Co-working spaces for digital nomads: great idea or scam?

Co-working spaces for digital nomads: great idea or scam?

I discovered the world of co-working spaces in Asia for digital nomads in 2015. At the time, I just came back from one year and a half of travel and I was struggling to adapt to my new Milanese city life. For Google, it was just too easy to cross my travel searches with my job-related queries to propose me an escape route called Hubud, a pretty famous co-working space in Ubud, Bali. Back then, the concept of digital nomadism was completely new for me, but the idea of freelancing from a designer’s style office in the middle of the jungle with other young professionals immediately resonated with me. I thereby decided that that was what I wanted to do for a living. I subscribed to every possible newsletter about digital nomadism, co-working spaces in Asia and all the surf-and-work propaganda that was spreading like a virus on the internet in those days (and still is).

Should I get a membership in a co-working space in Asia?

The next summer I actually ended up visiting Bali and decided to check out Hubud with sky-high expectations. The location itself is pretty legit. A fancy space built in the classic minimal-meets-local architectural style that you can find almost everywhere in hipster South East Asia, of which Bali is the capital. Basically a café with big desks, electric sockets and Wi-Fi. The real surprise came with the prices, tho. The rate is calculated per hour, and for a 50h/month deal (basically not even a part-time job) the fee is 95$, and for the (almost) full-time schedule of 100h/month it is nearly 200$! These are basically the same prices that you pay for a co-working place in Milan.

Here are the reasons why I think that fancy co-working spaces in Asia are not for me, but may as well work for you! Let me know your opinion in the comments.

 co-working spaces in AsiaCurrent office in Siargao, Philippines

Westerner prices for westerner people

See, this is the main problem with this kind of spaces. It’s a service with westerner prices for westerner customers. No matter if you are in an Asian country where the cost of living is one-third of its westerner counterparts. Personally, the choice of being completely location independent cost me half of my freelance business. While the amount that I make per month is still enough to allow me a good quality of life in Asia, it is not enough to pay European prices. May that is for the office, the rent, the motorbike or the food! That’s the point of digital nomadism in beautiful and cheap South East Asia, right? You can get along with less work and more fun!

If you are escaping office life, stay away from co-working space

Let’s be real. Co-working space is just another way to call the office. It might be ok if you are someone that actually needs an office to be productive, but in my case compelling to stay seated in an enclosed room for 8 to 10 hours a day is exactly the problem. The less time I spend in an office, the more productive I am. I’m more motivated to get the work done quickly and then go out and play! If you don’t like to work from home, there’s a plethora of extremely nice café around South East Asia that will only charge you the price of a coffee or a mango smoothie to let you work from their porch all day.

My home and office in Siargao, Philippines

Meeting likeminded professionals and participating in (useless and expensive) seminaries

Coworking spaces often organise seminaries and meetups. Most of the time, they are about extremely generic topics with surprisingly high prices. I guess these meetups might be useful if you are new to the freelance world, where networking is key. The same goes for the seminars, they might eventually spark some light on how to run your business. But I don’t really get how a newbie of the freelance world can embark on such an adventure as digital nomadism without any experience. It takes a while to establish your skills and find some clients, and this won’t be any easier from a country you don’t know. Plus, I find the price extremely disproportionate compared to the content of the seminaries. That’s why they might be seen as a scam rather than a learning opportunity.

Reliable internet connection and company vs authenticity

I can get that some people might rely on co-working spaces just to fight the loneliness and to enjoy reliable internet connection. Anyway, out there are so many options that will cost you a fraction of the price! I actually live in a digital nomad and surfing friendly island of the Philippines, where there’s no co-working space what so ever. We all get our work done no worries tho: most of the accommodations (shared or private) come with a Wi-Fi. As does almost every café on the island. The price I pay for renting a private bungalow with Wi-Fi is exactly one-third of what I paid for my shared flat in Milan. I live in a homestay, with other long-term travellers and the local host family. We spend some time together every day chatting, surfing and helping around the house. Which allows me to really experience the local lifestyle and enjoy nature and simple life while still being productive for my clients. Personally, I don’t see the point of moving to a tropical country to then close yourself in a backpackers’ office bubble.

What do you think about it?

10 things to do in Milan during Christmas time

10 things to do in Milan during Christmas time

things to do in milan
Things to do in Milan
Traditionally, Milan’s festive season kicks off in the second week of December. Last weekend, aka Il Ponte, marked its start. That is because that week boasts two religious holidays: Sant’Ambrogio (patron saint of Milan) on December 7th, and the Immacolata, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on the 8th. Being two consecutive dates, it is easy to mould them into a longer holiday, which in Italian is called fare il ponte (making a bridge). So how do the Milanese celebrate the holiday season? Here are 10 things to do in Milan to get into the Christmas spirit!

