Canals & Cobblestones: Exploring Copenhagen on Foot

In early October I spent a few days in Denmark visiting one of my closest friends who currently lives there. In typical timing, she was offered a job that started just before my arrival date (yay for her!), and so I would be entertaining myself for two of the four days. This was a great opportunity for me to have some solo travel time I’d been craving, and I spent it walking around Copenhagen.

After touching down in Copenhagen in the mid-morning, its airport quickly stood out as the best of the many I’d been through in the weeks prior. The washrooms were clean, there was lots of signage that actually led you to the correct place, plenty of bins, and there were free maps! I love a free map. The back of it even had a photo of a bikini-clad lady wrapped around a pole, advertising a gentleman’s club in the city centre. How did they know that’s what I was looking for?!

Buying a one-way ticket for 36Kr, I hopped on the metro to Christianshavn, wondering how quickly I’d regret only bringing one sweater with me. I’d been in Greece the week before, where the temperature had been a good 15 degrees warmer with zero chances of rain. At a nearby Fakta supermarket, I got off to a strong start by giving the wrong change (why must the smallest amounts be the bigger coins?!) to the cashier who, upon realizing I wasn’t Danish, looked at me like a I was a traitor to the Viking race. It was bound to happen at some point, so I mayaswell have got it over with early on.

Overgarden Oven Vandet ran along a quiet canal lined with trees and overlooked by tall colourful buildings. I quickly got accustomed to the sound of my suitcase rumbling along the cobblestones. Locals and tourists passed by on their bikes, all helmet-less. The city is very bike-friendly, as you would hope all would be to help reduce global carbon emissions. I crossed the Inderhavnsbroen (pedestrian bridge) and caught a glimpse of colour in the distance. Following its direction, I soon realized I was approaching Copenhagen’s most photographed spot: Nyhavn (New Harbour). A swarm of buzzing photographers were gathered on the bridge with their cameras to capture the colourful buildings and the old boats that sat before them. Grey skies weren’t clouding their excitement. I annoyed a sufficient number of the hive by squeezing past with my suitcase in tow to take a quick peak, before escaping to a quieter viewing spot down the side of the canal.

I then continued down Havnegade, pausing on a bench to eat one of my cheap supermarket snacks. Passers-by would occasionally look my way, sometimes with a confused expression and sometimes indifferent, and I remembered how strangely nice it is to be alone surrounded by strangers. It’s the best way to realize that you don’t actually care how you look to other people.

By the early afternoon I was starting to lose feeling in my fingers from dragging my suitcase, so I went to find the Royal Danish Library on Castle Island, where I’d agreed to meet my friend later on. Behind it is the Danish Jewish Museum, and behind that is the Bibliotekshave (library garden), a lovely little oasis with a pond, statues, and benches for sitting with a book. In today’s case it was too cold for that, so I went into the library and found a spot to read on the second floor, fondly reminded of my days as a university student when I basically called the library my home.

Higher education is free in Denmark, which probably explains why so many of the people studying looked older than me. All of the females also looked very cool, and not because they were trying to wear the latest trends; they just looked genuinely and effortlessly cool in their fashion sense. With their stony faces, you’d think they were walking the runway rather than trying to find the Philosophy section.

That brings me to my next observation. The Danish (or at least, those in Copenhagen) don’t exactly strike you as the friendliest bunch of people. You can’t help but feel that if you were to collapse to the ground from a heart attack, they’d cycle past you with a look of disdain that suggested you were inconveniencing them. When I met up with my friend (who, incidentally, I hadn’t seen in 3 years!!), I brought up my observation and she confirmed that it’s an accepted cultural trait, recalling how someone had once told her he could tell she wasn’t Danish because she smiled too much…

The next morning, after an evening of learning about hygge, I got the train from Lyngby to Nørreport. Seating consisted of fabric-covered benches rather than individual seats, however this communal arrangement failed to encourage any conversation between the passengers. Opening the inter-carriage doors required you to wave at them in front of your face, which often resulted in one looking daft if it wasn’t done properly.

Today I was suitcase-less, meaning I’d be able to move quicker, not have to deal with the incessant sound of wheels struggling over cobbles, and avoid losing one hand to numbness from the cold. I also now had a woolly hat lent to me by my friend. It was going to be a good day. 

