people selling still need to live!
Get a travel money card
Get rid of those annoying bank fees and avoid getting screwed over by commission and exchange rates by getting a travel money card. Loads of them don’t charge you for using your card/withdrawing money from an ATM.
Hostels are super cheap
You can find some amazing hostels in Thailand for as little as £5 a night – no joke. Do some digging around, read the reviews and you could be saving tons of money, which means extra for eating your body weight in delicious food/diving activities/buying a ridiculous amount of elephant pants/volunteer projects with elephants.
Eat like a local
Everywhere you go you’ll find street food stalls lining the pavements selling everything from banana and Nutella roti’s to mouth-watering curry, usually less than half the price of what you’d pay in a restaurant and it’s usually just as good, if not better.
Thailand is a really great place to decide things last minute, whether that’s a tour, a hostel, a coach journey or a totally new destination! Don’t get bogged down sorting everything out before you go – just sort out what you need for the first week and give yourself the chance to travel spontaneously.
If you want to see elephants – do your research
Elephants are beautiful and majestic creatures, so it’s no wonder that most tourists want to see them when they go to Thailand. But just double check the place you’re going to first – if they let you ride them, they’re a no-go. Make sure no elephant suffers for the sake of your enjoyment. Sanctuaries are the way to go.
Travel as much of it as you can
Thailand is so diverse, one moment you could be relaxing in paradise, the next you could be trekking in the jungle – if you’ve got the time, travel the length of the country, you could find somewhere you’d never even heard of before (and they usually end up being your favourite!)
Negotiate costs, especially when it comes to travel
If you look like you don’t know what you’re doing, the locals will pick up on it, especially the taxi drivers. Never accept the first price and always try to haggle/ask them to put their meter on. It gets easier to gauge how much you should be paying the longer you travel.
Download maps.me – it’s amazing anywhere you go
Maps.me is an app which allows you to download the map of the area you’re currently in and then use it offline – no pesky data charges for you!
Now we’ve armed you with your survival guide to Thailand are you ready to book your flight? Head over to our flights page now, or if you’re just looking for some more destination inspiration have a look at our Thailand travel guide.