Creative Travel Tours that will blow your mind

7 Creative travel tours that will blow your mind

Let’s get one thing straight right from the start – I am NOT a tour person. Nor am I a cruise person, for that matter. I love planning everything way too much for a start, and I despise the idea of being led around the over-priced and under-delivering ‘tourist spots’ of a destination like a pack of ducklings. No, tours just aren’t for me. Give me google maps and trip advisor any day and take the packed-out over air-conned tour bus for yourself.

But, Wait a minute.. Creative travel tours aren’t like the rest..

That all being said, I have come to realise that not all travel tours are created equal. I had a massive perspective shift when Intrepid Travel so generously sent me on an intrepid food tour of Mexico (see my post:that time I won a real food tour).

There were no tour busses, and no heaving groups of clicker-happy camera-wielding tourists. Nope. Just four of us, and a local who know where to find the good food.

This opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me – what if I could get shown the good bits, without all the typical tour-group nonsense? Well as it turns out, there’s a whole industry devoted to providing just that. Tours for people who hate tours. Intrepid adventures into some of the world’s most bizarre, fascinating and remote places.  So, without any further ado, let me introduce to you 7 of my favourite creative travel tours that might just blow your mind.

In Search of the Snow Leopard

In search of the snow leopard with Intredpid Travel
Not much tugs at my sense of adventure more than exotic wild animals – and after seeing trekkers across Nepal re-reading their worn copy of ‘Snow Leopard’ for the 6th time, I have become all the more fascinated.

It’s no secret that I adore Intrepid Adventures, but I have only recently discovered their specialist range of ‘Expedition’ tours. These guys really push tours to an entirely new (and epic) level.

Specialised local guides will take you through the mountain ranges of Ladakh, in spectacular far-northern India in search of the elusive Snow Leopard. This adventure takes you well off the beaten tourist-trail and manages to combine it with some pretty other fascinating stopovers along the way. Check out the full itinerary for more info on this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and make sure to let me know if you book on – I will be eternally envious and would love to hear more about it! Learn more about ‘In search of the Snow Leopard here>>>

Intrepid Expedition – Kazakhstan Expedition

Kazakhstan expedition with Intrepid

Another one from the Intrepid Adventure ‘Expedition’ files – this tour is just so crazy it almost sounds unreal. Check out the far-reaches of Kazakhstan, visit the space program at Baikonur to watch a rocket launch, traverse the Silk Road and even check out Chernobyl – yeah, wait, what?!? Pretty incredible, once-in-a-lifetime one-off expedition if you ask me.

One of my favourite things about Intrepid is how they are constantly pushing the limits of what you can do. Rather than wearing new grooves into the well worn tourist tracks, they are looking at how to provide people access to places and experiences that they could never plan for themselves. To me that is super cool, and I am totally in awe. Learn more about the Baikonur & Kazakhstan expedition here >>>

Coboat: Remote Working Boat Trip

Coboat Remote Working on a BoatCoboat Remote Working on a Boat 1

I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I work online. My laptop is my office, and that office is extremely portable. I take pride in working from all sorts of extreme and interesting places.

Well, turns out there’s tons of people like me out there – a crowd of traversing travelling types who fit under the umbrella of a ‘digital nomad’. Digital workers from all across the globe, who all want to find newer and better places to call their office.

In steps Coboat – a self professed ‘voyage of discovery’.  These guys combing co-living, co-working, travel and retreats into once pretty fantastic journey at sea. Think work-hard, play-hard on board a gorgeous catamaran. Networking, activities and excellent WiFi all on board. Not quite a tour as such, but definitely a creative and fascinating way to get a group of likeminded people together for an adventure! Learn more about CoBoat here >>>

In Search of Vikings

In search of Vikings

 

In search of Vikings? Ummm, yup! Got my attention. Another World Adventures have put together a pretty cool twist on the usual sailing tour, taking participants across the old route of the Vikings from Scotland to Iceland.

