WHY TRAVELLING SOLO DOESN’T SUCK

Guest blog by: Rob Christian

For every adventure in the world, there are as many different travel styles and preferences. Generally, though, the three most prominent ways people prefer travelling is: with family, friends, or individually. Of these travelling styles, people tend to veer toward travelling in packs, with people they know.

I get it – the world can be a big, scary place and it is always comforting to be with someone you know and trust when venturing out into the great unknown. Another perk to travelling with friends from back home is that you will always share those memories together, for the rest of your life. I still chat about my Mongolian travels with the other three guys who travelled with me. There is no doubt that travelling with mates is awesome – and to some degree, safer.

But, one should not discount the art of travelling solo.

Barring all the obvious “pitfalls” that people will point out about travelling alone, to a large extent, people are generally nervous to put the unspoken issue to the test: can you rely on yourself to be okay in the world? The first time you leave home alone, it can be scary.

There are, however, different types of individual travel.

 

  1. Travelling individually, within a

Think Contiki, where, whether you’re a single traveller or not, you’ll be in the company of 18 to 35 year olds from all over the world. Contiki has plenty of group activities where you’ll get to know your tour mates — usually like-minded people who love to travel and have a good time. This is an ideal option for anyone who’s nervous to set off on an adventure truly on their own, which provides company and group experiences all in one. Contiki also provides “Me Time” on all of their adventures, so if you are keen for a bit of “alone time” away from the group, you can explore the “truly solo” travel bit on your own in a comfortable context.

  1. Travelling solo – and I mean solo

If you’ve got the cojones, you can set off on a worldly exploration just you and your trusty backpack. That’s the most “extreme” of the individual travel styles.

When I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, en route to do my Dive Masters course on Koh Tao, I had to catch a train to catch a ferry to the island. The problem was that the long distance train station was not at the airport, nor was there an obvious link to it. Walking out of the airport onto the roads at about 10 pm, I vaguely tried to follow the other tourists and the general flow of people towards, what I hoped, was the train station. Walking underneath dimly-lit highway bridges at night, carrying all of your worldly belongings, unsure if you are heading in the right direction and not having anyone else to share that feeling with, can be quite an experience. I made it in the end, with several backtrackings and quizzical staring at signs, trying to work out what “train station” was in Thai.

This may sound like a minor accomplishment, but it has a knock-on effect. The discovery that you actually will be okay when you are by yourself is empowering, not just in your immediate environment and context, but the rest of your life.

Travelling solo in this way, you learn to rely on yourself because you have to. Most people could do with this confidence boost, as we often play things safe in life knowing that we can fall back on the expertise and help of others. While there is nothing wrong with that, the ability to back yourself in a decision regarding something as small as which direction to turn down a road in a foreign country, can make a world of difference in your life in general. I know it did for me.

I’ve travelled seriously solo and individually within a group with Contiki, and both styles are great albeit much easier and cheaper with Contiki. It just comes down to your own personal preference.

The magic of travelling is that you could have an identical experience with anybody, but it would affect you differently. Travelling solo, in whichever way, you are pushed out of your comfort zone, and driven to interact and engage with new people. Some other benefits are: you are on your own schedule, and are free to do whatever you want, whenever you want; you can be whoever you want to be; and your experiences are your own.

In addition, the amount of new things you’ll learn, both about yourself, and your surroundings, will be invaluable.

NON-CONVENTIONAL WAYS TO SAVE MONEY FOR YOUR TRAVELS

Most people know that the secret to getting the best travel deals is to book early – for flights, accommodation, tours – basically, everything! If you didn’t know that, now you do (and it’s at this point that you should be contacting us to get the absolute best prices for your 2018 travels). Having said that, you should seriously check out our Flexi product range which allows you to secure your flight for R250, tour for R500 or holiday package for R1,000 and pay the rest off before your departure! Amazing, right?! Yip.

Now, once you’ve paid that minimal deposit, where do you start in saving for the rest of your trip? Chantal Ford put together a pretty cool post covering exactly that, for Contiki’s blog, which we’re re-sharing here.

