I hate listicles, but there reaches a point where you haven’t written anything for yourself (at least not online) for a while and you just want to put something out there. I don’t get asked enough about my travel favourites, so I’m just going to thrust them out into a world that doesn’t care. Be the change you want to see in life.
My travel life is pretty vanilla compared to others – I’ve visited five countries outside of Europe, and three of them are English speaking. Though I do have plans to change that this year, it has to be said that often money gets in the way. The main goals are to discover more of my home country, check out a few ex-Soviet states and hopefully get to Latin America at some point. At the end of the day, though, you travel when you can and I absolutely will not turn down a cheap flight – even if it’s only an hour away.
Anyway, here are some of my favourites, and least favourites, from travelling so far.
Worst Airline – Wizz Air
I had a pretty mixed year in 2017. Getting over the end of my time in New Zealand, reacquainting myself with Europe, and taking some more trips with my family. One of these trips was a cheap flight from Liverpool to Budapest with Wizz Air. I love a cheap flight, and I’d happily take standing room only if you can get me to somewhere exotic for less than my weekly coffee budget (a ridiculously high expense as it is), but Wizz Air really pushed these boundaries. The seats were old and the recline function was not so much of an option as something that everyone had to use – reducing legroom, and causing a slight panic when you first place your bum delicately on the bobble-covered cushions. Aside from that, the legroom was smaller than I ever imagined possible, the baggage restrictions were very strictly enforced, and the flight attendants seemed to hate their job even more than the average fast food worker. I would still fly again though – how else will I get to Kazakhstan for less than €100?
Best Airline – Air New Zealand
He maha o te aroha to Air New Zealand. Their domestic flights are impeccable, and the international flight I took to Melbourne was probably the best in flight experience I had. They’re also, comparatively, not that expensive for a non-budget airline. Their discount website – Grab A Seat – was my lifeline whilst travelling around New Zealand, and flights were often cheaper than buses. Even Southern Hemisphere budget king, Jetstar, could barely compete with their cheapest prices. Having the most adorable child on every flight hand out sweets before landing is a great touch, and there’s a sense that the company is trying to build a family feel to their service. Kia pai te haere.
Favourite Country – Italy
Yes, it is everyone’s favourite country – but with good reason. The food? Incredible. The scenery? Mesmerising. The people? Astonishingly friendly, unless you disrespect the food. If you stick to the main touristy sites you will hate it, but there are some great ways of overcoming this. Take the local trains, check out the smaller restaurants that don’t have English menus and search for those hidden alleys with local gems. Italians love hand gestures, so communicating is easy – and this will enrich your experience.
Least Favourite Country – Wales
This is a horrible category, and I did struggle to come up with where my least favourite was. I don’t hate Wales, and I want to give it another chance in the future, but I didn’t really enjoy my experience there. Granted, I went as a child as part of a family trip to one of those trashy holiday camps in Pwllheli, so it wasn’t given a fair chance. The mountains were nice, but I’m Scottish and will defend the enduring majesty of our highlands to death. The lack of uniquely Welsh culture was also disappointing, but this was in 2005 so here’s hoping there’s been a bit of a revival since then.
Most Overrated Destination – Orlando
I feel like such a spoiled brat saying this, but Orlando really isn’t all that. The theme parks are nice for about a week, but eventually the endless cheer and repetitive soundtracks wear you down. Outside of the theme parks there are depressingly excessive shopping malls and half-assed dinner shows everywhere. I often see Americans complain about Florida, and that is absolutely fair. Go once if you have kids, then never return.
Most Underrated Destination – Taipei
I spent a mere 10 hours in Taipei on a layover on my way to Auckland, and I’ve been itching to go back sense. If you are lucky with your flight times, the government offer a free layover tour into the city. The tourism scene in Taiwan is on the rise, but often left off most Asian itineraries – and this is nothing short of tragic. The blending of modern technology with traditional values is seamless, and the food will completely blow your mind. I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Longshan Temple during Chinese New Year, and will forever cherish the experience.