And it’s not just a sit-back-relax cruise deal either, this is a 22-day hands-on sailing trip through the Orkneys, Shetlands, Faroes and Outer Hebrides on the way to Iceland. Puffins, Villages, Iceland, and even a Viking excavation site. It’s pretty incredible really, and a bit of a history lesson in there as well. Awesome. Learn more about searching for Vikings here >>>

Home Cooked Istanbul

Home cooked Instanbul

Have you ever stepped into an entirely new country, but walked away feeling like you never really got it? Usually the case when you spend too much time pent up within the restrictive walls of traditional tourist activities.

The solution? Meet the locals!!

Urban Adventures will take you into the house of a local Turkish family in Istanbul where they will take you for a stroll around the neighborhood, teach you their games, hobbies and traditions and give you a unique insider’s perspective into what life in Turkey is really like over a shared Turkish meal. How’s that for creative travel? Exploring a new destination doesn’t get much more authentic than this.

Pretty cool, am I right? Learn more about home cooked Istanbul here >>>

Egypt and Jordan discovered by Felucca

Egypt and Jordan by Felucca

Do you know what a felucca is? I sure didn’t.. But it certainly got me curious for more!  Turns out a felucca is: ‘a traditional wooden sailing boat used in protected waters of the Red Sea and eastern Mediterranean including Malta, and particularly along the Nile in Egypt, Sudan, and also in Iraq. Its rig consists of one or two lateen sails.’

And Traveltalk tours offer a pretty stunning 15 day felucca cruise down the Nile. World wonders abound and an exploration of one of the oldest cultures in history. Both Egypt and Jordan provide some stunning landscape, architecture and interesting culture. Something a little different than your average cruise! Learn more about Egypt & Jordan by felucca here >>>

 7. Wild Horse Tracking in Patagonia

Wild horse tracking in Patagonia

Patagonia is so high up my to-do list right now, it looks breath-taking and has that element of the undiscovered that I like so much. Tucked away in the far reaches of South America, this sparsely populated region is shared by Argentina and Chile. Mountainous, coastal, grassy, deserts and steppes all feature here but right now it’s the horses we’ve come to see..

Technically the horse tracking is an add-on, and not a tour in its own right. But Cascada’s Patagonia eco tours look like an incredible way to experience some creative travel adventures, and wild horse spotting is just the icing on the cake here.

“Walk freely through pristine landscapes, where you’ll feel like an ancient tracker in search of these majestic animals” say Cascada, who will take you through these inspiring landscapes armed with a guide who is not only bilingual, but is also specialised in animal tracking and behaviour observation. Learn more about wild horse tracking here >>>

So, it turns out that tours aren’t all matching jumpers and megaphones after all. I feel like my whole perspective has been shifted! I am currently a bit obsessed with what fantastical tours I can find around the place, and would love to hear if you know of any!

9 epic reasons to chill out in Tapovan. RIshikesh. India

Tapovan: 9 epic reasons to visit Rishikesh

Tapovan captures the heart of the spiritual tourism industry, yet provides relief from the relentless hustle-and-bustle of Rajasthan. Tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas, I found myself on the edges of gorgeous Rishikesh.  The birthplace of yoga and a tranquil getaway just hours away from some of India’s most chaotic stopovers.

Rishikesh came as a breath of fresh air after a number of weeks exploring Rajasthan, the relentless  ‘Golden Triangle’. After two days on busy sleeper trains and grotty transit hotels, I was welcomed into this chilled out pace of life like an old friend. I had picked up a Workaway assignment, so made my way Northeast toward Tapovan to meet my hosts. I was pleased to arrive into a relaxed, leafy village nestled into the banks of the Holy Ganges.

Tapovan is very close to where the Ganges begin

Rishikesh is very close to where the Ganges begin and is a popular spot for swimming, bathing and washing clothes.

Tapovan – The forest of austerities

Note: there are a number of Tapovan’s in India! However, this post is about the one in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand.

