Guy – one of my best friends in this world – is now a New Zealand resident. He’s been there for a while but is currently back in the UK for a couple of weeks visiting family and friends.
We always keep in touch on Facebook and Skype but it’s so cool to see him in the flesh for a man-hug and a beer and to catch up properly. He’s always got something new and exciting to tell me. He’s living the dream.
And who’d blame him? New Zealand is home to, arguably, the most picturesque landscape on the planet.
With my 30th birthday breathing down my neck – I know, I look so vibrant and youthful – I’ve decided that I’d best pull my finger out and get my New Zealand WHS Visa… before it’s too late!
You’d think it would be pretty straightforward. Well, it is, if you’re under 30 and only applying for the 12-month version.
Here’s how I got my 23-month New Zealand WHS Visa and why pushing 30 makes it that little bit more difficult.
What Is A New Zealand WHS Visa?
The Working Holiday Scheme allows foreigners to work in New Zealand for a period of 12 or 23-months.
It’s a specific type of visa for temporary visitors who wish to experience the working culture and supplement their travels.
The last time I needed a WHS Visa was back in 2011 when I took a trip to Australia. I was a mere slip of a man back then at just 25. I had no reason to believe that my age would be an issue and it wasn’t.
Then, that’s your lot! The New Zealand WHS Visa is available to all those aged 31 and under. Skilled workers can extend their time in the country but that’s a completely different story.
The idea here is to make sure you apply when you’re 30 – at the very latest – to give yourself the maximum amount of time available to get to New Zealand, activate your visa and enjoy your 12-months.
So, that’s 12-months sorted. But, what about 23-months?
23-month New Zealand WHS Visa
With a 23-month visa comes a few more requirements – good health being one of them – and at a slightly higher cost. Each applicant who intends to stay in New Zealand for more than 12 months needs to prove that they are fit and healthy.
It came as a bit of a surprise though to find that I would need to arrange for a full general medical exam – including a chest x-ray and blood tests – at my own expense. Typically, there are a select few doctors on their list that perform these visa medical examinations and they don’t come cheap.
The visa application itself was £98.
The visa medical with one of their approved panel physicians is, wait for it… £325!
I know what you’re thinking… “You crazy son of a mum!”.
£423 spent before I’ve even been approved to enter the country. But, I respect and understand the need for the medical entirely. In the words of Immigration New Zealand:
“To be able to enter New Zealand as a student, worker, or visitor we need to be assured that you and any family members with you have an acceptable standard of health. We impose this requirement to protect public health in New Zealand and to ensure that people entering New Zealand do not impose excessive costs and demands on our health and special education services. We also want to make sure that people who enter New Zealand are able to undertake the work or study for which they have been granted entry.”
Which Bridge Did I Have To Cross?
Having decided to apply directly to Immigration New Zealand, I filled out an initial online application. This is pretty much just a formality to register your details and give them an indication as to what it is you’re looking for.
I immediately received an automated email from “onlineservices@…” with a document attached outlining the following requirements. “Too good to be true”, I thought. “It HAS to be bad news.” But, why? I’d hardly been given a chance to show them how much of an upstanding – albeit, temporary – New Zealand citizen I would be.
Just to add to the suspense, the attachment wouldn’t open on my iPhone. They had mentioned this in the email as if to build upon my anticipation.
No worries, though. My initial application had been noted – so it was in fact, good news. However, it was only then that I found out what the damage was. I now had just 15 consecutive days to get the money together, arrange the medical, and send them my completed documents. Yeah, the ones that had to be signed by their approved panel physicians.
I had to take it on the chin. I’m pushing 30. If I didn’t just go for it and get on the working holiday scheme then I may never have the chance to do so ever again.
And so, I searched for my local panel doctors and booked an appointment for the following Thursday.
About two hours prior, I had printed out all of the forms I thought I would need to take to the appointment. It turns out that the UK is part of eMedical so everything is done digitally on the day anyway.
The Funny Thing Is
I’m convinced that I’ve actually SAVED myself money. By going directly via Immigration New Zealand and booking the medical myself, I am well on the way to getting my 23-month New Zealand WHS Visa.
The New Zealand Visa Bureau quoted me £189 for just 12 months. I’d expect the extra 11 months to also include a medical if I were to have applied through them and – more than likely – at a greater cost than Immigration New Zealand. Having said that though, their working holiday visa package includes access to the Platinum Programme, which features over NZ$700 worth of exclusive discounts.
You’re sitting at your desk on Monday morning. It’s pissing down outside and all you want to do is go home again. It’s 8:59am and you’re already wishing it was Friday. You grab your phone in defiance and start scrolling through Instagram. Selfie after selfie after food shot after selfie – and then – you stop dead.
