Maybe 'regret' is the wrong word...but bearing in mind that we tend to learn more from our mistakes than our successes...what are the biggest 'lessons learned' from holidays you have been on?
1. Destination Regret
I was going to write that there aren't any places we regret going, and that may be true - certainly we are very fortunate to be able to visit the places we do. But there are certainly places we wouldn't go back to.
I love Vietnam with a passion but our visit to Hue was just miserable. Nothing went right. Our hotel was as soggy as the weather, the sightseeing didn't do it for us, we ordered inedible food at a couple of restaurants and a spa visit to set things right did anything but. I'm not saying most people won't enjoy Hue or have a good experience. And I don't blame the city - which is famously rainy. We probably just had two days of bad luck, but I won't be going back any time soon.
Likewise the stars didn't align for our visit to Langkawi - which for many people is a tropical paradise.
Keeping your sense of humour, traveling with people you like and good planning go a long way to helping everyone make the best travel experiences wherever they go....but sometimes those are just the breaks. Places, like people, don't always 'click' - but at least you'll have some good stories and maybe save a friend from that restaurant that gave you food poisoning or choosing the dodgy part of town to stay in.
2. Planning Regret
Readers of our itineraries will probably have guessed that one of the temptations we always fail to overcome is the tendency to cram too much into too little time. At best, this can mean honing your priorities...at worst you have traveled an awfully long way to a place you might never go again - and miss out on an important experience because you are too tired or it just becomes logistically impossible.
Sometimes this is the result of misunderstanding the time required at a particular destination. Our trip to Sikkim was a case in point. Many sights required considerably greater travel time than we had factored in...so we missed a lot of sights including the Rumtek Monastery and Changu Lake.
But it's something we do - time and time again. Why? Because time is always limited. And somehow I don't think the solution is thinking 'O drat we shouldn't go there because we only have three days instead of four'.
Rather, the best way I have found to mitigate the perennial problem of limited time at a particular destination is to maximise the time we have available with the best planning and research we can possibly do, and to have realistic expectations that not everything will turn out perfectly.
3. Food Regret
Ah, food regret - it's the worst isn't it. And it's often the destinations where we expect the most, that we are the most disappointed.
Despite our best research efforts to avoid the tourist traps in Italy - though almost unavoidable in major tourist centres - we have had some real shockers. Of course we have had great meals in Italy too, as well as bad meals in our home city - but somehow it hurts all the more thinking you have foregone some magical pleasure of one of the world's great food cultures for a plate of soggy pasta that you would have done better to knock up yourself at home.
What is the solution? It can be hard to plan your way to great food all the time - and as soon as a place cracks a mention in the guidebook, you can be almost sure said establishment is on the way down in the estimation of locals.
Speaking of locals - they are, of course, the best resource for everything. When stuck in a shop in Ho Chi Minh city due to rain, we began chatting to the shopkeeper for her best restaurant secrets - they were absolute gems. And our taxi driver in Penang took us to the best char kway teow place on the island. Makes sense of course, but these kind of chance encounters don't always happen when you are hungry.
The local versions of restaurant ratings like Urbanspoon can sometimes be helpful, but if there is a local online press and reviews dedicated to particular cities - like the wonderful Broadsheet for Melbourne and Sydney - then so much the better. In Japan I used Bento to find some amazing places to eat. It can take some time to hunt these types of online publications down, and we will pop them in the resources section when we find them, but if all else fails I usually go to Time Out for cities featured by those magazines.
And if when in Italy you are so unfortunate to suffer a bad meal, the solution is always - gelati.
Current ‘hot destination’ Hobart is a gorgeous, small city with attractions enough to fill a very pleasant weekend. Girt by sea and the Derwent River, with historical quarters preserving the city’s convict and pioneer heritage, Hobart is a great city to explore on foot especially around the docks, CBD and Salamanca Place.
For the city itself, three days is probably the minimum and if possible one of those days should be a Saturday, so you can spend the morning at the lively Salamanca Markets, with its great food, local crafts and buzzy atmosphere. Another half or full day can be devoted to the incredible Museum of Old and New Art in Berriedale – about a twenty minute drive from central Hobart, or take the MONA ferry from Constitution Dock.
If you choose to make Hobart your base for a longer holiday, the city is within striking distance of a number of smaller towns and other attractions that make for excellent day or half day trips.
Must Do in Hobart
1. Salamanca Market
Every Saturday, rain or shine, Salamanca Place overflows with stalls run by producers from all over Tasmania. No need to eat breakfast or lunch – you will find both amongst the market or the cafes around the market.
Some of my favourite purchases from this market have been unique jewelry, Tasmanian native wood crafts, kids clothes and even a brightly embroidered leather ‘rug’ from Rajasthan, which takes pride of place in our library.
Not in Hobart on a Saturday? Salamanca Place has lovely cafes and shops open every day, which are a great place to pick up souvenirs. Some of my favourite shops in Salamanca Place are –
Rebecca Roth jewelry – jewel-like resin pieces make great gifts for the girls.
A Common Ground – Full of delicious artisan produce curated by local food authors/chefs/celebrities/producers Matthew Evans and Nick Haddow -
Nant Whisky Bar and Cellar – although the distillery is a short drive away in Bothwell, enjoy a nip or grab a bottle of Nant’s superlative whisky. Share it with someone special though – these bottles do not come cheap – but make a very impressive give for hardcore single malt lovers.
2. Museum of Old and New Art
Even if you aren’t an art lover, MONA is a spectacular building and its contents are unlike any other, the experience of which can be sometimes titillating, sometimes profound. Friends and family who have visited are always divided on what they liked and didn’t about the art, building, the set up, the whatever – and the mere fact that everyone has such different experiences and reactions to the art and the building makes it a must do on anyone’s itinerary.
3. Mount Wellington
Bring seriously warm clothes to the summit of Hobart’s presiding mountain – even on sunny days in the height of summer, it is absolutely freezing up here, but there are some fantastic views and a great way to see this lovely city from above.
Plan your visit if you can around some of Hobart’s lovely events – the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and Taste of Tasmania are two of the premier events that can be enjoyed simultaneously on about the 27th/28th December – depending when the boats come in.
Also consider some of the island’s fab music festivals like MONA FOMA, Dark MOFO and the Falls Festival.
5. Botanical Gardens
Near Bellerive Oval, Hobart’s Botanical Gardens command jaw dropping views and are full of surprises. Pack your picnic and wander the Japanese and other lovely themed gar dens.
6. Food and Drink
Hobart is quite the gateway to the foodie paradise that awaits on your travels around the rest of Tasmania.
Restaurant of the minute is Garagistes – we had a great night here sharing communal tables and conversation with other travelers and indulging in shared plates of ‘local produce made art’. Be sure to reserve in advance if you are keen, or try out sister bar Sidecar.
Also worth a try - the Lark Distillery or Nant in Salamanca Place offer tastings of delicious whiskies and liqueurs produced in boutique quantities and served in cosy surroundings.
Cara and Alok like planning travel itineraries. We like it a lot.