Approaching the station, my bladder suddenly decided to put in a request. Thankfully there was a free public washroom located outside Nørreport station, one of those circular ones like the one outside Russell Square in London (if it still exists). These had always seemed a little sketchy to me, but upon opening I was pleasantly surprised. It was clean, there were multiple cubicles with doors that worked, and the sink actually had soap, water and hand towels. This might just be an underestimated contributing factor to why Denmark is often considered one of the happiest nations in the world..!

After browsing a Netto supermarket for the cheapest carbs that would keep me going through the day, I headed to the Royal Garden, located off Gothersgade. With its open space and pretty horticultural arrangements, this seems like a great place to walk a dog and pen the next popular Scandinavian crime series.

Further up the road was the Botanical Garden, another aesthetically pleasing place where I could admire the autumn colours starting to show on the trees. From here I walked down the street path past Peblinge Sø (lake), which was popular with runners. Continuing my tour of Copenhagen’s parks led me to Ørstedsparken, where I witnessed an Eastern European couple taking pictures of every single monument around. A fluffy labradoodle-cross caught my attention, galloping around gleefully with a stick in his mouth. He ran up to me and I petted him for a few seconds, only to look up and see his owner several yards away watching with a mightily pissed off expression. At least the dogs are friendly here.

As I ambled down Vester Voldgade, which surrounds the more commercial district, I suddenly realized how clean the streets were, and that there was a distinct lack of homelessness around. Denmark is known for having one of the highest tax rates in the world, but if that money is going towards ensuring people don’t have to sleep on the streets, you have to applaud it.

I decided to walk around Castle Island again. Today, royal horses were being trained in the arena of Christiansborg Palace.

After retreating into the Royal Danish Library again for 30 minutes of warmth and washroom access, I returned across Knippelsbro to Christianshavn, so that I could admire the neighbourhood’s cobbled streets again without a suitcase. To go up the Church of our Saviour only cost 35Kr. The chance to see 360 degree views of the city aaand get rid of loose change? Excellent!

It takes around five minutes to reach the top of the Church, depending on one’s level of fitness and how many times you have to wait for people to descend the stairs or, in my case, finish taking a million photos of the same bell. Thankfully the sun had just started to peep out from behind the clouds as a gesture of goodwill, and there were some lovely views looking over the harbour and the sea of orange-roofed buildings surrounding it, with Church and tower steeples poking up here and there. I appreciated the lack of skyscrapers.

One thing I really liked about being in Copenhagen was simply hearing bits and pieces of different languages. I was starting to notice however that the majority of conversations I was hearing were in German. At the top of the Church I saw members of a family taking it in turns to take (or as the Germans would say: “make”) photos of each other. Feeling generous, I asked them in German if they’d like a photo together, but the father waved me off with his hand and a curt “Nein”, before thanking me as an afterthought. Hey buddy, I didn’t vote for Brexit okay.

I next headed towards Christiania, the Freetown of Copenhagen. As soon as I entered the area, I got weird vibes. The people seemed sketchy and on edge and, frankly, some of them looked like they had just murdered someone. Weed is sold here, and I couldn’t help but find it amusing to see blaring hand-painted signs of “No photos”, along with a man whose specific job seemed to be shouting at people for getting their cameras out. Living in Canada, where recreational use of marijuana became legal in 2018, it’s easy to forget the secrecy that surrounds its selling in other countries.  I didn’t stay there long. Taking photos of bronzed leaves against a backdrop of red and yellow houses seemed much more appealing.

Now that the sun was out, I decided to briefly stop by Nyhavn again, and happened to arrive just as the bridge was up. From here I walked down Larsens Plads before taking a left to see Amalienborg Palace, where Denmark’s Queen resides. If you listen carefully, you might hear her still laughing about Donald Trump daring to propose buying Greenland off her.

Further down Frederiksgade is the Marble Church with its distinctive dome. Yet more Eastern Europeans busied themselves taking 5000 pictures of every statue in the courtyard. The ones that displayed male genitalia always seemed to attract the most interest. It was here that an American man asked me to take a picture of him, and then promptly ran off after. “What an interesting place,” I thought.

When continuing down Larsen Plads, you eventually come to Kastellet, which is a preserved fortress. Upon my arrival it started to rain, but I continued to walk through the entrance. Surrounded by an inner and outer moat, the fortress is used by the military but is also a public park popular with runners, especially those wanting a change from flat terrain.

