DANNY ROBINS' INDIE TRAVEL GUIDE TO...2011
Happy New Year. Welcome to the big Two Oh Double One. Planning a trip this year? Fancy going somewhere different, somewhere you might not have thought of before? The Indie Travel Guide is here with some block rockin' tips for where to take yourself in 2011.
The big news this year is that the 'staycation' is dead. Whereas loads of us chose to take our holidays here in the UK last year, both to save money and because there was a volcano belching out ash, apparently this year we're going to get a bit more adventurous. Some interesting new routes have opened up with direct and affordable flights to destinations that previously didn't get a look in and travel companies are offering more and more unusual and leftfield trips for people who feel they've been there, done that and bought the souvenir Kim Jong Il T-shirt.
Not the orange-faced model/novelist and ex of Peter Andre, but the country. Jordan is going to up its tourism game in 2011 thanks to a new direct route from Easyjet to the capital, Amman.
Jordan, unlike a lot of its Middle-Eastern neighbours is safe to visit and contains some amazing things to see. The ancient city of Petra - 'The Rose Red City' - is one of the new seven wonders of the world and the BBC voted it one of the '40 Places You Have to See Before You Die'. You can float in the Dead Sea and visit the Wadi Rum Desert with its red sands and camp out with Bedouin nomads.
There are loads of Biblical sites including the brook where Jesus is said to have been baptised and the mountain-top where Moses cast eyes on the promised land.
For a slightly alternative spin, you could take a Tintin-themed tour there. I'm a big Tintin fan so I was excited to see that On The Go Tours have teamed up with Moulinsart, the people who own the Tintin brand to run Tintin holidays. They offer an 8 day trip to Jordan, the setting for the Tintin adventure, The Red Sea Sharks. You'll be accompanied by an expert 'Tintinologist'. It's quite pricey, so if you can't afford it, you could always do your own DIY Tintin tour - Tintin's creator Hergé's drawings (all based on photos) are incredibly accurate so you'll be able to recognise the scenes from the book.
On the Go also do Tintin tours to India, Egypt and Brussels, home of Hergé.
I'm told that 'Voluntourism' is going to be one of the big travel trends in 2011. This is people going to places and volunteering on projects that benefit local communities but for short 'holiday length' periods of time as opposed to the several months or even year long trips traditionally associated with volunteering.
This ties in with the fashion for responsible eco-tourism and the desire to 'give something back' to the place you're visiting.
One of the most interesting projects you can take part in this year is run by a group called TribeWanted. They got quite a lot of publicity for a project they've been doing over the last few years on the Fijian island of Vorovoro. Basically, they built a sustainable eco-community from scratch with the help of people who paid to be a 'tribe member' for a period of time, living on the island and taking part in the building projects.
Their new project for 2011 is in Sierra Leone on John Obey beach, about 20 miles from the capital, Freetown. The aim is to create an eco-village community in the war-ravaged country - the profits of which will go back to local people. You'll pay £295 a week to join the tribe - that covers your accommodation and food whilst you're there. There'll be a maximum of 30 tribe members at any time, all staying for a minimum of a week.
As well as a bit of hard work building mud houses, there will be downtime to explore the local forests and amazing unspoilt beaches - Sierra Leone, because of its war-torn past, is not somewhere a lot of people visit.
The TribeWanted price doesn't include your flight which you can get for about £550.
Dom Joly was on this show last year talking about his book The Dark Tourist - about holidays in some of the world's most extreme locations. One of the places he visited was Chernobyl.
Chernobyl is of course the site of the worst ever nuclear disaster in history. 2011 will be the 25th anniversary and the Ukrainian government have now officially opened the area to tourists. There have been unofficial trips, like the one Dom went on for a while. To see photos from one have a look here.
This is definitely for people who like their holidays on the adventurous side, preferably accompanied by the clicking of a Geiger-counter. Ukraine, even in the non-radioactive bits, can have a certain 'wild west' quality and by entering the Chernobyl exclusion zone you are heading through probably the most radioactive place in the world.
You can do it as a day trip from Kiev (your lunch is brought in from outside the exclusion zone to avoid contamination!). The site is a couple of hours drive from the Ukrainian capital. The tour has been designed to take you on a safe route, avoiding the bits that are still dangerously radioactive. You'll see the notorious Reactor 4, where the disaster happened, the city of Pripyat, once home to 50,000 people but now evacuated - there are still school books lying on tables in classrooms and May Day decorations hanging in the streets - and stop near the Red Forest - the most contaminated area but now, strangely, proving to be an amazing habitat for plants and animals.
You can get a return flight to Kiev from about £150.
And finally, the Big Apple. This may sound like an obvious one to recommend - New York's always good to visit, right? But 2011 is a special year for the city. It's the 10th anniversary of 9/11and the 'Ground Zero' site where the World Trade Centre stood, which has been closed off for a decade, will reopen as the National September 11th Memorial, a tree-filled plaza with 30ft waterfalls where the twin towers once stood. It's slated to open on the anniversary itself. It will be a pretty amazing and emotional moment for the city.
There are some other interesting things going on in the city this year. The High Line is an urban park in the West Side of Manhattan that's been created on some disused train tracks that run above street level, so you can walk through greenery and look down on the city streets below. It's become one of the must see things in NYC since it opened in 2009 and this spring it's going to extend to include a large lawn space that will be perfect for sunbathing and picnics and play host to various gigs and performances.
Loads of good gigs coming up this year in NYC too - a few that stick out:
Interpol at the historic Radio City on Feb 17th, Wire at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on 5th April and Bowery Ballroom on 6th April. And for sheer campness and spectacle, Lady Gaga and Scissor Sisters at Madison Square Gardens on Feb 21st and 22nd.
For somewhere cheap to stay, look forward to the opening of Yotel this spring - Yotel is the hotel chain from Simon Woodroffe, the creator of Yo Sushi and this New York one, in the prime location of Times Square, will be the first outside of an airport location. Doubles will be from $150 (that's about £96 at the moment) and rooms are pretty stylish with rain showers, mood lighting and free wifi.