Sunday, 30 November 2014

TRAVEL TIDBITS: Travel scratch map

This birthday I found the perfect gift for traveloholics like me: A world map where you can scratch off each destination you visit. On this vintage-looking map, the land masses are covered in gold foil that can be scratched off to reveal the countries you’ve visited. It's a simple piece of home decor that brightens up your space. Plus, it serves as a vision board that will motivate you to plan that trip you've been putting on hold due to impractical reasons. I hope by my next birthday I not only acquire this map, but also manage to scratch a whole lot of places on it. Iceland, Greenland, Sweden, Norway, Germany and more...
Available at

Thursday, 27 November 2014

PHOTO FEATURE: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, 2013 - 2014

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Every year, the holiday season kicks off with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Last year, I was lucky to be there and see it live. I say ‘lucky’ because that’s exactly what it was. I had just arrived to New York the night before and the hostel I was staying in—Hostelling International, located on Amsterdam Avenue—had planned to take a bunch of us for the parade the next morning. Unfortunately, I woke up late and missed the group by a few minutes. While the reception gave me a copy of the route to get to the parade’s starting point, 77th Street and Central Park West, on the southeast corner of the American Museum of Natural History, I was unsure if I’d make it.

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who put the alarm on snooze mode. Luis, a fellow traveller from Mexico, was just as late so we decided to head out together. A few blocks before our destination, we stopped over for coffee at Starbucks. As soon as we got out, we ran into another hostel-mate Leonardo, who was visiting from Venezuela. We lost souls walked together till we saw a line marking the entry for the parade. We joined the dozens of families huddled together with folded chairs and food baskets prepared for the four-hour wait before the parade was slated to begin. The fact that it was freezing at 5:30am wasn’t helping much. The parade draws more than 3.5 million people every year, so if you're hoping to find a place to sit, you have to be there before 6:30am, even though it actually kicks off at 9am.

Halfway through the line, we are asked for our passes. Since this was such a last-minute plan and we were supposed to be with our hostel representative, we had no clue we needed passes at all. When we shook our heads, the kind gentleman said “Let me see if I can get you some” seeing that we had already spent half an hour waiting in line. We stood aside hoping to grab some tickets. Another 15 minutes and we were in! We found great seats, which we were grateful for as we noticed that people across the street were standing. Oblivious to the seating arrangements at the parade, we realised only later that we had been waiting in the wrong line. We were meant to be the people standing across the road. But thanks to our lack of knowledge, we ended up with Grandstand seats and fun company.

Here’s what you can look forward to at this year’s parade:

This year you can expect to see Hello Kitty, Papa Smurf, Spider-Man, SpongeBob SquarePants balloon heads of characters from The Wizard of Oz.

This year’s performers include the Big Apple Circus, Cirque du Soleil, Hilary Duff, Nick Jonas, KISS, Idina Menzel and the cast of Sesame Street. In addition, there will be marching bands from 12 high schools and universities.

This year’s route and the best viewing spots
Here’s what had to share: The south side of 34th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue is highly sought-after territory every year, but there are plenty of better options. The long stretch of Sixth Avenue between Central Park South and 38th Street provides ample viewing room; you’ll want to avoid any spot between 34th and 38th Streets, as the view is limited by broadcasting equipment.

The best bet is to situate yourself on Central Park West between Columbus Circle and 77th Street, where the parade kicks off. In addition to the scenic backdrop, you can show up closer to 8 am. and still get a decent view.

Check out some of the balloons from Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade 2013

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Travelling with locals

People often travel to Pushkar seeking a spiritual awakening or an intoxication of the senses brought on by heady substances known to be available here. I first visited this tiny town—located in the Ajmer district in the Indian state of Rajasthan—back in 2008. It was meant to be a mere detour during an ongoing Mumbai-Delhi road trip, but I ended up discovering a lot more than I expected.