1. Take advantage of the Ponte and leave for a Settimana Bianca

Settimana bianca is how Italians call a skiing holiday. The ponte di Sant’Ambrogio is traditionally the first occasion to leave the city for the ski slopes. Back in the 80s and 90s, the golden age of Milan, every Milanese worthy of the name owned a holiday home in Courmayeur, Cortina or Saint Moritz. Today, new generations own fewer holiday houses but haven’t stopped skiing. That’s why airb&b is thriving even on the Alps!

2. Enjoy Bombardino on the ski slopes

Bombardino is the traditional shot Italian skiers drink to warm themselves up between runs. It is made of Vov (an egg-based liqueur) and is served hot with whipped cream on top. The perfect way to boost your energy even on the coldest of days!

3. Decorate the Christmas tree on your return

Traditionally, the Milanese decorate their houses for Christmas during the Sant’Ambrogio weekend. Nowadays, almost everyone has some kind of Christmas tree in their house.  Historically though, Italians celebrate the Nativity with a crèche. The representations of the birth of Jesus can be made with hundreds of tiny statues and even a fully-fledged theatrical set with waterfalls, fairy lights and moving parts. If you want to build a proper Italian crèche, don’t forget that baby Jesus must only be placed in the manger on Christmas Day!

4. Enjoy caldarroste in Piazza Duomo

Roast chestnuts, or caldarroste, are the typical wintery street snack of Milan. Strolling around in Piazza Duomo, you may notice that there are small food stalls at every street corner. They sell sweets, drinks and paper cones full of steamy chestnuts. A must in the cold season!

5. Browse the Milanese Christmas Markets: the Oh Bej! Oh Bej!

The Oh Bej! Oh Bej! are the traditional Christmas markets of Milan. The food and crafts stalls have stood around the edge of the Castello Sforzesco and Parco Sempione each year for more than 500 years! This year, from December 5th to the 8th you will find florists and artisans, prints and books sellers, clothes stalls and plenty of toys and balloons.

Things to do in Milan
Things to do in Milan

6. Buy the right Panettone

The favourite dessert of the Milanese during this time of the year is undeniably the Panettone. The word “panettone” derives from the Italian word panetto, a small loaf cake. In 1919, Angelo Motta revolutionised the traditional panettone, giving it its tall domed shape by making the dough rise three times, for almost 20 hours, before cooking, giving it its now-familiar light texture. The historical Milanese pasticceria where you can buy a traditional Panettone to make a bella figura (a good impression) with your Italian friends is Cova, via Montenapoleone, 8. Panettone (or Pandoro, the version without candied fruit) is usually served with a mascarpone cream of which you can find the recipe here. Otherwise you can also try the German version that we collected in our international recipes here.

7. Drink some Vin Brulé in the churchyard after the Christmas Eve mass, listening to the Zampognari

A religious tradition in Italy is to attend the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, it is a very special mass, with a choir singing Christmas songs and a live Nativity scene. At the end of the mass, people usually linger outside the church to exchange wishes and toasts. Vin Brulé -spiced wine- and the traditional Panettone are usually served in exchange for a small offering. If you are lucky there might also be a group of bagpipers playing the Christmas carols (aka the Zampognari).

8. Lose money while playing Mercante in fiera

Every Milanese kid has played Mercante in Fiera (Merchant at the Fair) at least once in their life. This card game is very popular in Italy, especially during Christmas time. I won’t try to explain it here, firstly because there are already some pretty decent English guides online and secondly because half of the fun comes from your tipsy Italian friends trying to teach it to you!

9. Dress up for a Christmas concert in Brera

Every year, the Accademia musicale di Brera performs a concert of Christmas songs. A must-do for anyone wanting to enjoy a Christmas-themed night out in one of the fanciest districts in town.

10. Ice skate in Gae Aulenti

Spend an afternoon ice skating with the kids in between the Milanese skyscrapers in Gae Aulenti Square.

13 bad-ass South East Asia backpacking tips for ladies

13 bad-ass South East Asia backpacking tips for ladies

backpacking tips for ladies

Have you ever wanted to go on a challenging trip into the wilderness or to test yourself on a long adventure to remote lands? I know that limited access to western comforts (such as a hot shower or –just saying- a room with a window) might seem scary if you never backpacked before. But with the right clues, even a long trip through dirt cheap hostels and sketchy bungalows can be comfortable.

Today I share my backpacking tips for ladies and my must-bring items for all the wannabe bad-ass female travellers out there. Some of the points might also be useful for men, but most of them are for dha cool ladies out there. If you are really clueless on what to bring on your trip, check out my South East Asia packing list.

backpacking tips for ladies

1. Always carry a toilet paper roll with you

Yes, yes. More than half of the world actually survives without using toilet paper (say what?!) In rural Asia you will never find it in public restrooms, toilet paper being a rare sight even in restaurants or stations. So better be safe than sorry and always carry one roll in your backpack. Watch out: toilet paper is actually considered a luxury item in developing countries. Only tourists use it, therefore it is pretty expensive compared to the rest of the toiletries.