Tapovan in sanskrit means forest of austerities, a fitting name for a leafy quarter overlooked by countless ashrams.  Up on the hills emerald jungles hide secret waterfalls and hiking trails up into the Himalayan foothills. This really is a rather special spot. I recommend Tapovan if you want keep a foot in the tourist-loop, yet relax a little more than other areas.


1 Meditation without the masses

Tapovan, Rishikesh is an excellent place to go for meditation

India provides a feast of meditation options, and is perhaps one of the elements the country is most famed for. Across the sub-continent you can find mind-blowingly large meditation halls swarming with meditators of all experience levels. However, Rishikesh offers smaller, less touristy and cheap (sometimes free) options to dodge the crowds and have a chilled, authentic, meditative experience.

There are plenty to choose from, and in & around the Tapovan area you can expect to pay around 300rs for a session. I opted for the free evening vipassana sessions at Ajatananda Ashram and had a series of excellent experiences. (They also provide free morning hatha yoga and various other fantastic things)


2 Lakshman Jhula bridge

Tapovan: 9 epic reasons to visit. Lakhsman Jhula BridgeOne of the most iconic and beautiful parts of Rishikesh I discovered was Lakshman Jhula, the iron suspension bridge connecting Tapovan village with Jonk village across the river Ganges. During the day this swaying contraption is brimming with selfie-wielding tourists who give ways to scooters, vendors and cows.. All the while monkeys dangle precariously, taking juice boxes from children and adventure-seekers paddle rafts underneath.

This is one of my favourite places to stop and take in the madness that is India – the sights sounds and smells of street food, scooter bustle and local women doing their daily washing in the river below. Unfortunately, this hive of activity is home to pickpockets, so, as with most places in India, keep a close eye on your belongings.

Overlooking Lakshman Jhula on either side are a number of great cafes serving up good food at good prices, as well as great views especially at sunset – I particularly enjoy Cafe De Goa on the Tapovan side for excellent sunset views of the bridge & the aarti.


3 Breathe in the nature

Trayambakeshwar. The marvellous, 13-story temple - one of the most famous in Rishikesh.

Trayambakeshwar. The marvellous, 13-story temple – one of the most famous in Rishikesh.

Rishikesh has an abundance of nature unlike anywhere in nearby Rajasthan. Far from the arid desert-scapes of Jaisalmer or the tireless bustle of Delhi, Rishikesh provides a refreshing burst of green forests and clear running water. It’s an easy stroll down to the river beach, where many take a dip in the refreshing waters. Before you get any visions of burning bodies and mukey, toxic waters, Rishikesh is different. This is where the Himalayas birth the Ganga – fresh and clean, before any of those goings-on.

TIP: There are plenty of great treks in the area that will take you to bubbling waterfalls or the marvelous sunset point. If walking isn’t your thing (but sunsets & waterfalls definitely are), you can always jump in a tuk tuk at the crack of dawn and take a peek before starting your day.


4 Camp on the banks of the Ganges

Does simply the word ‘India’ insite visions of camping? Nope? Me either. But, turns out it’s a thing – and a pretty popular thing at that. Usually bundled in with a rafting package, camping on the riverside provides an entirely new way to see the holy river Ganga.

A simple scan of Tripadvisor will show just how popular Rishikesh camping has become – from the humble, simple tent right through to glamping and river-front ‘camping’ luxury cabins, I reckon you might just find something that will suit your tastes.


5 A welcome break from the crazy

Tapovan: 9 reasons to visit. Free Spirit Cafe

The wonderful Free Spirit Cafe provides wonderful river views and chilled out vibe (with excellent, cheap food too)

I arrived from Jaisalmer, via a stopover in dust, hectic Bikaner. Before that – a whirlwind tour roughly around parts of the Golden Triangle. Crazy is an understatement – honking horns, relentless touts and partying backpackers set the scene for my previous few weeks. Rishikesh, however, is different.