As I walked on down one of the gravel paths surrounding the Kastellet, a lady stopped me to ask for directions. Blatantly assuming I was Danish, she said she was looking for the Little Mermaid statue (no, I don’t think she was Eastern European). Since I had an idea of where it was I was able to point her in the right direction, and the illusion was maintained. Maybe I look more effortlessly cool than I thought..?

I made my way to Østerport train station to meet my friend, and that concluded my two days of solo time exploring Copenhagen. If you are just looking to walk around and get a comprehensive idea of the city, two days is really all you need. Those planning a longer trip will be able to enjoy many different museums and restaurants.

While Copenhagen was a little too cold (in more ways than one) to win my heart, it is a very walkable and photogenic city with some gorgeous architecture, and overall it’s a great choice for anyone craving some time away for solo exploration.

 

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If you enjoyed reading this post and would like to use it as a reference during your own trip to Copenhagen, you can download it to your iOS device from the GPSmyCity site by clicking here. Happy travels!

 

 

Books & Bridges: Budapest for the Quiet Solo Traveller

There seem to be two types of solo traveller. There are the ones who, as extroverts or simply because they don’t enjoy being alone, enjoy putting themselves in social situations and meeting new people. They will join free walking tours and bar crawls and essentially go to any place or do any activity that allows them to interact with others. Then there are the solo travellers who, perhaps being slightly more introverted, are happy to explore alone and avoid the big social scene, looking for picturesque serenity more than pubs and parties.

I definitely fall into the latter group. If I’m travelling solo, particularly if it’s just for a short break, I don’t tend to look for social contact and companionship. Brief encounters with a random character are enough to satisfy my social sanity whilst ensuring my personal itinerary isn’t interrupted. The truth is, I like having time alone and having the chance to fulfil my own plans at my own pace. However, if I do happen to meet someone who becomes a great travel companion, I will cherish this new friendship and do my best to preserve it.

Budapest is a top choice for a boozy holiday with a friend or romantic getaway with a partner, but it’s also a great place to wander around solo. Below is an account of my time in Hungary’s capital city.

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A few bad experiences of sharing hostel dorms with snorers has made me more inclined to choose Airbnb for accommodation. This is definitely a wise option for Budapest because of the exchange rate. I spent £19 a night staying in a spacious room with a double bed, hosted by a lovely lady called Maria. Her cool apartment is decorated with various travel souvenirs and is conveniently located next to Nyugati station. She’s also very helpful when it comes to recommending things for you to do and see that cater to your particular tastes. If you sign up to Airbnb using my code, you’ll get a discount!

It was in Budapest where my love for vintage shops was reignited. Falk Miksa utca is home to many antique stores varying in value and appearance – some are elegant stores featuring opulent collectables, others have more of a flea-market feel.

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I love nosing through vinyl collections for Motown records, and the one above has many to browse (although Motown music isn’t so popular in countries of the former Soviet bloc). Inside, the store was packed with CDs from Britney to Deep Purple, Jennifer Rush to Santana. Opposite this was an antique shop called Kacabajka, where an old lady sat contentedly on a wooden chair chatting with the male owner. Some people would call the items in the shop junk, but I loved looking at the typewriters, delicate crockery and other interesting knickknacks. It was here where the question “Beszél angolul?” caught my attention (it means “do you speak English?”) and I looked up to see a Middle Eastern couple asking me what metal I thought an ornament was. After helping them, I hoped the shop owner wouldn’t proceed to start chatting away to me in Hungarian…

To others it was obvious I wasn’t Hungarian. As I browsed some fancier antiques in a store down the road, a man on a stool said: “This man [the owner] would like to know where you are from.” The questioner wore a top hat and waistcoat and rested the point of a long black umbrella on the floor. When I said I lived in London, he told me he had visited Portobello Market a few months ago and had some good finds. He spoke with a well-to-do accent and I suddenly felt like I was in the scene of a 1920s F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