2. Embrace the bum gun

If you’re new to the notion, please go google it and come back. The bum gun is basically a weird hose hanging behind the toilet seat. If used properly it can be of great help, considering the shortage of toilet paper. Sometimes you’ll also find the cheaper version of the bum gun, aka the bucket + the plastic pan. This might seem even scarier but gurl, there will be times that you will need it. But that’s also why you should always carry wet wipes as well.

3. Bring a padlock and a bike locker for trains

Almost every hostel has some sort of personal safe or drawer that you can use to store your valuables or even your full backpack. This is more than great, but the bad news is that it never comes with a padlock. That’s why you need to bring your own from home. Just don’t bring a massive one: it probably won’t fit. If you’re travelling on a night train, like in India, consider bringing a bike lock to secure your backpack to your bench.

backpacking tips for ladies

4. Give shampoo bars a try – unless you have curly long hair

I’ve tried to like shampoo bars. I actually really wanted to like them! I turned to shampoo bars because no matter how few liquids I carry, one will always spill and make a mess in my beauty case. The thing is that no matter how fancy they might be (I used to buy the Lush ones) they won’t be creamy enough for curly hairs. Leave alone if you have long hair and you’re constantly in a tropical humid climate and/or in and out the ocean surfing. Big no for me, unfortunately. BUT! If you’re one of those lucky girls with naturally silky air, go for it! A shampoo bar (Lush also sell “conditioners”) can last up to a month!

5. Mini flat iron + mini hairdryer

This is my guilty pleasure. But in my defence I can say that I’ve tried to live without those for a year and a half, while I was a long-term traveller and man, it didn’t work. I have quite messy hair and, unless I want to constantly have them up in a bun, I really need some trusted styling tools. Imetec does these beautiful tiny versions that are carry-on friendly.

6. Bring a clothesline with a few pegs

On a normal basis, I will gladly benefit from the lovely ladies that take care of your laundry for a few dollars in Asia. I personally think it’s a nice way to contribute to the local women’s small business. Thus said, your laundry will usually take at least 24h to be ready. Sometimes you just don’t have that time. Because you’re staying only one night in a place or because you honestly run out of panties completely. I’ve been there many times and that’s when a clothesline comes in handy. You can quickly wash a few t-shirts and undies and hang them on the roof of your hostel or on a balcony. Or even inside of your room in desperate situations.

backpacking tips for ladies

7. Ditch the common flip-flops and invest in a pair of Birkenstock

Constantly walking in flip flops will seriously hurt your back sooner or later. On the other hand, Birkenstock will always feel comfortable, even on mild hiking trails. My first pair followed me for a year and a half of jungle hikes, desert crossing, city walks and even nights out. The fact that they have a decent sole will actually take your feet out of the mud (or worse) in many situations.

8. Buy a local sim card if you’re staying 3+ weeks

Having an internet connection to be able to find your bearings on a map, to use online translators or to call the hostel can be vital when travelling. Especially as a solo woman. And even when it’s not vital, it so damn practical. We use google maps and our telephones for everything at home, why shouldn’t we when in a foreign country. Sim cards in Asia are usually super cheap and easy to get on side-road technology shops.

9. Bring your snorkelling mask from home

I always, always forget my mask home just to be pissed when I’m on a beautiful beach with no snorkelling rent operation in sight. If you like snorkelling it’s a must. With your own mask, you will actually be able to snorkel everywhere (for free) and not only when booking a snorkelling trip. Also, the quality of rented masks can be pretty poor, and having your own won’t take up too much space in your backpack.

backpacking tips for ladies

10. Scan your passport and ID card, then email it to yourself and print it

I always suggest to carry photocopies of your passport and important documents with you, but also to email it to yourself. The email is actually the safest option, but you might need a copy of your passport handy in places where’s there not a copy shop in sight for kilometres.

11. Travel pillow + earplugs + sleeping mask

This is the sacred trinity for sleeping in hostels or on planes/public transports. After a long day of travelling, the last thing you want is to stay awake because of someone else snoring or the complete lack of curtains. Always bring your sleeping kit with you and you will sleep like a baby.

12. Bring condoms

One of the most important backpacking tips for ladies is: Bring condoms. Condoms are not so easy to find in out-of-the-beaten-track destinations in Asia. Which -funny story- is EXACTLY where handsome backpackers end up to! That’s why you should bring your little reserve from home and restock when possible. Still in doubt? Picture this: do you really want to explain to a shy rural pharmacist that only speaks Burmese what you mean by “condom?!”