Pink Floyd Hotel and Café
Pushkar is well known for its Brahma Temple, the only one of its kind in the world, but rarely is it spoken about for its intriguing coffee shops and shopping options. Walking around looking for a cosy spot to grab a bite, I started chatting with some locals. Being fluent in the local language of Marwari, since I am originally from Rajasthan, was truly helpful. A little boy told me about Pink Floyd Hotel that had a rooftop café. I had never heard of it before nor was I able to find it on the Internet. But I was intrigued by its name, so I set out to find it. The building looked dilapidated and unimpressive. I began to understand why it wasn’t listed on any guidebook or website I’d come across. I walked into the narrow vertical building and climbed all the way up the three floors. As I made my way up, I saw some of the rooms in the hotel. They were all named after different albums by Pink Floyd. Once I was up at the terrace I could see why this place was a hidden gem. The space comprised comfortable bamboo chairs, a great view of the town and a decent menu with a selection of coffee, cake and various meal options. The food may have not been too impressive, but I would most certainly go back for the incredible view. And I only have that little boy to thank. Without him I would have never found this place.

Introducing Withlocals
When it comes to travel, the best discoveries are the ones you make when you interact with the locals in the region. There’s no better way to explore a country and its culture and cuisine than by getting to really know its people. But it isn’t always easy to meet people whose recommendations you can trust. Plus, local language can also be a hindrance. Just recently, as I began planning my next trip, I was searching for a way to get in touch with people in Vietnam and I fell upon a website called Withlocals. They connect travellers with locals offering a range of unique experiences. You can opt to taste local cuisine at someone’s home; maybe even learn to make some dishes. You can also take part in activities or learn traditional skills like toddy tapping in Sri Lanka or carving silver jewellery in Vietnam.

Enjoy home cooking in Malaysia

Withlocals is currently present in Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia, Nepal, and Malaysia. When I got in touch with them, I found out that they are soon coming to India. I am particularly glad to hear this because they also have the option of hosting tours. I have hosted many friends from different countries, taking them to places in Mumbai they should see and also aiding them with suggestions to travel in India. I am looking forward to registering with them. I hope you do too :)

Check out these Withlocals experiences for inspiration:

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Want to stay in a tree house? Sign up with

I first made a bucket list six years ago, when I began to travel on my own. One of the things on this list was to stay in a tree house. I chanced upon one in Kerala while researching for a story back when I was working for a travel magazine. I had dreamed of a beautiful home nestled between tall trees, far away from civilisation, lit up by the rays of the sun and filled with songs of the birds surrounding it with only a stack of books and a cup of coffee for company. I never did strike that off my list. But that is about to change…

A few weeks ago, I discovered that the tree house I had envisioned all these years was not only real, but more beautiful than in my imagination. Located in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia in the U.S.A., this tree house comprises a living room, bedroom and a deck, all connected by a rope bridge adorned with strings of fairy lights. Furnished with antiques interspersed with contemporary design elements, this tree house offers the perfect escape from the civilised world to a fairytale land that is undisturbed, revelling in its natural habitat. The bed can be angled in a way that allows you to be embraced by the lush woods around you, while the little desk near it encourages you to pen down your thoughts as the birds cheer you on.

If you’re wondering how I found this breathtaking place, the answer is Airbnb—a website where a community of locals across the world offer their homes to travellers looking for unique spaces to live in as they travel.

Why use Airbnb?
As travellers, we are all seeking out new experiences and hoping to discover offbeat locales and quirky places to stay in. Airbnb has taken the pains to help travellers find inspiring accommodation options to choose from. How else could you get the chance to live in an igloo? Or rent a private island? Or live in Charles Dickens’ home? The choices are exciting and endless. Plus it is a great way to connect with locals and getting an insight into their lives.

So, to help you get started on your very own unique adventure, Airbnb has this awesome referral programme that allows me to give all my readers Rs 1,500 to use on your first booking by simply signing up. So what are you waiting for? Join Airbnb today using this link and set out on your next travel adventure!