Safest Feeling City – Copenhagen
This sounds like a positive category, but I love a bit of grit and Copenhagen was oppressively spotless. Everything works immaculately, everything is ridiculously clean and at points it seems like the city hasn’t experienced a single crime in decades. If you want somewhere to safely take a stroll and enjoy quality food, Copenhagen is a great spot. If you want somewhere cheap and vibrant, it probably isn’t for you.
Least Safe Feeling City – Rome
From the second I stepped off the train in Rome I immediately felt the urge to cling onto my belongings, and my health, with the fervour of a squirrel discovering the last nut in the world. Like most of Europe, Rome isn’t that dangerous on a global scale, but you do need to keep your wits about you. On my final day I witnessed someone getting their bag stolen on the metro – though she did chase after her and I can only hope she got her phone back. Rome is beautiful and cultured and packed with excellent cuisine – but leave the valuables at home.
Worst Tour/Experience – The Ring of Kerry, from Cork
It rained the entire time and the fog made most of the natural beauty invisible. On top of that, there was a stop in Sneem which is arguably the armpit of Ireland. It’s a veritable wonderland for overpriced paninis, watered down Irish coffee and shamrock coated rosaries. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Kerry, but sadly did not get to see any of them. If you must go, check the weather forecast and consider stopping in one of the Irish speaking villages rather than the tourist traps on the circuit.
Best Tour/Experience – Kayaking in Taupo
New Zealand is getting a lot of love from this list, but I did leave a little piece of my heart there. After weather forced me to cancel my skydiving experience, I opted to instead spend the money on a kayaking trip to the Maori rock carvings on Lake Taupo. Winds made it a little more physically demanding than necessary, but it was worth every ache that graced my muscles for the following week. There are boat trips to the carvings, but taking a kayak allows you to get even closer and in a more peaceful manner. There’s also a secluded beach nearby for you to chill-out on before the two hour paddle back to the main town.
Worst Non-City Destination – Azambuja, Portugal
Is this a destination? No, not really. We’d decided to take a random train trip to a random town out of Lisbon, and Azambuja was glowing amongst the names of nearby towns in the train station. Is there anything there? Yes, enough barbershops for every resident to have their own personal shop, and restaurants that open for a couple of hours if they can be bothered. Don’t do it – go to Spain instead.
Best Non-City Destination – Szentendre, Hungary
A short train ride from Budapest, Szentendre is an interesting spot for diving deeper into Hungarian culture. The goulash soup is plentiful and cheap, and the colourful streets are bursting with creativity. The Marzipan Museum is also well worth a visit, with notable figures such as Michael Jackson and Princess Diana beautifully recreated using sweet treats.
Least Favourite City – Warsaw
Oh, Poland. I crave a timely return to you one day – to the beautiful streets of Krakow and the historically significant spots across Gdansk. What I don’t crave is a redo of my time in Warsaw. It’s industrial, the Old Town is a worse recreation than the Wild West villages of Disneyland and getting around the place almost caused me an aneurysm. I know I’m not alone in disliking Warsaw, thanks to the multiple times I’ve been reassured that the rest of Poland is a thousand times better. The post-communist culture is interesting, and if you have a stop-over in the city I would recommend checking out a milk bar. Just don’t stray too far from the centre, or you’ll never get back in time to leave.
Favourite Cities – Wellington and Naples
I struggled to pick between these, but they both had very similar vibes for me. The mountainous surroundings and laid-back culture make these incredibly excellent destinations. Naples is a bit grittier, and has more history. It’s also the home of pizza and sfogliatelle. Wellington is cool, modern and bursting with creativity. Both of them are overlooked on tourist routes through the countries they are part of, but neither of them should be.
Best Budget Airline – EasyJet
Best Hostel – Jacob’s Inn, Dublin
Best Landmark – Scott Monument, Edinburgh
Best Natural Landmark – Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Favourite Piece of Tourist Tat – Madeira’s Brinquinhos