A Bangkok street food stall has caught your eye. Mesmerised by the array of colours, you’re transported from your dull, dreary office, to the streets of Thailand. You can almost smell the Khao gang and hear the hum of passers-by. Your mouth starts to water. You crave an escape.
But, the cruel reality of it is; your escape is going to cost you money. To get that money is going to take some time. Saving money for your dream trip can be pretty tough but, I promise you, it’s a massively rewarding task.
I wanted to share with you all how I plan to save £10,000 for travel. Yeah, it may sound like a lot of money to some; not enough to others, but it’s all relative to what YOU want to do, where you want to go and how long you want to be gone for.
I’ve put some of these points into action already and plan to do the rest as I go along. I hope that, with these tips and a little bit of hard work and focus on your part, I’ll inspire you to do the same.
Here’s how I plan to save £10,000 for travel.
Review My Monthly Outgoings
I’ve noted down all of my monthly outgoings in a list from biggest at the top to smallest at the bottom. I’ve then totalled them all up.
Then, I worked out the difference between my monthly take-home salary (after tax and national insurance) and my outgoings. Looking pretty bleak, right? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
This seems like a really simple, straightforward task but it’s actually a bit of an eye-opener. You’ll probably find that you’re spending more than you realise each month on regular payments, subscriptions, and the like, but you’ll also see that total amount as a figure that needs to be reduced if you’re to be able to get some money behind you for your travels.
The moment I knew exactly what I was spending each month I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I was starting to take control – not only of my finances – but of my dream; to travel the world.
This leads us nicely on to the next task on how I plan to save £10,000 for travel.
Cut Back On Unnecessary Costs
After I’d let my monthly outgoings sink in – had a stiff drink – and composed myself, it was time to get brutal.
Do I really need that £100-per-month Virgin TV subscription when Netflix is so much better – and cheaper? What about my car insurance – maybe changing providers would reduce that? Do I even use my gym membership? Actually, yeah, the gym helps to keep me sane, I need that.
Ok, so maybe you do still need most of the things on your list but the whole idea here is to evaluate every single outgoing and take some action to minimise it in some way. The changes you make could result in a saving of £100-per-month or £10-per-month. Regardless, it’s a positive step towards freeing up the funds for your plane ticket.
Get in touch with each company or provider, one-by-one, and see what they can do to help you cut the costs. If they’re adamant that there’s nothing they can do with regard to your monthly payment then don’t be afraid to ask for some freebies or offers. It’s their job to keep you sweet and it’s better to come away with more for your money than nothing at all.
I managed to shave off a total of £271-per-month by following this method and cutting back on things I simply could not justify paying so much for. Magic.
Keep reading for more on how I plan to save £10,000 for travel!
Seek Out A Decent Savings Account
I had gone through my outgoings with a fine tooth comb and reduced them to a necessary monthly minimum. Now, I needed somewhere to stick these newly-liberated pound notes.
These days, it’s rare that you’ll find an interest-free savings account with a decent enough rate. I spent hours researching various banks to find the best one only to realise that the Santander 123 Current Account offered a higher interest-free rate than anything else on the market for my needs.
Wait, what? A current account!?
Yeah, you use it as you would normally – set up a few direct debits and fund the account with at least £500-per-month – and you get:
• Monthly cashback on household bills
• Monthly interest of 3% AER variable on balances up to £20,000 (minimum of £3,000 required)
• Exclusive special offers and preferential rates on partner products
Not only that but they can switch your bank accounts for you with their Current Account Switch Guarantee. This was absolutely painless and was complete within about a week.
There is a monthly fee of £5 with this account, which comes out of your balance automatically, but this is nothing compared to the all the above. A very small price to pay given the perks on offer. Just don’t forget to factor that £5 cost back into your monthly outgoings!
Now, if you’re the kind of person who gets tempted to spend your hard-earned savings early on, I’d suggest the following:
• Save up as much as you can in your existing current account – as close to £3,000 as possible – before switching
• Then, apply to Santander for the 123 Current Account and get them to switch everything across
• You’ll immediately have the minimum required balance of £3,000 for the 3% interest (variable) when your new account opens – just keep funding it!
That way, one you’ve switched, you will instantly see the benefits of the full 3% (variable) from the end of the first calendar month. This will make you want to just keep adding to it. As long as you keep your total balance above £3,000, you will continue to see this level of return.
It’s a positive cycle of savings and rewards.
Don’t forget though, you should still be using it like a normal current account with at least two active direct debits and with regular funds coming in.
I’ve had this account for a while now and I’m so happy with it that I haven’t even bothered looking for an upgrade. Sometimes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” can be your best bet and, in my eyes, Santander have got it right.