13. Try the moon cup

This is tricky. I know that moon cups are a bit scary for many women, but many others (myself included) find it revolutionary. It personally took me a while to get comfortable with it, but in the long run, taking the time to get used to it was a great choice. First of all, they are made of silicone which is way less irritating than tampons and pads. Secondly, you will never again run out of pads when in far-out locations or on Sunday mornings when every damn shop is closed. Third, it’s the most environmentally friendly choice you can made period-wise. Now. Sterilising can be tricky when travelling, as you may not be able to use a clean pot and a stove to boil your cup in. But FEAR NOT, I got you covered. Milton sterilizing pills (the ones that are used for baby’s pacifiers) can be used in a regular plastic container and will sterilize your cup in 15 minutes.

8 Backpackers’ paradises for the outdoor lovers

8 Backpackers’ paradises for the outdoor lovers

This week I wanted to make a selection of my favourite playgrounds around Asia and Australia. Some of them are really mainstream while others are still a bit out of the backpackers’ trail. But that’s the point, I love to travel out of the beaten path, but sometimes I also like to stop in a chill place where I can meet like-minded travellers and enjoy a laid-back routine for a while. These are places for outdoor lovers, where you can surf or hike or do yoga every day, but where you can also sleep in a comfy bungalow every night and have fresh fruits for breakfast. These are my favourite backpacker destinations in Asia and Australia.

backpacker destinations in Asia

1. Bali, Indonesia

Bali is still the ultimate backpackers’ paradise. You might have to get over the crowded shores of Kuta, but then the heart of the island will unfold into lush jungles and rice fields. Driving a motorbike up and down its green hills dotted with temples and coffee plantations is one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had in Asia altogether. Bali for me means dreamy beaches, clear water, incredible cliffs and rock formations. The outdoor lovers won’t risk boredom. If you’re into surfing, you will find breaks for any level. Waves are consistent and the water is crystal clear. You can check out all the surf spots here. The turquoise waters are also a blessing for snorkelers and divers. In Bali you can dive in the north and on the east side of the island, but also around nearby islands. Hikers can choose to trek around the rice fields or to climb Mount Batur (1700m) or Mount Agung (3000m) the two Balinese volcanos.

Where to stay: Bali has so many wonderful accommodations that it would be impossible to choose one. Just avoid busy Kuta and try to book your nights in expat favourites Canggu and Ubud.

When to Go: The dry season here is pretty long, it runs from April to November.

backpacker destinations in Asia

2. Gili Islands, Indonesia

Just 45 minutes of fast boat away from Bali you will land on three tiny paradise islands: The Gilis. No cars nor scooters here, just horses and. Gili T is the party Island, Gili Meno is a teeny tiny islet, very quiet and honeymoony, and Gili Air is the happy hippy place where I spent four days eating fresh grilled tuna and swimming with turtles. The islands are surrounded by calm waters and wonderful reefs that you can reach just swimming off the beach.

Where to stay: in every island with a little of bargaining you can win a decent bungalow with a beach view for a few dollars. But if you’re feeling spendy, opportunities are endless!

When to Go: As in neighbouring Bali, the dry season here is pretty long, it runs from April to November.

backpacker destinations in Asia

3. Pai, Northern Thailand

Pai is the backpackers’ paradise and the hippy headquarters of Thailand northern circuit. Hidden on the northern mountains, it is reachable with a 4h winding minibus ride from Chiang Mai. The chill out atmosphere, the cheap and tasty restaurants, the night markets (where we ate the best pizza in more than one year of travels), the pool with a bar and a sound system, the natural hot springs and the night parties around bonfires basically make it the best playground for backpackers. The surroundings of the village are dotted with traditional wooden huts shadowed by lush vegetation. Nature lovers will find a bunch of jungle trails that lead to waterfalls and natural hot springs. Not too far from Pai, you can also explore Tham Lot cave and visit some traditional tribe villages.

Where to stay:  I don’t really have a special place to recommend in Pai, but I can definitely recommend the guesthouse we stayed in Tham Lot: the charming Cave Lodge, one of the best guesthouses I ever stayed in my life.

When to go: November to March are the driest months. A lot of sunshine but not so much water to pump the beautiful waterfall.

backpacker destinations in Asia

4. Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan: home of the infamous Full Moon Party that every month brings something like 200.000 people at the biggest beach party of the world. That place is legit. Way, way, way cheaper that Ibizia, Mykonos or whatever in Europe is considered a party island, Ko Phangan kicks ass. The good thing about it is that it actually gets rid of the 200.000 clubbers as soon as the morning comes. Leaving the island to the quiet, hippie paradise that it is for the rest 29 days of the month. Everything is extremely sweet here: the mix between some of the most beautiful beaches I ever seen, parties, cool travellers, good food and charming bungalows on the beach. Phangan is also the place to be if you’re into colourful and rich diving. You can also hike from the west coast the eastern on a kinda steep 2h trail. It starts from Haad Khom and goes to charming Bottle Beach. From here you can get back by boat if you’re too tired. The island also has a small kitesurfing scene if you fancy the wind sports.