USA1 image by Contiki

Guest blog by: Chantal Ford (via six-two)

We’ve heard the same standard tips for saving money time and time again – skip your morning latte, start walking to work, bring a lunch from home. But are those really our only options? Is no one getting creative in their efforts to save money nowadays?

These methods may not work for everyone, but just in case ham sandwiches and cutting out your morning caffeine really ain’t doing it for you, they may just be worth a shot…

CUTTING YOUR CABLE (TV subscriptions)

Like it or not, this is the new millennial trend that’s sweeping the globe. We know it sounds drastic, but once your cable’s gone, you probably won’t even miss it that much. You can watch pretty much everything online nowadays, and watching the Grammys is a nice excuse to go hang out with your parents and their full cable package.

 

SHOWERING TO MUSIC

Use your shower singing skills for good. Playing music while you shower helps you keep track of how long you’ve been lathering, so put on your favourite song and get everything clean before it’s over to save on your hot water bill.

 

SCHOOL SERVICES

You’d be surprised by how many services you can get on the cheap from students at local trade schools and colleges. Everything from teeth cleaning, mechanic work, salon services and massages can be obtained for a fraction of the price via student services.

 

SAYING BYE TO BANGS AND DYE

We’re not suggesting that you cut your hair entirely yourself unless you’re talented in that department, but there are certain aspects of your salon visit that you can cut out without looking totally crazy. Dye jobs and bang cuts have to be done more frequently than a standard style or trim, so either embrace your natural colour and long bangs, or learn how to cut your own fringe, rock your roots and grow that ombré into existence.

 

NO MORE PRESENTS

A Christmas or birthday with no gifts?! We know, it sounds so depressing. Unwrapping presents is so much fun, but money is the adult gift you really need in your life. If an e-transfer is too anticlimactic for you, your friends and family can still wrap your cheques or cash. No biggie.

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NO ATMS, EVER

We mean it. Unless you’re using your own bank’s ATM with no fees, don’t do it. Find your closest bank location, and start budgeting your cash better.

 

HOARDING YOUR CHANGE

Don’t carry change with you, ever. Put all of your wallet change in a jar. Going forward, when you buy something and get change for a bill, do the same. You’re more likely to think about your purchases when you’re paying with bills, and it’s an easy way to save bit by bit.

 

PAYING YOURSELF

It sounds a little weird, but just hear us out. Remember how good it felt when you got your allowance as a kid? Well, giving yourself an allowance for doing chores or frequent tasks is a fun way to save in your adult life, too. Pay yourself into your savings account/ jar every time you cook dinner, vacuum, or call your mom. It’s easy to remember, and makes your adult duties a bit less painful.

 

PATIENCE AND CONTEMPLATION

It may sound too simple to be true, but just delaying or really contemplating a purchase is actually helping people spend less. The KonMari Method – which has become a worldwide de-cluttering phenomenon – can also be applied to new purchases as well. Rather than holding an item you already own before deciding if you should part with it, holding potential purchases in the same way, and then contemplating whether or not the item brings you joy, makes you put more thought into every purchase.

Alternatively, avoiding impulse buys altogether by putting a 7-day, 14-day or even month-long pause on any purchases is a great way to assess whether you really want or need that item long-term. If the intense desire or need is still there after that time period, you can purchase it guilt-free.

 

SHOP MORE, WASTE LESS

No, not for shoes, we mean for groceries. Sticking to a list has always been a great way to buy less, but with the trend of buying in bulk, lots of people are actually just wasting more. If you buy enough food for the whole week and then your plans change, you’re stuck with food that’ll go bad before you have the chance to eat it. And how many times have you put things in the freezer and then forgotten that they existed? Freezer burn has claimed far too many chicken breasts in our lifetime… Especially when it comes to perishables like meat, fruit and veggies, buying what you need for one or two meals at a time can actually prevent waste, and you’ll save money by buying food you’ll actually eat.