I was keen to browse some second-hand book shops, but discovered that sadly those recommended in my (slightly dated) guide book had shut down. However my Airbnb host recommended I try Massolit on  Nagy Diófa utca. This is a quiet little street (I walked past it about three times) which makes the cosy cafe and book store even more appealing. University students and academics appear to be the main customers, with a range of genres being offered from romantic fiction to political economy. I spent a good 30 minutes deciding on which book I would buy, only to end up buying two – ‘Roughing It’ by Mark Twain and Pascal Mercier’s ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ –  for between 1000 and 1500 Forints each (£2 – 4). In some cafes you feel very aware of being alone, but here you can sit with a hot drink, some cake and a book and feel completely comfortable. Once again I was transported to a New York setting, this time when I was aged 15 on a trip to visit my sister, sitting in a cafe in Greenwich Village and seeing a girl in a black hat, blue vintage dress and boots eating soup alone whilst reading a book, thinking to myself that she was really brave and cool.

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Budapest is a beautiful and safe place to walk around at night. Visit in early spring and the river banks are not bustling with people, as they seem to be all year round in London. If you’re into photography, you’ll love capturing the glittering bridges and various Churches, palaces and parliamentary buildings that beam brightly at the Danube below. I happily spent a couple of hours each evening taking photos from both sides.

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Another thing I love when travelling alone is to have picnics. You can choose where you eat and there’s no waiting involved. Thankfully there was an Aldi near where I stayed so I could stock up the night before, paying around 775Fts for some baps, cereal bars, fruit and chocolate. Naturally I also had to include Hungarian cakes in my itinerary. A good takeaway bakery is Lipóti on Kiraly utca, which makes a delicious chocolate and blackberry brownie cake as well as classics such as poppy seed cake.

For picnic locations, head to the Buda side of the city where you’ll discover more historical architecture and see its greener side. I made my way there over Margaret Bridge, taking a detour to visit Margaret Island. In summer this large park holds performances in its Open Air theatre and there’s also an outdoor swimming pool. You won’t see the park at it’s prettiest in the spring, but I did love how there was a separate 5 km track set up for runners!

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Castle Hill in Buda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to regal museums and the Royal Palace. You enter a quaint quarter where you’ll find many tourists but all within a tranquil haven of cobbled streets, splendid statues and quiet restaurants. The picturesque views of Pest continue for over a kilometre. It’s the perfect location for a wedding parade!

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If you want to get even bigger and better views of the city with fewer tourists on your tail, head further south and stride up Gellert Hill. There are various paths that zigzag to the top, with little signage to direct. The logic seems to be that the quicker paths will hurt the most! It was just below the famous Liberty Monument that I noticed a man stood with a briefcase with a fidgety manner looking around at fellow tourists. As I passed him he asked me to take a photo of him so I naturally obliged. He was Dutch and explained with shifty eye contact and an odd smile that he was on a stag do and had been told to have a crazy picture taken, otherwise he’d be paying for all the drinks that evening. I shrugged and nodded along. “The crazy picture involves me wearing no trousers,” he said with nervous excitement. I politely declined and walked away while he looked on helplessly. Seeing random men expose themselves in woodland areas was definitely not on my itinerary today!

Panoramic views of the Danube and Buda’s rolling suburbs await you at the top of Gellert Hill. It seemed like the appropriate place for my picnic. Unfortunately I also seemed like an appropriate person for people to ask for photos from. One of the requests came from a Scottish man around my age. A brief conversation revealed that he was having a week off from teaching English in Prague. He asked what my plans were for the rest of the day, and I sensed he was interested in hanging out some more. However when I mentioned my plan to browse more markets and second-hand shops his mouth straightened with indifference. He was planning to go to an open table-tennis meet in a bar.  The two types of solo traveller had clashed. Maybe it would have been a fun event but I had no intention of changing my plans; I was enjoying my independence too much! Shortly after we said our goodbyes and followed our preferred routes down the hill and into the remainder of our individual trips.

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Take a right after crossing the Elisabeth Bridge and join Vaci utca – one of the longest shopping streets in Pest. Near the end you’ll find more craft shops. If you carry on south you’ll reach the Central Market Hall near Liberty Bridge. Inside this huge building is where locals will buy their meat and fruit, as well as spices, spirits and pastries. Upstairs tourists can find various gifts and souvenirs including paintings and shot glasses. There are also plenty of food stalls around if you fancy saving your Pick salami for later…

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For your third day in Budapest, City Park is a pleasant place to come and read a book in the spring sunshine. It was here that I enjoyed seeing a mother leave her toddler to crawl on the ground and examine a stone plaque. I wish more parents would be less pedantic about safety and allow their children to explore their inquisitive nature!

