How to get a cheap hotel

In recent years social travel networks have become increasingly popular, largely thanks to a rising interest in experiential and responsible tourism. Travellers are looking for new ways to engage with local communities and delve into the heart of a country’s culture.

One of the best ways to gain a genuine insight into your destination is to opt for a homestay. Offering something a night in a hotel can never provide, they give you a real experience of local life, connect you with like-minded people and can provide a vital source of revenue in struggling economies.

Here are just a few reasons to consider a homestay next time you travel.

 

1. To explore somewhere new

Homestays provide the chance to get to know a destination you probably wouldn’t have explored otherwise. Not only could you find a neighbourhood, town, or village yet to feature on the tourist map, but you’ll learn about local customs and traditions, from eating habits to family routines.

 

2. To get under the skin of a city

Sprawling metropolises such as Paris, New York, Rome and London might count among the world’s greatest cities – but they’re hard to get to grips with in a weekend. Stay with a resident, and you’ll have the ultimate insider to guide you.

Hosts will give you the scoop on the hidden highlights and unusual attractions. They might tip you off on the best place to watch the sunrise, share their favourite cosy café, or help you find the city’s coolest bar scene.

 

3. For memorable meals

Many hosts will rustle up a traditional meal, or include breakfast in the price of the room. Take this opportunity to sample authentic dishes – a homemade miso soup in Japan or fresh arancini in Italy could give any restaurant a run for its money.

If you want to put your own culinary skills to the test, offer to help out and you’ll likely head home with a new recipe or two up your sleeve. You could even cook a traditional dish from your own country to share with your host, making the experience one of genuine cultural exchange.

The most remote places in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia may have some of the most blissful destinations in the world but it also has some of the planet’s most frenetic cities, its most popular backpacker haunts and some seriously crowded sands. We’ve been far off the beaten track to find the most remote places in Southeast Asia. Here are a few of our favourites.

 

1. Mindat, Chin State, Myanmar

Mindat is known worldwide as the home of the tattoo-faced ladies of the Chin tribes, but few tourists make it out to this remote village in the shadow of Mount Victoria. Those who do are rewarded with fresh mountain air, a fascinating Christian culture and some of the friendliest people in Southeast Asia – not to mention superb trekking. If you want to visit, be sure to read up on how this kind of community-based tourism can be done ethically here.

 

2. Saluag, The Philippines

Life on Saluag is all about fishing, seaweed farming and boat making. There’s little to do here on the Philippines’ southernmost isle besides chilling out, and watching sea eagles soar above the soft waves.

How to get there: fly from Zamboang City to Bongao on Tawi-Tawi, hire a tricycle to Chinese Pier and take the ferry to Barangay Tandubanak on Sibutu. From here take a motorcycle taxi 30 minutes south to Barangay Tandu-owak where the boat leaves for Saluag, 40 minutes away.

 

3. Koh Thmei, Cambodia

Thousands of birds populate this isolated isle and there’s just one place to stay, the Koh Thmei Resort. Nothing spoils the sea view from your wooden bungalow at the water’s edge and wildlife-spotting is a breeze with some 150 types of feathery friend – plus dolphins and sea eagles. The island is part of Ream national park, but several long leases have been granted to developers in recent years; go now.

How to get there: take the bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, getting out at Ou Chamnar. Hire a moto taxi to Koh Kchhang Fishing Village, where the boat departs for the resort. The crossing is one hour.

Great alternative traveling in UK city

London, Edinburgh, Cardiff… These are the usual suspects when visitors are thinking about UK city breaks. But there are actually 66 other cities to be explored throughout this land, each with something different to offer. Here’s our pick of the 8 best alternative UK city breaks.

 

1. Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast rarely makes the cut on UK weekend getaway lists, but there’s plenty to lure you to Northern Ireland’s port-side capital for a 48-hour minibreak. On these lanes you can get educated at the Titanic Museum, stretch the legs along the ancient walls of Londonderry, or wet (or drench) your whistle in the pubs along Great Victoria and Donegall streets.

If the hubbub of the city overwhelms, Belfast is a good springboard to explore the rest of the region; the mountains of Mourne and the Giant’s Causeway are within easy reach. Just be sure to pack for any weather you could possibly imagine. This is a “four seasons in a day” kind of place.