Set A (Realistic) Monthly Savings Goal
This all depends on your personal circumstances and total savings goal but, whatever they may be, it can seem a lot less daunting if you break it down into smaller goals – or milestones.
For example, my total savings goal is £10,000. When I look at that figure, it fries my brain. It’s a lot of money to someone like me. The only way I can achieve that amount is if I set myself smaller milestones and build upon each one.
Here’s how I plan to save £10,000 for travel, broken down into manageable milestones:
Personally, I think it’s always hardest when you’re first starting to save money. You’ve got to start somewhere though, right? If you take the final total out of your head and just concentrate on each milestone individually then you’ll find the process a lot easier.
So, having already reviewed my outgoings, cut back on the things I don’t need, and found a place to save my money, I’ve now got a good foundation to start putting some away from my monthly salary.
I’m an ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of saver. I like to put away as much as I can each month and watch my money grow as fast as possible so that’s what I’ll continue to do. I’ve managed to get my monthly outgoings down to under half of what I take home and will be banking the rest. This means that, as long as I can stay disciplined and motivated – come on, we’re talking travel here, of course I’ll stay motivated – then I should be able to save around £800-1000 per month.
I understand that this may not be possible for some people but I would most definitely recommend trying your best to put as much as you can away – even if it’s just for the first month. This bold, positive action will set the bar for your saving habits and, as long as you can stay motivated, you will reach your first travel savings milestone in no time.
Consider A Credit Card With Travel Perks
I’ve spent a good year or so paying off small personal loans. Nothing major; just focusing on becoming completely debt-free – ready for my adventures. At first, applying for more credit seemed a little counterproductive. This is, however, something that I’m looking into at the moment.
You see, when chosen correctly, credit cards with travel perks can actually SAVE you money in the long run.
By transferring your monthly spending to your new credit card, you can accumulate air miles pretty quickly for use on part of your trip. Some savvy travellers have racked up so many miles that its even paid for round-trip tickets that would have otherwise cost an arm and a leg!
Not only that; there are usually a number of other special offers involved with having such a card. You can expect discounts off of hotels, transfers, experiences, and much more.
They can be, but don’t forget; they’re still credit cards and most will have annual fees. You need to ensure that you know exactly what you’re signing up for in the first place and that the balance is paid each month. The idea here is obviously not to get you in to debt but to help you achieve your travel dreams that little bit easier.
What do you look for in a travel credit card?
• Decent sign-up bonus – look for a minimum of around 30,000 sign-up points
• Low minimum spend – spend-to-points ratio should be achievable
• Easy to earn additional points – brands and shops that you use fairly regularly and that are easy to spend with
Travel credit cards can really help when it comes to having that extra edge due to the speed in which you can build your points as well as what’s on offer. Having said that, it really depends on your own personal needs. If you think you’d be better off without the extra considerations of owning a credit card then maybe they’re not for you.
However, when used effectively, they can become a pretty powerful weapon in your travel kit.
I’ll let you all know which one I went for and why in a new post soon.
Make A Money Jar Or Swear Box
Ok, so this may raise a few eyebrows but give it a go. What have you got to lose besides your street cred?
You’ll be surprised at how quickly small change can turn into pound notes. For the expressive among us, it’s going to be tough, as each swear word will now cost you £1. Just think of how proud your parents will be though, if nothing else.
Besides this, a simple money jar will stop you from buying that daily £2.50 coffee on the way to work. Five of those a week is £10. Four of those a month could mean 3-4 days of travel on a budget in Southeast Asia.
I know what I’d rather be doing. And I love coffee!
Get A Second Job
There’s always bar work, cleaning, and admin work about if you feel you can’t save enough on one salary. However, these options don’t always add up from a tax perspective. You could end up working your fingers to the bone in two jobs – maybe even three – and not really having much more to show for it.
Now, I’ve never been shy of hard graft – especially when it’s a case of saving money for my dream travel adventures – but there’s a lot to be said for work-life balance. Why work yourself into an early grave? No point saving this cash if you’re not going to be around to spend it. Yeah, work hard to achieve your dreams but have fun doing it.
Alternative option; start your own sole-trader business or do some freelancing on the side. I’ll cover this in a new post very soon so keep checking back.
Sell Your Old Gear
Here’s another chance to be merciless with your unwanted belongings.
Take a look around your room. Check your wardrobe; cupboards; draws; even the shed for those things that are simply gathering dust. The items that you once said, “Oh, I’ll keep that. Never know when I might need it” – yeah, those things (you’re smiling because you know it’s true) – and sell them online!
Sure, Ebay is always a good shout but we all know that they charge you fairly hefty fees for selling things on their site. The idea here is to MAKE money, not spend it.