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Heroes’ Square

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If the weather isn’t so nice, and even if it is, definitely devote a couple of hours to the House of Terror which is on Andrássy utca in the direction of the park. Interested as I am in history, I’ve never been a huge fan of visiting museums. I find them quite draining and if the weather is decent, I’d rather stay outdoors being active. However this former headquarters of the Nazi and successive Soviet regime is definitely one of the most interesting and enlightening museums I’ve been to. In each room visitors could pick up a sheet which summarised the country’s history relevant to the context or theme of that particular room. Excellent footage was shown, whether it was interviews with former camp labourers during the Nazi occupation or propaganda films created by the Soviets. Harrowing as some of the films and photos were, the museum didn’t try excessively to influence visitor’s emotional reactions; it simply gave the facts and left them to decide how they felt. Even better, I only had to pay 1000 Fts for entry because I had ID to prove I was under 26. This discount scheme is a brilliant way to encourage youths to learn about the history of their or another nation. For just £2.50 I became so much more knowledgeable about a period in Hungary’s fascinating history.

Because I ended up being gripped for almost three hours in the Terror House, I could only grab a milkshake from Kino Cafe before heading for the airport. This 80s-style art house cafe situated off Kiraly utca makes fruit shakes for 570Fts that actually taste like real fruit, with no added sugar. I wish I’d had more time to spend inside (…and try their cheesecakes).

Whilst the city didn’t have so many events nor so much pretty greenery at this time of year, March was still a great month to visit the very walkable Budapest. I’d highly recommend it to someone embarking on their first solo trip, especially if they are a quieter traveller. Even if wandering alone, there are still plenty of opportunities for momentary but memorable social encounters that won’t require you to sacrifice individual plans. Flowers were beginning to bloom but their arrival hadn’t yet attracted swarms of tourists – ideal for someone who likes to avoid the crowds and adventure alone!

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If you have additional suggestions for quiet solo travellers visiting Budapest, please comment below.

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Have an iPhone or iPad and planning a trip to Budapest? You can download this article for reference on your visit as a GPS-coordinated app! Just click here and you’ll get to the GPSmyCity download page.

Likes vs Lives: Hiking in Hawaii

I recently read Into the Wild, the journalistic book by Jon Krakauer that discusses the life of Chris McCandless and his motivation to venture alone into the Alaskan interior with minimal supplies. After McCandless’s decomposed body was discovered in September 1992, some people labelled the 24-year-old American as an arrogant fool who should have been better prepared for the harsh conditions he would face; Krakauer attempts to explain the reasons McCandless chose to live off the land with little help. He defends the young man’s intentions but acknowledges his mistakes, stating that ultimately it was ignorance, not arrogance, that led to his death.

Reading this book made me think of people I’ve encountered while travelling who have also been inadequately prepared for their undertakings. I can put my hands up and say that, at the age of 19 on my first solo trip, I was one of them as I wore shorts whilst hiking up Whistler Mountain in the Canadian Rockies with its elevation of 2181 metres. Standing level with the clouds, a mid-40s hiker in appropriate gear asked if I was cold, and I knew even as I indignantly shook my head with shivering knees that I should have been more sensible. I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

However it still shocks me when I see people older than me dressed inappropriately for certain activities and weathers, or attempting feats that are clearly far beyond their fitness level. The single biggest eye-opener was on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, when I and some friends hiked to Hanakapiai Falls in the Nā Pali Coast State Park. You may be thinking how this is a location far different to that of Alaska, but a large difference in temperature doesn’t mean this popular holiday destination is any less dangerous. In fact, the 11-mile trail that encompasses the particular hike I did is regarded as being in the top 10 of America’s most dangerous hikes.

The first two miles of the Kalalau trail along the Nā Pali Coast end at a river that flows into the ocean. As roaring waves thrashed against rocks, I was told by friends native to Kauai that this beach is renowned for the number of drownings that occur as visitors innocently go to the water’s edge, only to be smothered by a wave and swept away by the force of an overwhelming current. Across the river, a trail continues on for two further miles into the Hanakapiai Valley of mud, bamboo trees and rocky river crossings until it comes to the  91 metre-high waterfall where signs warn of falling rocks from the high cliff. If one gets in danger here, there is no mobile signal to call for help.