Where to go: The area around Haad Rin (the Full Moon Party beach) can be three times more expensive than the rest of the island, especially around the full moon. The west coast is cheaper and quieter.

When to go: The dry season runs from mid-December to April. You can still find mostly sunny weather with the occasional storm until September

backpacker destinations in Asia

5. Siargao, Philippines

Siargao is a surfers’ paradise located in the south-west of the Philippines archipelago. It’s a tiny island covered in coconut tree forests, still untouched by mass tourism. The island has a chill-out vibe and is visited year-round by surfers and local backpackers. The only two locations that offer accommodations are General Luna and Pacifico. GL is actually where most of the surf spots are located, world-class Cloud 9 included. The island offers a lot for non-surfers as well: island hopping and snorkelling, diving, scooter driving to beautiful lagoons, yoga classes and beach parties every night, where you can meet young locals and travellers alike. This is going to be my home base from January 2018, so no need to detail further how much I am in love with the island and its lovely people.

Where to stay: I can’t recommend enough the chill and friendly Paglaom Hostel. Sunny, Koy and their cute doggies are going to make you feel at home.

When to go: The dry season in this area of the Philippines runs from March to October. For surfers, the best period is August to November, when the swell and wind conditions are at their best.

6. Noosa, Australia (QLD)

Noosa is the not-so-secret pearl of the Sunshine Coast, a long strip of beach that connects the bustling South to the jungle North of East Coast Australia. A small surfers’ town surrounded by the last stretch of the rainforest. The water is about the warmest it can get when it comes to Australian surf spots. I still had to wear my full sleeves wetsuit but I’m a spoiled Mediterranean girl used to the warmth of the South East Asian Pacific waves. There are several breaks for any level. As a beginner, I had some of my best Australian waves there. For those who aren’t into surfing, you can hike under the thick canopy of the Noosa National Park: a maze of lush jungle trails that end up in ocean viewpoints and small waterfalls. You can also kayak on the Everglades, the mysterious and tranquil mirrored waters of the wetlands. At night Noosa is alive with its casual surfers’ hangouts and a tiny but lively party scene. Backies claim that “Noosa Bug” is a thing: once you arrive here, you’ll never want to leave.

Where to stay: Halse Lodge is a YHA Australia Hostel in a marvellous historical Queenslander, the traditional wooden houses of Queensland. Vanlifers can park their vans there and use all the hostel facilities for a small fee, while long-term travellers can work a few hours here in exchange for accommodation. The chill and friendly atmosphere and small parrots that come visit at breakfast time will make you stay forever.

When to go: the dry season in Queensland runs from April to November.

7. Byron Bay, Australia (NSW)

Byron Bay is a hippie enclave in the North of coastal New South Wales. This is the place to be if you want to surf with dolphins in crystal clear waters. Which should be more than enough to go there if you ask my opinion! Surf is the biggest outdoor activity here, but you can hike and cycle in the surroundings. The coastal trail from the main beach to the lighthouse it’s just stunning. You can also rent a kayak for the day and go in search of dolphins. Not too far from Byron Bay you can hike to lush Minyon Falls, or make a day trip to Nimbin, aka the hippie capital of Australia. In the early 1970s, a group of Sydney University students choose Nimbin as the location for the Australian version of Woodstock; a counter-culture festival that celebrated art, sustainability, harmony and freedom. Many young hippies decided to stay in the area after the festival starting small businesses like alternative healers, therapists and yoga teachers. Nowadays Nimbin is a colourful, decaying, weed-powered hill community. Definitely worth a visit. If you stay long enough you can also have the chance to attend one of their famous parties.

Where to stay: Definitely stay in Arts Factory Backpacker’s Lodge in Byron Bay. It’s a 5-acres subtropical campground with tepees, bungalows, dorms, parking for vanlifers and a pool (yay!). Various workshops are available including drumming, didgeridoo making, yoga and juggling. The nights here are filled with music and artsy entertainment. A bit far out but totally worth it!

When to go: the dry season in Byron runs from April to November.