I’m talking Shpock, Gumtree or the Facebook Selling Pages for your local area. They’re all completely free to list and sell your old gear, so get to it! Money Saving Expert has some solid tips on how to get going.
Just think of all the free space there’s going to be in your backpack once you’ve sold all your old clothes…
Over To You
There’s so much more you can do but this is just an example of the steps I’m taking and how I plan to save £10,000 for travel.
It may be tough at first but the rewards are going to be incredible. Your experiences will far outweigh the time it takes to bank that cash, regardless of what your own personal target may be.
Remember; memories are priceless.
What are you doing to help you save for your dream trip? Drop me a comment below and let me know.
As one of the new kids on the travel blogger block, I’ve spent a pretty hefty amount of time researching and reviewing the websites of some of my (now) favourite fellow travel bloggers.
It’s been a really interesting and rewarding time. Smash Monotony has got off to a strong start and I’ve picked up so many hints, tips and tricks from some of the best in the business.
Not only have they been a massive inspiration in my setup process but I continue to aspire to be like them; living the same kind of lifestyle; jetting off to the same kinds of dreamy destinations. And telling you lovely lot all about it, of course.
Thailand is most definitely at the top of my long list. I’ve read untold amounts of articles and info on the Land of Smiles. So much so that I thought it would be a pretty cool idea to share some of them with you in a compilation of my favourites so far.
With that being said, here are my chosen 25 Thailand Tips From Top Travel Bloggers! Well, I say “tips”… some are tips, others are reviews, a few are more general location-based information. But, they’re all really very cool indeed.
This list of 25 Thailand Tips From Top Travel Bloggers will more than likely evolve and update as I go along so keep checking back.
Have a good read through the links below and share this post with your friends.
• COMING SOON! I love Travel Tall… his writing is insanely good and I can’t wait to include his posts on Thailand right here as part of my 25 Thailand Tips From Top Travel Bloggers. He’s just hit Vietnam so I’m hoping he’ll be working his way around into Thailand soon. Watch this space!
It’s been a crazy few weeks of product research and Amazon purchases as I begin to assemble my very own collection of choice travel gear for the adventures ahead. Pretty exciting times. Expensive, initially, but a lot of it will last me some time so the investment is well worth it.
As a PADI Divemaster in training, much of this has been related to scuba diving. Similarly, though, as a new travel blogger looking to explore more of the world from both above and below the waves, there has also been a lot of other necessary costs.
With my first ever trip to Egypt coming up – not to mention my first ever dive trip – I wanted to share with you what I am taking with me and how packing light is a practice that I plan to adopt early on in my travel blogging career.
The king of action cameras, GoPro is by far the leading brand when it comes to capturing the best moments of your trip. Rugged, durable and waterproof as standard to 40 meters, the most expensive bit of kit going in my bag is my new GoPro Hero 4 Silver. I figured that the Silver edition would be ideal for scuba diving due to the fact that it has an additional touch display which can be used to preview and frame shots independently. This should be extremely useful when filming the underwater world.
For the first couple of days of the trip, I’m going to need to fully concentrate on what’s going on around me, especially when I’ve descended 20-30 meters. That’s not to say that I can’t still capture it on video! This Head Strap & Quick Clip will be perfect for those “hands-free” dives.
It’s not all about the first-person perspective though. What would a dive trip be without the odd scuba selfie or two? The GOPOLE Evo is not only completely waterproof but it’s extremely robust. Extendable from 14-24″ and suitable for all GoPro models, the Evo does not require a separate mounting system – just fit your GoPro directly onto the end of the GOPOLE and tighten the thumbscrew. It floats, too!
Scuba divers know; the deeper you go, the harder it gets to film footage that looks natural. The Polar Pro Switchblade 2.0 Filter – Red is the one when it comes to using my GoPro in tropical blue waters as it corrects some of the reds lost due to natural light escaping the depths. Also extremely durable, the Switchblade comes with a macro lens attached for more intimate shots of those vivid nudis.
The Smatree SmaCase G160 – Medium seemed like the best option when looking into GoPro and GoPro accessory travel storage. It fits all of the above GoPro-related gear perfectly. Naturally, I grabbed one for myself.
I’ve hardly been able to put my Kindle Paperwhite down since it arrived. It’s certainly refreshing to have something that’s purely for reading and is so lightweight and easy to carry. I’ve already loaded it with books that I’ve longed to read for whenever I might get a spare half-hour aboard the Blue Melody. I actually cannot explain how much I’m looking forward to finding a spot on deck and getting lost in a book or two.
I’m a self-proclaimed iPhoneographer and enjoy taking shots from above the surface with my trusty iPhone 6. It’s so simple and straightforward, not to mention easy to carry. With the countless amounts of photography apps available, it’s good fun (if nothing else) getting to grips with them to create your own “look” when taking photos of your travels.