 

HAPPY HOUR OR BUST

If you’ve gotta go out, get your money’s worth, even if that means drinking at 6pm instead of 11pm. Starting early doesn’t really qualify as an early night, and you’ll see a lot more mornings on the weekends that way as well.

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SHARING ACCOUNTS

Using the term ‘family’ loosely can save you and your friends big time. Netflix, Apple Music, gyms and lots more of your favourite services offer discounts for family accounts or even allow multiple people to utilise one account, so why not take advantage?

 

MAKING YOUR TRIUMPHANT RETURN TO THE LIBRARY

Remember this nostalgic place? You may not have been here since you were cramming for your finals, but it still exists, and it’s full of books and movies just waiting to be borrowed. You may love the smell of a newly purchased book, but they have candles for that now.

 

KEEP TRACK, DAILY

They say that millionaires know exactly how much money they have down to the dollar – why don’t you? Avoiding looking at your accounts doesn’t make your financial situation any better, and denial is not helpful on the path to savings. Look at your balance every day and start being accountable for your spending and savings. If the number you see on the screen makes you feel shitty, we bet you’re gonna have a frugal day. It hurts, but it works.

 

This post first appeared on six-two (by Contiki).

What to do in Northern Thailand

Warmer than Norway and greener than Greenland; as far as “norths” go, the north of Thailand is pretty brilliant.

Getting there is pretty simple as the Bangkok Chiang Mai train is not only fast, efficient and cheap, it’s also a Southeast Asian travel rite of passage. Choose first class and a private air-conditioned sleeper compartment; opt for second class to sit or sleep; or third and enjoy the fact that you’ve saved a bit of doh.

Travel overnight to make the most of your time; or travel by day to soak in the scenery. Bordering Laos and Myanmar, Northern Thailand is slightly cooler in temperature than the hot south. Rivers and rice fields meet rolling shades of green that cover hillsides throughout this ancient and luscious land. It’s a romantic notion sitting on a train, watching the scenery go by and reading a book or contemplating life.

CHIANG MAI

Although Chiang Mai itself can be busy and feel over-crowded at times, you’ll be exposed to the laid-back atmosphere of place soon enough. There is a large student scene which provides the place with a real buzz.

In Chiang Mai you’ll have loads of ancient historic sites to check out; the moated old quarter for one, is less built-up because any new buildings cannot be built higher than four storeys high. Then there are the Buddhist temples that will give you insight into the teachings and rituals of Buddhism. The oldest temple is called Wat Chiang Man; the most revered Wat Phra Singh; and the humblest and (arguably) the prettiest is Wat Phan Tao.

 

Chiang Mai is also a perfect base for trips deeper into the northern jungles. You can visit diverse hill tribe villages like Ban Mae Jok, low-rise houses made of wood and surrounded by quiet green gardens.

CHIANG RAI

Where Chiang Mai is a great hub for the more well known treks and excursions, Chiang Rai is the ideal “jumping off point” for the more undiscovered parts of the north – close to the border with Laos. Here you can sail down the Mekong river, see the town of Mai Sai (which is the boarder crossing into Myanmar), or learn about the history of the area at the Opium Museum. Chiang Rai itself is small but beautiful, the architectural highlight being the ghostly but ornate white temple of Wat Rong Khun. Chiang Rai is also a great place to take on a cooking course and take some impressive cooking skills back home with you.

 

LAMPANG

Lampang is the third largest town in Northern Thailand and capital of Lampang Province. The large town is another good base for day trips or to revive from a mountain hike. It’s still relatively quiet in terms of tourism compared to Chiang Mai, so you’ll feel you’ve strayed into an undiscovered Thai town. Again, there isn’t a lack of temples to visit, and the architecture and history of these lana-era temples will stay with you for the rest of your trip. You’re probably starting to get the picture of how important religion and temples are to Thailand, especially in the North.

But it’s not all temples and treks, because you can’t forget the most important part of visiting a country: the food! (See, we hadn’t forgotten your stomach). Gaang hanglair, a traditional northern curry, and Sukhothai’s signature noodle dish, are two of a handful of traditional northern dishes that you can still find if you look hard enough.