8. Pushkar, India

One of the classic stops of the Rajasthan Circuit, Pushkar is built around a sacred lake, a popular pilgrimage site for Indians. Sitting by the lake at sunset while the neighbouring temples raise their chanting prayers is a magical experience. If you’re into hiking, the real gem of the place is the Savitri Mandir, a hill temple where you can have the best 360 view of the lake and the surrounding desert. The one-hour long hike to get there will reward you with the best picture opportunities, especially if you get there at sunset or at sunrise. Despite the holiness of the place, Pushkar is also a hub for backpackers. You can start the night in one of the local bars as the Pink Floyd Café, the Funky Monkey Café or the Rainbow. Here you will meet travellers and regulars alike and will probably get invited in one of the frequent rave parties happening on the hills. Those parties are only spread by word-of-mouth, so keep an ear out!

Where to stay: I tried really hard but I can’t remember the name of the wonderful backpacker’s Haveli we stayed in! This is why you should keep a diary while travelling! Anyway, the city is filled with extremely charming (and cheap) options for backpackers.

When to go: Pushkar is dry for most of the year. You should be fine from October to May, then the monsoon kicks in.

8 things to do in North Queensland besides the great barrier reef

8 things to do in North Queensland besides the great barrier reef

things to do in North Queensland

The coast line of Far North Queensland has nothing to do with the infinite expanse of waves, sharks and surfers of the South. In this part of Australia, the rainforest dips into the ocean with its enveloping mangroves and crocodile infested estuaries. Moving northward from Cairns, the ocean takes on a greenish colour due to its swollen and angry tributaries. Not that going for a swim is an option. Here the crocs eat a human or two every couple of years. But hey, even if swimming is highly discouraged, there is plenty of adventurous things to do in North Queensland!

1. Exploring Daintree National Park

What is really amazing about this piece of coastline is the intricate and chirping density of the rainforest. The canopy is so thick that in some places the light struggles to sneak in. The drive on the Mossman Daintree Road, which crosses the park, is an attraction in itself. Forty winding kilometres under a thick canopy inhabited by trees kangaroos, “flying foxes” bats, colourful parrots, snakes of all sizes and spiders bigger than a baseball glove. Along the road you’ll find several trail heads for forest walks that range from 10’ up to 6 hours. Check them all out here.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

2. Sunbath on stunning beaches (but don’t take a swim!)

Occasionally, you’ll pass a secondary road that stretches to the coast. In Daintree National Park, the beaches of Cow Bay, Thornton Beach and Cape Tribulation look like frames taken from a Robison Crusoe movie. Mangroves and palm trees stretch into the ocean, serving as a perfect hideout for crocs. The only beach furnishings that you’ll find here are cobwebs and fallen tree branches. In the evening, the backpackers’ vans are parked next to each other despite the empty parking, as to create a compact formation in the event of ranger raids (or crocodile’s). Free camping is not allowed here, but it’s kind of overlooked by the rangers. Vanlife tip: every beach parking has toilets and running water (one of the many reasons why I love Australia).

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

3. Jump with a liane in the Emmagen Creek (and actually have a swim!)

Between the things to do in North Queensland, swimming is not tipically an option. The swimming hole at Emmagen Creek is actually one of the few safe places to swim in the Daintree lowlands. Walk upstream along the creek for about 400 metres through the rainforest until you reach the deeper pools. Watch out: the water is pretty chilly because it doesn’t get a lot of direct sunlight.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

4 Climb Mount Sorrow on a jungle trail

This 7km trail climbs from the coastal lowlands of Cape Tribulation, up the rainforest-clad ridge of Mount Sorrow to a lookout offering views of the beautiful Daintree coastline, Snapper Island and beyond. It’s supposed to be a 6/7 hours’ trail, but it took us around 4 hours. The trail has some steep sections but as long as you are quite fit and you’re wearing decent runners you should be fine! Remember to bring along at least 2L water per person (in the cool season). Watch out: on the top you only have a small lookout platform, there’s not really a space to have a nice picnic.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

5. Chill by the fancy pool at PK’s Jungle village

If you are wondering where to stay in Daintree National Park, well you have plenty of options ranging from campgrounds up to fancy Eco lodges. We stayed at PK’s Jungle Village , a super cool backpackers that also offered campgrounds for van-lifers. After months of semi-solitude in the Outback, it was nice to hang out with other travellers around the common kitchen or by the wonderful jungle pool. Definitely recommended!

6. Feel some off-road adrenaline on the Bloomfield Track

Once you reach Cape Tribulation, the northern tip of the park, the asphalt road ends abruptly and turns into an off-road track: The Bloomfield Track. To continue, you need a 4WD. Even in the dry season, you have to cross a couple of streams and face extremely steep rises and slopes that usually end with a sharp turn. Without a 4wd you will likely roll ruinously in the jungle. The Bloomfield track is actually a shortcut to reach Cooktown faster, but you have to be kind of an adrenaline junkie to take it.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

7. Sip a coffee in old Cooktown

Once you’re safe and sound and out of the Bloomfield Track, in a hundred rough kilometres you will reach Cooktown, the last proper town before the wild Cape York peninsula. Despite its epic past, the town itself is not super interesting. Exploding from two hundred to two thousand inhabitants in just over a decade, at first glance Cooktown might look more like an open-air yard than a real community. But willing or not, Cooktown is the northernmost point you can reach without having a serious off-road vehicle.