Let’s face it… Egypt is still nice and warm in the winter months. It has been said that evenings can get a bit nippy though, especially on a boat. The fact that I’m likely to be diving up to five times a day for a whole week means that clothing options needn’t be over the top.
So, with that in mind, I’m saving as much space in my backpack as possible and simply taking the following:
• 4 t-shirts
• 2 pairs of shorts
• 2 pairs of swimming shorts
• 1 hoodie (for the evening chill)
• 1 pair of jeans and a nice top (for a planned evening meal)
• 2 pairs of shoes (1 pair of espadrilles for daily wear, 1 pair of lace up’s for the meal)
• Underwear also minimal – I’ll be in swim shorts 90% of the time!
Packing Light With Osprey Farpoint 70
Having searched high and low for a backpack that allows my fins to fit comfortably inside without bending them out of shape in transit – along with everything else listed above, plus my diving manuals – the Osprey Farpoint 70 goes above and beyond. It’s a truly solid backpack with a detachable day pack that will no doubt become my regular travel pack as I go further afield in the near future.
I totally get that this may not be “packing light” compared to how some might travel but I think it’s pretty good for a dive trip. The additional scuba gear that’s required all fits into my Farpoint with most of my electronic equipment going into an extra small carry-on rucksack and I will be hiring some kit when I’m there.
When I break this list down into individual items, I think I’ve probably got more in the way of electronic and miscellaneous items than I have clothes anyway! By keeping things to a bare minimum, I’m more than prepared for my first dive trip with an entirely manageable load.
Are you heading off anywhere soon? How do you intend to stick to packing light?
Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know.
With so much to see, do and experience in this wonderful world of ours, fitting everything into any kind of itinerary would challenge even the most seasoned of backpackers.
Yeah, you could go and see what you want, come back and plan some more, then head off again for your next cultural fix – wherever that may be – but it’s difficult enough to know what’s on and where at the best of times.
Which religious festivals should you check out? Which dates are celebrated and why? What about national public holidays?
You’ve heard of St. Patrick’s Day, Holi, and the Dragon Boat Festival but when are they? You won’t want to miss them, that’s for sure.
The answers to these questions could not only help you to decide where you would like to be at a particular time of the year but they could even help you to book your flights around them and avoid any potential delays in your trip.
Whatever your reasons may be, I’ve pulled together a fairly comprehensive list of multicultural events around the world – 25, to be precise – into one handy post to help you plan your travels in 2016.
I’ve made every effort to get the big ones down in chronological order but I’m sure I would have missed a few. Go ahead and leave a comment below with any that you think should be included and I’ll look to get them added asap.
Also, please know that I have researched these events in good faith with the intent being purely to provide information to fellow travellers and backpackers. If I offend anyone with incorrect or inaccurate information then please do let me know and I will correct it asap.
In the meantime… enjoy! 🙂
Friday, 1st January 2016 – New Year’s Eve/Day
Observed yearly on the 1st January, New Year’s Day is arguably one of the most celebrated public holidays in countries that have adopted the use of the Gregorian calendar. It certainly goes off with a bang across respective time zones throughout Europe and the world.
Be there: London, England – On New Year’s Eve, fireworks fill the skies above the mighty River Thames, lighting up the Embankment, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. A timely strike from Big Ben signals the beginning of the new year… and a few passionate moments as loved ones embrace. Be sure to take your own loved one with you for fear of getting grabbed by a stranger for a smooch!
Monday, 25th January 2016 – Burns’ Night
“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!” Celebrate the birth of Scotland’s national poet and lyricist with all the haggis, neeps and tatties you can stomach, washed down with the finest Scotch whisky. The Scots really know how to put on a show so you can expect days – and nights – full of singing, dancing and laughter.
Be there: Edinburgh, Scotland – Where better to immerse yourself in Scottish culture than the medieval Old Town – and the glorious Georgian New Town – of Edinburgh? It’s an incredibly historic city with stories to be told on every street. Give yourself a few days to get around; you will not want to leave.
Watch this video by Yaya Travels and find out more.
Friday, 5th February 2016 – Rio Carnival
The glitz and glamour of the world famous Rio de Janeiro carnival is second to none when it comes to a rhythmic and riotous party atmosphere. The “greatest show on Earth” is a five-day samba swing with flamboyant, feathered dancers and sequin-studded floats parading their way through the streets of Rio, taking over all the bars, clubs and venues in its path.