STUNNING MOUNTAIN TRIPS AND BEYOND

Go East of Chiang Mai and you’ll find the beautiful marked trails of Doi Khun Tan National Park. Go West and you’ll discover Mae Hong Son (which means “the city of three mists”) and is surrounded by the Shan Hills. If breath-taking mountain scenery is your thing, be sure to make the time to get out to places like Pai, a small hill station town that is popular with treks and activities within the Mae Hong Son Province and near the Myanmar border. And if rivers are your cup of Thai tea, then head further north to the Kok River.

If you’re looking to cover all the best parts of Northern Thailand in one week, Contiki has a great Northern Thai Highlights trip you should definitely consider. Northern Thailand is a spectacular place with so much to offer every type of traveller,  and is well worth adding to your bucket list.

Our top Thailand tips for first-timers  

By: Gabriella Brondani Rego

 

 

 

In this post, Miriam Schreiner, store manager at STA Travel in Thailand, shares more top tips with us which’ll come in handy if you’re preparing to visit Thailand for the first time.

Miriam’s essential packing tips for Thailand

#1. Pack light. Unless you go hiking up in Chiang Mai or Laos in December/January, it is pretty much hot all the time. It also doesn’t really get cool at night. Packing one light jersey and one pair of long pants will be more than enough. The chilliest you’ll get will be from the air conditioning in busses, restaurants or hotels.
Thailand is also a great shopping destination so there are plenty of opportunities to stock up on cheap clothes. Besides packing light, be sure to pack your swimming costume, sun screen and some mosquito spray for the evenings.
With those “wardrobe essentials” you’ll be good to go!

Any other NB info South Africans should be aware of when planning their Thailand trip?
Thailand is well known for its sex tourism and you’ll find it everywhere. There are many areas where you’ll find ping pong shows, strip clubs, prostitutes and everything that goes with it. Go out and have fun, but be watchful and don’t get too carried away.
Lady Boys are extremely common in Thailand. It’s not a myth, it’s true. So look closely when you are interested in a lady. If rejected, Lady Boys can get quite aggressive.
Generally there are a lot of scams going on around Thailand, particularly around the tourist areas.

If you find yourself in Bangkok along your Thailand trip, be careful with Tuk Tuk drivers as they often offer to take you around the city for 20 THB (which is close to nothing) to show you the sights. In reality, you get driven to different shops or travel agents where you will get pressured into buying something. For many things in Thailand you can negotiate the price, but don’t get too aggressive when doing so – especially in the crowded tourist areas where vendors can become violent in response to aggression. Rather step away, and go get what you want somewhere else.

 
Itching to book a trip to Thailand? Be sure to explore our Thailand destination hub – we’ve got loads of awesome travel deals to various parts of Thailand (and beyond!)

 

An Insider’s Guide to the Ultimate Thailand Trip    

By: Gabriella Brondani Rego

Has our last blog inspired you to book a trip to Thailand? We hope so.

If you’ve never visited Thailand before, where do you start in planning the perfect Thailand trip? You chat to an expert “on the inside” who can provide top tips as only a local guide can. We chatted to Miriam Schreiner, store manager at STA Travel in Thailand, who sheds light on some of Thailand’s top tourist hotspots for a range of interests and travel styles.

 

For the beach bums and water enthusiasts

Thailand is probably most famous for its abundance of breath taking beaches, and for good reason.

Koh Tao (also known as “Turtle Island” because of its shape) has become a scuba diving mecca for both beginners and experts. While the main focus is diving due to the abundant fish life and close proximity of dive sites to the island (you can get to two dive sites in about 40 minutes) there’s also the option of snorkelling and enjoying the spectacular marine life in that way.

Railay beach in Krabi is another spot that should be atop your bucket list of incredible beach spots.  The crystal clear water surrounded by iconic gigantic rocks is bound to take your breath away.

 

For adventure junkies and outdoor fanatics

Khao Yai National Park (about a three hour drive from Bangkok) and Khao Sok National Park (closer to Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui) are another two hot spots for outdoor enthusiasts where you’ll find an abundance of waterfalls, caves and jungle inhabitants.