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

8 Venture to the Cape York Peninsula (only for the bravest)

The Cape York Peninsula is the largest unspoiled wilderness in northern Australia and one of the last remaining wilderness areas on Earth. Also known as “The Tip”, it is crossed by a long dirt road of nearly four hundred kilometres, crossed by actual rivers and countless off-road side tracks: a paradise for Australians adventure lovers. The ultimate trip to discover the Far North, that leads to the narrow strait that connects Australia with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Only for true explorers with seriously pimped up rigs!

things to do in North Queensland
things to do in North Queensland

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THROUGH THE JUNGLE

BEACH AUSTRALIA

OUTBACK AUSTRALIA

GREAT CENTRAL ROAD

That addictive mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear

That addictive mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear

becoming digital nomad

On a frisky morning of 2009, around this time of the year, I was standing alone in a half empty airport, holding a one-way ticket to Paris. I was moving out of my hometown and of my parents’ place, on my way to my Erasmus semester. It was the first time I ever travelled alone. I was overwhelmed by a mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear. It was supposed to be a short Parisian get away from my otherwise fully Italian education and future, but life had different plans for me. On that frisky morning of 2009, little did I know that I’d never really come back to my parents’ hometown if not for short layovers. That I would have continued my studies in France to then relocate again and again going through 11 houses, 21 jobs and 8 Countries in a little less than ten years. But most of all, I didn’t know that I would get hooked to that one-way ticket feeling for life.

A primal crave for drastic change,
for bigger challenges,
for pressing reboot

 

I’ve seen the same hunger in backpackers and expats, fortune seekers and off the grid hippies, van-lifers of all ages and citizens of the world I met on the road. “There is not only one way” they said “we built our own”.

I’m not sure where this hunger comes from. My family isn’t really of the explorers’ kind. It might have stared on that very frisky morning of 2009, while I was standing at the airport alone for the first time. Or four years later, while I was crossing a much bigger airport clutching a one-way ticket for Australia in one hand and my then boyfriend’s in the other. He used to say that I’m a travel-bulimic: always craving for more until it gets too much. I know he’s right, but that’s the best way I know for growing as a human being. Moving, changing, binging on experiences, stories, faces and life in general.

becoming digital nomad

Back home though, some said that it was just a matter of struggling with commitment. Usually these people are those who can’t conceive a different lifestyle from their own. “Ok, you went traveling, but now you’re back and it is time to adjust to real life.” I never got this thing of real life. I fear that many people use “real” because they’re ashamed of using less flattering adjectives. As I see it, for someone with my education, real life usually means spending most of the day at work staring at a computer screen, to then go out and squeeze whatever is left of your life into a 2-3 hours’ window before passing out in bed. Moreover, life in big cities is expensive AF and working ten hours a day barely gets you by. But hey, you got to save some cash to buy yourself a decent car and maybe one day open a mortgage for a nice small house in the suburbs. And don’t be such a fool to believe that someone is going to pay you back when you’ll be retired, so you better start saving for that as well.

becoming digital nomad

Despite all of that freaked me out, I tried. I really, really tried. In 2015, after coming back from almost two years of work-and-travel, I pushed myself in the 9-to-7, steady income, subscription at the gym and to the phone company lifestyle. Of course the cracks were plainly visible from day one, but I tried to push through. Despite I always worked as a freelancer, I still struggled with the amount of time I spent in an office. I cried almost every given morning when crossing Milan on my way to work. Anxiety and numbness came in waves and I never really got to love (or even like for that matter) the city. But hey, you got to adjust to real life sooner or later right? Especially if you’re almost thirty! I got to the point where sometimes I stayed late in the office kinda-working just because I had nothing else to do outside that interested me. All of my friends were still working anyway. That actually scared me out for real. So I cracked. As I always knew I would.

becoming digital nomad

On 2017 new year’s eve I was sitting around a bonfire on a small island of the Philippines with a mixed bunch of people I met just days before. Each and every one of us was in their twenties going thirty and struggling with the rat race. Some of them just jumped out of it, the others were figuring out strategies. That’s when I decided that I would give myself another year to understand if the real life really wasn’t for me, to give love the chance to make up for all the rest, or to find the courage to really go freelancing outside of my comfort zone, to travel extensively alone and to face for another time that mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear that only a one-way ticket can give you.