We set off on the trail at 7 a.m to avoid the tourist trap. Even at this time, the path was muddy and slippery. The rocks over the river glistened with slime. I like to think of myself as quite an experienced hiker – distance and elevation aren’t too big a deal for me – but this trail was definitely one of the most challenging ones I’ve done due to the natural elements it contained. (If you’re not convinced of this by the photos, that’s because my camera was tucked securely in my backpack during these tricky moments!)

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Around midday on the way back we reached Hanakapiai river marking two miles left to go. By now the numbers on the trail had vamped up immensely and people were queuing to cross the river. The sights I saw here and on the last two miles were quite unsettling. I watched with my heart in my mouth as people carrying backpacks far too heavy to support their balance gingerly attempted to cross the river on the slippery rocks. I saw elderly people who could barely walk unaided attempting to climb steps smothered in greasy mud that concealed uneven tree roots. I encountered guys and girls warily descending steep paths drizzled with mud and scarred with skid-marks whilst wearing flimsy flip flops and brand new Nike Airs probably unwrapped from under the Christmas tree a few days earlier. Even at the most challenging times, hiking should be enjoyable. Very few of the inappropriately dressed people I saw looked like they were enjoying themselves.

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Travel has become much more accessible thanks to the likes of of travel blogs and social media. Blogs tell us that “anyone can travel”, encouraging people to quit their day jobs for a life on the road. I think it’s excellent that more people are travelling, and it’s something I hope I myself can inspire in people who read my blog. Social media platforms such as Instagram enable travellers to give others instant access to their experiences. There are benefits to this; in particular, it lets friends and family at home know the traveller is safe. Ironically however, this promotion of travel-for-all and availability of instant access could also be creating a cult of irresponsible travel. In a world where ‘likes’ and retweets are perceived to be indicative of popularity and hence success, some people forget to prepare properly and take precaution when it comes to aspects of travel such as hiking.

I will happily be the first to acknowledge that I tend to upload a lot of travel photos onto Facebook and my blog. However this is done days, sometimes weeks after the photo has been taken and not as I am having the experience. This not only allows the traveller to make the most of the moment without staring at a screen, but can prevent them taking risks in the hopes of receiving a quick ‘like’ for their pretty selfie in front of a backdrop illustrating a daring adventure. Getting excited or feeling proud about one’s undertaking can cause an impulse to share the moment with the world, leading to spontaneous irrational choices. Posing with a selfie-stick on a narrow cliff edge in windy weather before a beautiful ocean view? Walking down a slippery and uneven rocky path towards a tranquil lake whilst staring at your phone choosing a flattering filter? Not a smart idea.

Any travel blogger who says they don’t want to impress people with their photos and stories is lying. What I and many travel bloggers can confidently say is that I am not wanting to impress with how I look in a photo, but with the scenery I am looking at. Social media tends to take the attention off the environment and onto how people look in the environment. This is turn puts a pressure on some people (mostly young girls) to look their best. Perceptions of what “looking your best” means on Instagram might not necessarily equate to suitable hiking attire.

Ultimately it’s up to people what they wear when hiking, but they must accept that they are responsible for their own welfare, and their choices will govern how easily and successfully they can do something. In some cases, one’s actions and choices can be selfish if, by putting themselves at risk through lack of preparation, they also put others near them at risk should they be needed to help them. Nobody should feel like they can’t travel, but everybody should know their limits.

In their attempts to promote a destination and perhaps receive a cheque or free perk in return, travel bloggers must be careful not to create unrealistic expectations of what one can do in an area. In glorifying locations as exotic paradises, they must remind readers of the fundamental practicalities of hiking, swimming and other general activities. Before starting a trail, people should have the right footwear; they should check weather forecasts; they should pack sensibly but lightly; they should know details about the trail; and they should be alert and aware of others whilst on the trail. Hawaii may be a heavenly escape of stunning beaches, palm trees, chilled music and luscious cocktails, but it also has the potential to bring hell on one’s trip if they do not prepare properly.

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Tips for this hike can be found on this website

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy reading The Rise of Techno-Travellers