 

2. St Davids, Wales

To the untrained eye, St Davids could be mistaken for yet another tiny Welsh town. But locals will be quick to tell you that this is as much of a city as London or Manchester, thanks to its handsome cathedral where Wales’s patron saint, St David, is buried.

Beyond a mooch around the cathedral and posting a cryptic status update saying “I’m in the UK’s smallest city. Where am I?”, there’s not a great deal else to do here. Try the Pebbles Espresso Bar and Gallery for a caffeine hit while looking at world-class photography, or escape to the country into nearby Pembrokeshire National Park.

 

3. Canterbury, England

OK – Canterbury can’t really be described as a “hidden gem”. High-speed Javelin trains hurl visitors from London to the Garden of England in their thousands every year. But, so long as you can overlook the selfie-stick wielding mob, the car-free centre and creaking lopsided Tudor coaching inns might well transport you back to a simpler time.

Most of Canterbury’s modern-day pilgrims come here for the city’s rich history, and few will miss its blockbuster sight: the cathedral. When you need refuelling, make a beeline to the Goods Shed farmers’ market for organic picnic fodder or, upstairs, to the excellent restaurant.

The best places to camp around the world

There are few more rewarding feelings than pitching your tent and spending the night beneath the stars. Whether you want to escape to a remote mountainside or find an idyllic coastal campsite, there are some spectacular locations to discover. From New Zealand to Finland, this is our pick of the best places to camp around the globe.

 

1. Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

You can’t talk about camping without waxing lyrical about New Zealand’s out-of-this-world landscapes. Mount Cook (or Aoraki to the Maori) is the country’s highest mountain and the entire surrounding rugged region is the South Island’s finest outdoor playground. Views from the campgrounds here are simply staggering.

 

2. Devon, England

The southwest of England feels a million miles from the rest of the UK. The campsites on Dartmoor and Exmoor are fantastic places to pitch a tent, while you’ll find spots with unbeatable vistas along the craggy cliffs that sweep down to the Atlantic on the north Devon coast. Come in autumn, when you can watch a huge red sun dip slowly over the horizon.

 

3. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, Scotland

The scattered peaks, valleys and villages of the Trossachs – often called the Highlands in miniature – make an incredibly scenic backdrop for a camping trip. Amid these romantic lochs and glens you’ll find everything from sprawling caravan parks to remote wild camping spots; be sure to read the Outdoor Access Code before you go.

The ultimate guide to see America

South Dakota, one of the USA’s Great Plains states, holds an annual buffalo roundup in Custer State Park. Last week was the 51st event and we were lucky enough to be in the area. Here’s the lowdown…

 

What is a buffalo roundup, exactly?

First, the roundup is a practical business – it’s undertaken by people on horses (wranglers) to assess the size and health of the herd – but it’s also one of the best days out you can have on the Great Plains.

The vibe is about as South Dakota as it gets, all state pride and local flavour: Miss South Dakota beaming for pictures from atop her horse; long lines for buns stuffed with pulled buffalo (optional baked beans and nachos on the side); the smell of horses and manure spiking the air; and wranglers in chaps strutting about, bow-legged from a lifetime in the saddle.

 

What’s the history of the roundup?

The roundup is also a deep insight into the country’s past. The story of these enormous beasts is one of America’s most epic. They roamed the Plains in their tens of millions before the arrival of European settlers and Native American life revolved around them.

Through the 1800s, the bison were shot for their hides and meat; for sport (including ‘hunts’ involving potshots from the comfort of trains); to make space for cattle and farming; and, shamefully, to deny Native Americans their main food source. Come the end of the century, bison numbers had dwindled to just 700 or so.

So while it was an unforgettable occasion, full of the kind of ‘authentic’ experience every tourist craves, I watched the majestic running of the animals with sadness too. The thunder of their hooves could once rival that of the vast skies above.

 

Wait, bison? Where are the buffalo?

It isn’t actually a buffalo roundup. It’s a bison roundup. The settlers misnamed them because of their likeness to the buffalo that roam Asia and Africa, and the tag stuck. But they’re bison.

And, in case you’re wondering, bison are also very different to cattle. The far more docile cattle were introduced by Europeans, and need a lot of care. Bison are indigenous and uncooperative, so for the rest of the year, the herd are left mostly to their own devices – they know how to take care of themselves.