Be there: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Join in on the fun in 2016 from Friday, 5th February to Tuesday, 9th February. The Rio Carnival website has everything you need to know to book your trip. From tickets to the Samba parades and the Carnival Ball, to your hotel and transfers… if there’s one party that you simply must go to in 2016 then make it this one.
Tuesday, 9th February 2016 – Mardi Gras
Shrove Tuesday, also called Pancake Day and Mardi Gras. The British name of “Pancake Day” comes from the tradition of making pancakes to use up all the food that could not be eaten during Lent. Festivities take place in many cities all over the world, including Mardi Gras in New Orleans, USA, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Venice, Italy.
Be there: New Orleans, USA – Mardi Gras – affectionately nicknamed “Fat Tuesday” by The Big Easy’s locals – is the last day of the Carnival season during the most popular time to be in town. Be sure to arrive no later than the 6th February to catch the best of the parades over the extended weekend.
Sunday, 14th February 2016 – Valentine’s Day
One for the love bugs out there… and what’s more universal than the language of love? Although, it is not classed as a public holiday – probably due to it being celebrated in so many countries – it is widely recognised as the day in which to express your true feelings to one another with cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts. A romantic trip to almost any city in the world would be an experience to behold for starry-eyed couples but there’s one that instantly springs to mind and it may not be the one that you’re thinking of…
Be there: Rome, Italy – That’s right; Rome. In the loving eyes of some travellers, The Eternal City is now seen as the world’s most romantic destination. A recent study suggested that 28% of people – only 2,000 people, but still – showed Rome serious some love. Why not take a few days, rent a car, and drive down the coast, from Rome to Naples, finishing up at the beautiful Amalfi Coast.
Monday, 15th February 2016 – Nirvana Day
Nirvana Day, observed primarily by Mahayana Buddhists, celebrates the day when the Buddha is said to have achieved Parinirvana, or complete Nirvana, upon the death of his physical body. Head to southern Thailand in search of Sri Vijaya sculptures from the eighth and thirteenth centuries.
Be there: Phuket, Thailand – Marvel at the majesty of one of the most revered Buddhist landmarks on the island; Phuket’s Big Buddha. At 45 meters tall, this mighty yet peaceful image sits atop Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata. It’s easy to spot from a distance but is most certainly worth the half-hour road trip from central Phuket.
Thursday, 17th March 2016 – St Patrick’s Day
The Irish certainly put the English to shame with their patron saint celebrations. St Patrick’s Day is always an experience to remember as locals and tourists alike don shamrocks and a variety of other green accessories to join in the national day of fun. It’s customary to let your hair down and enjoy a Guinness or three, dance, sing and laugh your way around the Irish capital of Dublin. St Patrick’s Day is also widely celebrated around the world, including the likes of Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand.
Be there: Dublin, Ireland – Let’s face it, everyone wants to be Irish on St Patrick’s Day! It’s now so much more than just a single day. It’s a full-on, 4/5-day festival showcasing Irish national talent, arts and culture. Why not make 2016 the year that you become an honorary Irish citizen? And if you don’t quite take to the taste of Guinness the first time around, then just have another. I know I will!
Holi is right up there as one of the most colourful festivals on the planet. During this Hindu celebration of spring and the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’, crowds come alive by throwing coloured water and powder over each other. Friends, family, strangers, rich, poor, men, women, young and old… everyone’s invited to this party.
Be there: Mathura, India – Just four hours from the capital, Delhi, lies the birthplace of Lord Krishna; Mathura. Processions of colour, music, food and fun line the paths along the river from the temples to Holi gate. The sights and sounds of India are mesmerising at the best of times but Holi festival will blow your mind!
Sunday, 27th March 2016 – Semana Santa
Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, three days after he was executed. The Easter story is at the heart of Christianity and is celebrated around the world in many different ways. Thousands line the streets of Seville, Spain, to watch see the highly-decorated processions and marching bands pass by on candlelit floats as they depict their own version of the Easter story.
Be there: Seville, Spain – Easter Sunday falls on the 27th March in 2016 but I would most definitely recommend arriving the week prior to experience the Spanish fiesta at its very best. The cofradias (brotherhoods) release their processions from midday each day and you could see up to nine per day.
Remember those Super Soaker fights that you’d have as a kid during the warm summer days? Well, Songkran blows that out of the water! The Thai New Year celebrations fall on some of the hottest days in their calendar and this is marked with an enormous water fight. Water pistols, water balloons, buckets, hoses… anything that can leave you drenched can and will be used against you during this friendly mini-war and it sounds like so much fun. As with most New Year rituals, the concept of pouring water over one another is of course symbolic; wash away all your sins and bad luck for a new year and a new start.
