Love to pack our bags and travel the world

I traveled to Vienna and Salzburg right before Christmas in 2010 and it was the most magical Christmas experience of my life. It had snowed heavily right before our plane landed, so the whole country was covered in a soft blanket of white – a perfect backdrop for its numerous bustling Christmas markets, where we drank a fair amount of gluhwein and ate too many holiday sweets. This American also had her very first run-in with the European-style St Nicholas and his more threatening counterpart Krampus; both happened to be walking down the streets of Salzburg like old chums, and I had to consult a local pretzel maker to figure out who Santa’s terrifying monster pal was.

I traveled to Vienna and Salzburg right before Christmas in 2010 and it was the most magical Christmas experience of my life. It had snowed heavily right before our plane landed, so the whole country was covered in a soft blanket of white – a perfect backdrop for its numerous bustling Christmas markets, where we drank a fair amount of gluhwein and ate too many holiday sweets. This American also had her very first run-in with the European-style St Nicholas and his more threatening counterpart Krampus; both happened to be walking down the streets of Salzburg like old chums, and I had to consult a local pretzel maker to figure out who Santa’s terrifying monster pal was.

 

Four’s a crowd on a honeymoon in Thailand

I went to stay with my friend in Bangkok last December, and over Christmas we decided to head down to Phuket for a couple of days. Checking Facebook upon arrival, we realised that some friends of ours were in town at the same time – on honeymoon. After a day drinking Singhas on the beach, we decided to surprise them by crashing their first Christmas dinner as a married couple at Baan Rim Pa. Looking back, I imagine they didn’t much appreciate us joining them at probably the most romantic restaurant in Thailand. Still, it’s not every Christmas you get to spend catching up with friends on the other side of the world.

February for wildlife and nature TIPS & ARTICLES

For land-lovers, snow leopards and huge vistas of ice await in India; underwater explorers can swim with whale sharks in the balmy waters of the Philippines; and there’s a special treat for spotters who can bear witness, not only to spectacular birdlife in Japan, but to the spectacle of millions of monarch butterflies taking flight in Mexico.

 

Head to Ladakh, India, for snow leopards and ice trekking

Brrrrrrr! It’s not warm in the Himalayan heights of northwest Indiaright now (days around 21°F; -6°C). But it’s worth braving the cold for a couple of very special experiences. Wildlife fans should head for Hemis National Park, home to a 400-year-old monastery, and one of the few places on the planet where the elusive snow leopard isn’t quite so elusive. During winter mating season – which peaks in February – the high-dwelling big cats descend to the valleys here to find mates, making them easier to spot. Alternatively, trekkers can check out the Chadar. This challenging winter hike starts near Leh, and uses the frozen Zanskar River as its path – walking on this icy meander is the only way to access the highland villages at this time. February is when the ice is at its most stable; the temperature is biting, but the snow-cloaked mountains spectacular.

  • Trip plan: Fly to Leh. Hemis is 6 miles (10 km) south, where guided treks in the Tarbuns Valley may yield leopards. The Chadar hike starts in Chilling, 40 miles (65 km) from Leh, and takes six days.
  • Need to know: Leh is at 11,483ft (3500m) so stay well-hydrated to help altitude acclimatisation.
  • Other months: Nov-Mar – cold, snowy (Jan-Feb: Chadar possible); Apr-May & Oct – quiet, cool; Jun-Sep – best for regular trekking.

Perfect wedding day

With these top ten budget-friendly getaways you can count your pennies without compromising on all the once-in-a-lifetime experiences, dynamic culture and delicious cuisine you could want for your first adventure as newlyweds.

 

Morocco

Arabian exoticism, fragrant spices – and lovely low prices. Morocco’s hard to beat for bargain romance. Marrakesh, Fez and Essaouira offer time-warp medinas chock-full of character and cheap cafes. Eschew your sense of direction to get lost in the maze-like souqs – the shopping possibilities are plentiful, with everything from carpets to babouches to be snapped up. Converted riads (traditional courtyard houses) offer accommodation with oodles of atmosphere; some are pricey but many are astonishingly reasonable, enabling palace-like stays on a pauper’s budget.

 

India

Long-favoured by the impecunious, India has become more expensive – but, mostly, it’s still amazingly cheap. For instance, opulent Palace On Wheels trains might be dear, but even budget ’mooners can afford first-class on India Rail – a Delhi-Udaipur overnighter costs around US$20 second-class, and only US$10 more in first-class sleeper.

 

Vietnam

You could get by for less than US$10 a day in Vietnam and still eat like a king – it’s street-food heaven. Make sure to sample the city’s signature dishes: beef pho, bun cha (barbecued pork with rice noodles) and chow a bánh mì (baguette) as you wander. A mid-range trip won’t break the bank either, but will buy more characterful guesthouses, a better Halong Bay cruise and memorable experiences (a cookery class, a cycle around Hoi An) with change left for a beach stay on beautiful Phu Quoc Island.

 

Portugal

Portugal is liberating. The little anxieties – is that cafe too posh for us? Can we afford another coffee? – don’t exist here. Even in fancier establishments, espressos usually cost less than US$1, beers no more than US$2. You find yourself ordering a second pastel de nata (divine Portuguese custard tart) – well, why not? There are cute casas and converted farmhouses oozing charm for under US$100 a night, too.