How to rent a scooter in Southeast Asia (and live to tell the tale)

Many travelers dismiss the idea of renting automatic scooters in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world on account of not having a license. But those travelers are missing out, argues Ben Groundwater.

“Have I made a terrible mistake?” That’s a question you will most definitely ask yourself at some point on a motorbike adventure in Southeast Asia. That and others like,”‘Was this the worst idea I’ve ever had?”And, “Should I give up, turn around, and just forget this whole thing ever happened?”

They’re reasonable questions and certainly, all of them flashed through my mind as I hurtled through the chaos of noise, dust and bright lights that is central Ho Chi Minh City. I was only about two minutes into my six-day journey around southern Vietnam. Have I made a terrible mistake? Possibly.

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Beaten, not defeated: The joys of Southeast Asia’s well-trodden path

Everybody loves getting off the beaten path—but there’s still plenty of magic to be found on it. Southeast Asia expert, John Borthwick, shares how to make the most of some of the region’s most popular spots.

The beaten path has had lousy press ever since Adam followed Eve’s footprints across the garden. But let’s be frank: Almost anywhere on the planet now can trend as someone’s digital version of the beaten track. So, does avoiding them mean we are doomed to skip the world’s great destinations?

When visiting a heritage-listed visitor magnet, today’s traveler has to strategize their route along that beaten (but not defeated) path. This might mean fine-tuning your traveling season (preferably not peak), your target days (usually mid-week), and even the time of that day. Try it when planning your time at these still-great Southeast Asian spots.

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Forget the Arctic, how about husky sledding in Australia?

Beaches, deserts, rainforests, and crocs: Australia is famous for many things—but husky sledding definitely isn’t one of them. Is there really enough snow Down Under for a bonafide dog-sledding experience?

A pack of dogs with wolf-like good looks and bull-like strength is pulling essential supplies through the Alaskan tundra. They’re heading for northern Canada, then Greenland. Their double-layered coats, leather-like feet, and muscular build make them perfect creatures for the task. The year is 1,000 AD (or thereabouts.)

Their masters, their mushers, are the Thule people; the highly-skilled and adaptable ancestors of all modern-day Inuit. While the first domesticated dogs were primarily used for hunting (and some, for eating) the Thule are thought to have been the first to harness dogs and use them to pull sleds.

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A country that doesn’t exist: The twilight zone of Transnistria

A breakaway, ex-Soviet region that issues its own passports and isn’t recognized by the rest of the world? That’s only half the appeal of visiting this nation in limbo.

Small men in big hats boarded our bus to ask for passports. Our guide hissed out a warning: “No photos! No photos!” We were about to cross a border that isn’t a border, into a country that isn’t one. As the guards finally waved us through, our guide smiled with relief. “Welcome to Transnistria,” she said in Russian-accented English, “A place that does not eeeeks-zeeest.”

Unrecognized by the international community, Transnistria, aka the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, is a skinny Rhode Island-sized breakaway enclave from Moldova that borders Ukraine. Ethnically Russian, it is enthusiastically Soviet in spirit, circa 1957, where Lenin statues and propaganda posters punctuate streets lined with decrepit state apartment complexes.

It prints its own money and issues passports—neither of which are accepted anywhere outside its borders. There’s limited internet, few places accept credit cards, and the ATMs are “connected to what, who knows?”

So what’s a traveler to do in this state-sized, retro-communist theme park?

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Is ‘begpacking’ 2017’s worst travel trend?

Tourists funding their trips by begging for change or selling wares once they reach a destination is becoming a common sight. But is it ever OK to ask other people to help finance your holiday?

This idea that you can travel the world for free, that you can rely purely on the kindness of strangers to fund your adventures and to ensure your survival: It should be a mark of shame. And yet some travelers wear it like a badge of honor. That’s confusing to me.

These are the ‘begpackers’, the band of travelers who arrive in their destination with next to nothing, who plan on going cap in hand—to not only other travelers, but locals, too—to help make their way around the world.

It sounds unbelievable. Like, who would have the chutzpah to do such a thing? Who would be able to talk themselves into believing this is a reasonable thing to do?

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Roller luggage is dead. Long live the backpack

Old-school travel writer David Farley ditched his beloved backpack in favor of a high-tech rollie. But it didn’t quite kick-start the ascent to the elite travel lifestyle he’d hoped. 

Luggage with wheels is one of those simple ideas that makes you think: What took us so long?

The original Rollaboard suitcase with its wheels and pull-up handle was invented by airline pilot Robert Plath in 1987 and was initially the domain of flight crews, but by the mid-1990s, airport terminals had started filling up with suitcase-pulling travelers. And by the last decade—when most airlines began charging for checked baggage—the carry-on-sized Rollaboard and its predecessors had practically put wheel-less baggage on the endangered luggage list.

Rolling a carry-on certainly adds a level of convenience when you’re literally on the move. And as a travel writer, you’d think I would have adopted it several revolutions around the world ago.

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Give an adventure: Our top picks for experiences you can gift

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of experiences. And this gift-giving season, we encourage you to give them without hesitation—you might just change someone’s life (or at the very least, their weekend.)

In this strange season of rampant consumerism, it can be easy to forget that experiences have been scientifically proven to bring us longer-lasting benefits than stuff.

After all, a new travel neck pillow is nice, but it isn’t going to change your life (but if you’ve found one that has, let us know). That’s why you always hear people referring to their “life-changing experiences” and never their “life-changing travel pillows.”

So instead of buying material goods, consider gifting your loved ones a private cooking class via Skype with a Michelin-starred chef from Singapore, or a wilderness survival course, or even a mystery flight. Here are our editors’ top picks for experiences to gift this holiday season.

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