Be there: Chiang Mai, Thailand – In Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, Songkran can last for anything up to a week. Be sure to wear as little as possible – while maintaining your dignity of course – so as not to ruin any of your favourite items of clothing through constant water bombing and friendly talc attacks. Oh, and watch out for the Elephant tanks! That’s right, they like to join in too.
Lailat al Miraj is the time for Muslims to commemorate the Prophet Muhammad’s nighttime journey from Mecca to the ‘Farthest Mosque’ in Jerusalem. It is from this mosque that Muhammad is said to have ascended into heaven and became purified. Muslim followers will attend special prayer meetings at mosques or will host more intimate affairs in their own homes with family and friends.
Be there: Istanbul, Turkey – The Al-Aqsa Mosque (farthest mosque) is known as the third holiest site in Islam and is located within the Old City of Jerusalem. However, my personal recommendation would be to visit the splendour of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. The calls to prayer in this historic city are simply hypnotic.
Sunday, 15th May 2016 – Wesak/Buddha Day
Wesak or Buddha Day is the major festival of the year for Buddhists from the Theravada tradition. Celebrated on the full moon, Wesak represents the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. It’s called Wesak after the month in which it falls in the Indian calendar.
Be there: Brickfields, Malaysia – Join in the spirit of Buddha as thousands of devoted followers bathe in the waters of the Buddha statue. Watch as they cleanse their souls and seek blessings. With parades beginning in the evening, you can expect a vibrant yet cultural, tranquil evening.
Thursday, 9th June 2016 – Dragon Boat Festival
An event of great significance to the Chinese people, the Dragon boat festival remembers the legend of Qu Yuan (340-278 BC). He was a minister and poet in the State of Chu. Rather than see his country become conquered by the State of Qin, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the river. Locals sailed their boats down the river in search of his body and this practice continues today – over 2000 years later.
Be there: Kowloon, Hong Kong – The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in Victoria Park, Kowloon, continues to attract some of the finest athletes – and discerning spectators – for one of the world’s best carnivals. It’s still a very ancient tradition but it has been given a modern twist and is a fun day out for all ages.
Thursday, 16th June 2016 – Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev
Guru Arjan Dev was the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus and the first Sikh martyr. He laid the foundations of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India and gave it four doors to symbolise acceptance of all people.
Be there: Amritsar, India – Back to India once more but this time, Amritsar, to the holiest of Sikh gurdwaras; Harmandir Sahib.
Wednesday, 6th July 2016 – Eid al-Fitr
Eid al-Fitr is an important Islamic holiday for Muslim communities around the world. It marks the end of the month-long fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. It’s one of the two major holidays in the Islamic year and is celebrated with prayer and thanksgiving to God, as well as feasting and gift giving. This event involves many Muslims waking up early and praying either at an outdoor prayer ground or a mosque. People dress in their finest clothes and adorn their homes with lights and other decorations.
Be there: Dubai, UAE – Celebrations are centered mostly in shopping malls due to hot weather. Parades and entertainers from all over the world join the festivities. A large fireworks display also takes place in the creek area and in Festival City. This is definitely a more glitzy way to experience Eid al-Fitr.
Tuesday, 19th July 2016 – Asalha Puja
Asalha Puja (Dharma Day) is observed among Buddhists worldwide as the day that their religion was established. Buddhists from the Theravada tradition celebrate the teachings of the Buddha, visiting their respective temples throughout the world to practice Dharma. They also give small donations to the monks and listen to sermons to remind them of this great beginning.
Be there: Central Java, Indonesia – The festival of Asalha Puja is centred around the ninth-century Mendut Temple, near Borobudur, in Central Java, Indonesia. It draws large crowds from in and around the area to witness the sermons.
Monday, 15th August 2016 – Feast of the Assumption
The Feast of the Assumption commemorates the death of Jesus’s mother, Mary, and her bodily assumption into Heaven. It is celebrated on or around August 15 in many countries, particularly in parts of Europe and South America. It’s also called the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God (in the eastern countries), or the Feast of the Assumption.
Be there: Mosta, Malta – In Malta, the Feast of the Assumption is known as the feast of ‘Santa Maria’. This religious ‘festa’ is celebrated in no less than seven Maltese towns and villages; Għaxaq, Gudja, Ħ’Attard, Mosta, Mqabba and Qrendi in Malta, and Victoria in Gozo. The party is well and truly on!
Thursday, 25th August 2016 – Janmashtami
At Janmashtami, Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna. It takes place during the Hindu month of Shravan (August-September). Krishna is one of the most powerful incarnations of Lord Vishnu and Hindus believe he came to free the Earth from evil.
Be there: Dwarka, India – Legend has it that Dwarka, the lost city, was built in just two days, although Lord Krishna was said to have spent a century there. The temple of Dwarkadheesh is renowned for its Krishnashtami celebrations as devotees from all over India and the world make the journey to take part.