Chiang Mai, situated in a more mountainous area, holds many hill tribe trekking options be it for one day or overnight.

If rock climbing is your thing, make sure you stop over in Krabi.

Koh Tao, although famous for scuba diving and snorkelling, also provides the opportunity for jungle hiking to be done in exploring the eastern side of the island, which is far less open to development due to the sloping geography. For those wishing to take part in a traditional Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) lesson, this is easily arranged and you will soon learn how hard it is to train in tropical heat.

 

For the party animals

The party animal mecca in Thailand? Koh Pha Ngan – most famous for their Full Moon Party – a monthly dance music festival set on Haad Rin Nok Beach which is scheduled every month at full moon. The event primarily features electronic music and attracts around 30,000 party-goers in a normal month who enjoy the tropical beach, party atmosphere and beach buckets filled with booze. This area has an abundance of beach bars, pubs and clubs to ensure the party rocks until the early hours of the morning.

Phuket’s famous Bangla Road in Patong Beach is another awesome area with a plethora of party options with a slight “red light district” ambiance.

 

If you’re struggling to decide which of the above options tickle your fancy most, why not cover beach, outdoors and party all in one go? Be sure to explore our Thailand destination hub for more. We’ve got many sweet Thailand packages (no reference to lady boys at all, we swear) so be sure to check out all of our options when it comes time to planning your ultimate Thailand trip.

 

Thai(sland) Hopping

By: Gabriella Brondani Rego

 

Thailand as a holiday destination has long been a firm favourite for South Africans of all ages, with its popularity having increased significantly over the past few years. There are many reasons that contribute to Thailand’s appeal: the beaches, the nightlife, and the affordability aspect, to name but a few.

Thailand really has so much to offer the holiday-goer. Here’s a handy Thai(sland) hopping guide to the beautiful Southeast holiday destination.

Two of the main areas most popular among travellers are:

  1. The Gulf of Thailand
  2. The Andaman Sea

Both of these areas offer the option to hop around to some spectacular islands, and since there are regular ferries operating every day, it is a very appealing and affordable option for the economical traveller and backpacker.

 

The Gulf of Thailand

A rather large Gulf comprising of many islands (bordering the South of Thailand), the three main islands that feature on most tourists’ must-visit destinations are: Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan. The word “koh” translates into “island” and in this context, it introduces the name of each island in the Gulf.

  • Koh Samui is by far the largest island out of the three and is a central point for travelling to the other two. As the second largest island in Thailand (after Phuket) you will find sandy beaches, coral reefs, coconut trees and tourist resources in abundance across the island.
  • Koh Tao (which translates into “Turtle Island” due to its turtle outline and shape) is a mecca for scuba diving and snorkelling. When compared to the other two main islands, this island is a lot more rustic and tucked away in the gulf. Covering an area of about 21km², it is pretty easy to get around the entire island in one day, especially if you rent a scooter. Koh Tao is less developed than Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, but has become increasingly popular especially with the mid-20s backpacker crowd in search of relatively inexpensive scuba diving certification. While the main focus is diving due to the abundant fish life and close proximity of dive sites to the island (you can get to two dive sites in about 40 minutes) there is also some jungle hiking to be done in exploring the eastern side of the island, which is far less open to development due to the sloping geography. For those wishing to take part in a traditional Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) lesson, this is easily arranged and you will soon learn how hard it is to train in tropical heat.
  • Koh Pha Ngan is a popular destination for backpackers and partygoers. Probably most famous for their Full Moon Party, a monthly dance music festival set on Haad Rin Nok Beach which is scheduled every month at full moon. The event primarily features electronic music and attracts around 30,000 party-goers in a normal month who enjoy the tropical beach, party atmosphere and beach buckets filled with booze.

The Andaman Sea

Located on the west side of Thailand, the main destinations that tourists tend to visit are: Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Krabi. Technically, only two of those are islands, as Krabi is part of the mainland. But Krabi is a good place to visit nonetheless owing to the awesome Tonsai Beach and limestone rocks for those wanting to try out some rock climbing.

  • Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and easily accessible by plane. A great place to start any Thailand island trip. Patong Beach, located on the central west coast, is Phuket’s most popular (and often overcrowded) tourist area. Most of Phuket’s shopping and nightlife is found in Patong, an area that has seen substantial development recently.
  • Koh Pi-Phi is a tiny group of islands which occupy about 12.25km². It is a great place to experience true island lifestyle as there isn’t much else to do here but swim, dive, drink cocktails and soak up the sun.
  • Krabi is part of the mainland but is frequented just as much as the other islands. This is due to the famous Tonsai beach that is located just next to it. For the adventurous traveller, you can actually swim between these two beaches at high tide, using the slack-lines that are connected between two rocks over the ocean, or venture into the jungle for a bit of rock climbing with spectacular views.

 

If you’re looking to explore the many Thailand holiday options available to you, check out our Thailand destination hub.

Contiki has some pretty awesome options to ensure that you cover the best of both regions we’ve covered in this post. Contiki’s nine day Thai Island Hopper West will have you covering the Andaman Sea in all its glory, including the opportunity to watch the sunset over the Andaman Sea from the highest viewpoint on the island, as well as a day visit to the infamous “James Bond Island.” Their Thai Island Hopper East will ensure you don’t miss a beat across the Gulf of Thailand where relaxing to the max on pristine beaches will be the order of the day.

Wherever your Thai(sland) hopping adventure takes you, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the adventure, fun, and endless and breath taking coastlines this Southeast Asia destination has to offer.

 

Hello, Cresta and Backpacker by STA!

So, this post isn’t related to a destination or adventure as such, but, the news we’ll be sharing in it will go a long way in spreading the travel love even further and ensuring that more people explore more places to then create even more awesome blog content.

We’re really excited to announce that we’ve just launched two new stores!

The first being in Cresta Shopping Centre in Johannesburg. Our Cresta store is located directly opposite the Dischem Pharmacy store inside the shopping centre, on the lower level. In terms of size, this is our biggest, so be sure to check it out and let us know what you think.

Cresta STA Travel details

Trading hours:

  • Monday:         09:00 – 18:00
  • Tuesday:         09:00 – 18:00
  • Wednesday:   09:00 – 18:00
  • Thursday:       09:00 – 18:00
  • Friday:             09:00 – 18:00
  • Saturday:        09:00 – 15:00
  • Sunday:           10:00 – 14:00

Store location:

Shop no. BL11 , Cresta Shopping Centre

Corner Beyers Naude Drive and Weltevreden Road

Cresta

Randburg

Cresta STA Travel contact:

Store Phone No: 011 678 1889

Email: cresta@statravel.co.za

 

 

Backpacker STA

 

Backpacker by STA is the next addition to the STA Travel South Africa family and is something pretty cool! Located at 91 Loop in Cape Town, Backpacker by STA is a “one stop shop” for all things day trips, tours, flights, transport, accommodation and packages for across South Africa and Africa.

Run by backpackers, for backpackers – the neon orange love child of STA Travel and a local tour kiosk, we’ve been trusted by travellers since 1979.

As backpackers, we’re seasoned experts at:

  1. a) always finding the cheapest trips, hostels and flights
  2. b) chatting up other backpackers, and
  3. c) locating happy hours…

We’re the place where you first met your travel buddy, flatmate or husband; the place fondly remembered at wedding speeches and cited in divorce courts. Call in to meet other backpackers, get the local gossip or at the very least, charge your phone and steal our Wi-Fi.

At Backpacker by STA, you’ll have access to the best options for SA and Africa-travel, provided to you by the best in the travel business – any time.

 

Backpacker by STA contact details

Email: 91loop@statravel.com

Tel: +27 21 204 3330

Whats App: +27 82 681 1254

Address: 91 Loop Street, City Bowl, Cape Town

 

And this is not where it ends. More exciting things will be launched and announced in the months to come… So be sure to “like” our Facebook page for all the latest news (and travel deals!)