This is a Hindu Holy city where meat and alcohol are strictly banned. Instead of bars and tandoori joints, Rishikesh is home to health-food shops, delish veggie cafes and juice bars that have found their niche with the health-conscious yoga crowds here. Whether this is to your taste or not, there’s no arguing that this city with a holy focus is a little more chilled out than it’s clambering neighbors.

Tapovan is the perfect village to kick back and watch the world (and the Ganges) go by with a thali plate packed full of veg curries + a masala chai. Check out the Free Spirit Cafe or Beatles Cafe for a relaxed, booze-free spot (with exceptional food) to enjoy the ambiance.


6 Don’t just feed your belly – feed your soul

Tapovan provides plenty of opportunities to get your hands dirty and give back to the community, especially if you are planning to stick around for a few weeks or months.

Ramana’s Garden Children’s Home is perfect if you are looking for a longer-term volunteer plan & want to work with children. “Ramana’s Garden Children’s Home in Rishikesh, India is home to over 60 at risk children and a free English medium school for over 160 students from Ramana’s Garden and local underprivileged families.”  You will need to commit for a minimum of three months, but if you have the time & love to spare it is a magical place and a wonderful cause to get involved in. Click here for a link to their ‘about volunteering’ page for more info.

Can’t stay this long? Or perhaps a children’s home is not quite up your alley? There are a number of Workaway hosts who will provide accommodation and food in exchange for voluntary work. In the region you can Teach English to young Tibetan monks, help out at a shelter for distressed women and children, teach in a charitable school, or perhaps work in healthcare with a women’s support NGO.


7 Explore the markets

Market culture is a way of life here. Like all Indian villages, the local market is the solid foundation underlying the community, Rishikesh is no different. If you explore either side of Lakshman Jhula you’ll find sari’s, jewels, and fragrant offerings of sandalwood, marigolds and roses. Receive a massage, have your astrology charts read or stock up on mangoes and holy Ganga water while you’re here.

The touts and shop owners are much less aggressive here than in cities further south, and although they seem a little less open to heavy bargaining, the experience of window shopping is considerably more pleasant than in Jaipur or Agra.

You will find more spiritual sellers on the Tapovan side peddling sandalwood jewelry, joss sticks and shiva statues. The Jonk side hosts a larger selection of cafes, restaurants and vendors selling clothing, jewellry and souvenirs.


8 Ganga Aarti, but not like you know it

Rishikesh is one of 3 holy cities India to host the spiritual power and incredible atmosphere of the Ganga Aarti.  The other two, Haridwar & Varinasi, tend to be massive affairs packed full of worshippers and onlookers. Each and every dusk the lamps are lit, the bells are rung and the mesmerising chants begin. Although not in Tapovan, Parmarth Niketan is your closest stop to soak up this massive spiritual spectacle, of if you feel like heading further into central Rishikesh then Triveni Ghat is the other breathtaking place to go.

For a slightly smaller affair, park up near Lakshman Jhula around dusk for a smaller (but still breathtaking) Aarti, you can watch from either sides of the banks or perch yourself atop one of the restaurant balcony areas.

Zambujeira do Mar: 5 Portuguese Hidden Hotspots you’ve probably never heard of. Aveiro, Porto, Zambujeira do Mar, Evora, Sagres

5 Portuguese Hidden Hotspots you’ve probably never heard of

Right – so you’ve heard of Portugal. Good start. But can you find it on a map? Chances are if you’re from the Southern Hemisphere, like me, you may have struggled with that one. British? Well you’ve probably got a head start – the Portuguese Algarve coast is British party vacation central. However, the party destinations of Faro and Lagos are truly not even the tip of the iceberg of what Portugal has to offer.

Of all the countries I’ve visited in my life (and that number keeps on growin!) Portugal remains one that holds a special place in my heart. It also seems to be the country I get asked about the most. It’s new on many people’s radars, and is one of those rare destinations that can offer you a truly European expedition without the hefty price tag of countries further North.

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