Wednesday, 31st August 2016 – La Tomatina
Since 1945, locals of the Valencian town of Buñol have engaged in one of the biggest food fights known to man; La Tomatina. It’s purely for fun and entertainment and is most certainly nothing short of that.
Be there: Buñol, Spain – Join in the 20,000-strong tomato throwers from all over the world and test the Spanish produce for yourself. It’s a ticketed event which ensures that the 70-year tradition can continue so be sure to get yours early to avoid disappointment.
Saturday, 17th September 2016 – Oktoberfest
The Bavarian culture just wouldn’t be the same without this historic Volksfest. Held each and every year in Munich, Germany, over 6 million people attend the 16-day festival from around the world. It’s all about beer, music and fun with friends and family. What more do you need?
Be there: Munich, Germany – Catch the opening ceremonies on the 17th in the Schottenhamel tent. The Mayor of Munich gets involved by tapping the first keg of Oktoberfest beer which signals the start of drinking time! The fun doesn’t stop until the 3rd October but do your best to get there early and experience Oktoberfest from start to finish.
Head back to Valerie & Valise for a deeper insight into Oktoberfest.
Sunday, 30th October 2016 – Diwali
Diwali (or Deepavali, the “festival of lights”) is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn (northern hemisphere) every year. Diwali is the biggest and the brightest festival in India. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness. Over the course of one week, each day in Diwali represents a different reason to celebrate. How cool does that sound?
Be there: Delhi, India – A warm and friendly festival atmosphere with candlelit processions will get you in the mood to party. Expect a little raucousness though as things pick up with fireworks and firecrackers “upping” the noise levels. Ear plugs? Go hard or go home, right? No, it’s probably a pretty good idea.
Monday, 31st October 2016 – Dia de los Muertos
If there’s one place I’d absolutely LOVE to be during Halloween, it’s Mexico. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) looks absolutely unreal! Yeah, there’s plenty of fun to be had among the ghouls and ghosts but the whole point of the festival is so that families and friends can remember and respect their loved and lost – in the most eccentric yet poignant way possible of course.
Be there: Mexico City, Mexico – Don your best freaky outfits and get involved with the zombie march through Mexico City for, quite possibly, the best Halloween you’ve ever had. As a huge fan of The Walking Dead, I think I’m going to feel right at home.
Tuesday, 15th November 2016 – Loi Krathong
Loi Krathong, the Festival of Light, is a Thai family event held in November each year. The kids get involved with their parents in making krathongs; small, light baskets created from banana tree leaves and filled with incense and flowers. A lit candle inside the basket helps to carry the krathongs away. This is symbolic to the Thai people who believe that the krathongs take all of the bad luck away with them.
Be there: Bangkok, Thailand – The riverbanks of Chao Phraya is the place to be if you want to get the very best out of your Festival of Light experience. Stand in awe as locals and visitors alike release their krathongs, literally watching their bad luck float away, into the night sky and down the river. A wonderful time to be alive.
Saturday, 10th December 2016 – Mevlana Whirling Dervishes
Join the Turkish people in commemorating the death of Rumi and attempt to achieve your very own divine harmony – or at least watch the professionals achieve theirs – as they whirl away during this 10-day festival. They’ve definitely got plenty of energy with two shows a day so you’re pretty much guaranteed to experience this authentic event for yourself regardless of when you arrive. Just be sure to grab tickets!
Be there: Konya, Turkey – Just an hour’s flight from Istanbul, Konya is the home of Whirling and is known for holding on dearly to its traditions. As a visitor – and as I’m sure you would wherever you go in the world – be sure to respect their conservatism and dress appropriately. Having said that, layer up to keep warm as it can be quite nippy in the winter months with bitterly cold winds rolling in.
Wednesday, 21st December 2016 – Burning The Clocks
The funky, bohemian, seaside city of Brighton on the South coast of England is renowned for its variety of festivals and parties. Burning The Clocks is most definitely one of them. Created in 1994, it marks the Winter Solstice and brings people together from all religious backgrounds and walks of life to celebrate as one. It is also more recently known as a way to rebel against the commercialism of Christmas. Either way, it’s a pretty cool show as people set their lanterns alight to take part, culminating in a big Brighton beach burn-up!
Be there: Brighton, England – There are plenty of guesthouses and hostels in and around the beachfront and city center – not to mention hotels if that’s more your style – and Brighton is on the main train line from both London Victoria and Gatwick Airport. Nice and easy! Again, wrap up warm for a night at the seaside, especially in England. You can buy lanterns from certain event outlets which include entry wristbands as a package but, if you’re making your own, then be sure to get them verified and approved by the very same outlets.