becoming digital nomad

I spent the year asking myself what it would be like to do that alone, with no boyfriend on my side. This required a lot of peace-making with my infinite traveling-couple souvenirs and to find the courage to take the leap as a solo woman and becoming digital nomad. Strangely enough (or maybe not) I didn’t really meet any real life advocate anymore, instead I kept meeting free women from all over the world that did choose to jump on that train made of hope, excitement, anticipation and fear and were happy with it. Top level marketers that travelled the world and became surf teachers. Airways hostess that quit to surf full time and freelance under a palm tree. I reconnected with girlfriends of mine that have called at least half of European countries their home or explored the world on their own since they were nineteen. And then I talked to my beloved mum, my all-time role model and biggest supporter. A woman that considers even a short day trip outside of her hometown a tiring chore. She said “I’m scared off my mind, but go girl. Go and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t because you’re a woman. You want to be an explorer? So just be it.”

So let be it.

becoming digital nomad
Travel back in time in this 8 wicked locations around the world

Travel back in time in this 8 wicked locations around the world

One of the things that really thrills me when it comes to travel, is the feeling of going back in time. I love the poetry of places that have kept strong customs and tradition for centuries. Those which stay true to their culture, either because of the scarcity of contact with the outside world or for the pride of their people. This is pure travel magic for me.
Today I collected eight of this magical places. Some are easy to reach, while others are hidden corners of rural regions that I found strolling around with a motorbike and that I would struggle to place on a map myself. Or maybe I just want to keep them secret for a little bit longer. But you can read their story and see some pictures further below. So keep on reading and follow me in this very special trip back in time.

 

Places to travel back in time

1. The holy city of Varanasi, India

Varanasi is a place of life and death. India’s oldest and holiest city, it has been sitting on the sacred waters of Ganges since 1200 BC. The ones who get cremated on its shores attain peace, stopping the endless reincarnation cycle. Varanasi is quintessential India: sharp contrasts, devoted spirituality, dirt, flowers, life, sickness, death. Everything happens under the sun: the funeral processions, the chanting and the burning never stop. The codified movements of the low cast wood porters and the experienced acts of the corps burners have been unchanged for centuries. The same goes for the traditional wooden boats, the crumbling temples and buildings, the sunset puja ceremony at Dashashwamedh Ghat, the sadus, the pilgrims bathing just a few meters downstream of the burning ghats, the ladies washing their laundry, the lepers, the wandering cows, the stray dogs and the goats. Everything is timeless.
[SEE ALL VARANASI PICTURES]

 

Places to travel back in time

2. The hill tribes’ villages around Kentung, Myanmar

The small town of Kentung is hidden between the mountains of Shan State, in the eastern Myanmar area known as the Golden Triangle, where China, Thailand and Myanmar meet. A place full of charm and history, once renown for the cultivation of opium and drug trafficking. The surrounding area is the home of more than 30 local ethnicities like Akha, Lahu, Wa and of course Shan. You can spot tribes people at the local market early in the morning, sometimes donning colourful traditional costumes. But the best way to meet them is hiking or biking to their hill villages. One of my biggest regrets is that the day of the hike I felt super sick, so I only have a few poor pictures and I couldn’t really hike a lot. We weren’t hiring any guide; we just went around the area with two local motorbike drivers. We met Akha ladies with black theeths, local men dragging huge logs for construction, armed hunters (with rifles dating back to the 50’s) and we crossed a couple of villages with wooden made aqueducts and every sort of wind chimes. Probably one of my best experiences in Myanmar.
[SEE MYANMAR GALLERY]

 

Places to travel back in time

3. The hidden fishing island of Pulau Weh, Indonesia

Pulau Weh is a tiny island north of Sumatra. It’s the northern tip of Indonesia. Miraculously spared from the 2004 tsunami, Pulau Weh is a fishermen’s island slowly converting to tourism (the enforced Sharia law still keeps the crowds at bay). A mecca for divers, it still holds the feeling of a lost paradise covered in jungle. Riding a motorbike all around the island is an adventure in itself. The winding single track road crosses the thick jungle and the local monkey’s territory. Be mindful if you meet one sitting in the middle of the road staring at you, that’s their home and they’re ready to fight for it!

 

4. Folegandros, the forgotten Cyclade, Greece

This tiny pearl of the Cyclades is a couple of hour boat ride from crowded Santorini and Ios. Probably because of its famous neighbours, Folegandros has been spared by mass tourism. Its bare hills are mostly populated by goats and dotted with white and blue orthodox churches. Almost ten years ago, while hiking there with friends, I heard silence for the first time. Most of the fishermen live downhill, close to the port or in the Chora (the main village), a place where time seems to have stop fifty years ago. The cobblestone lanes are lined with white and blue houses decorated with colourful flowers. The local eateries often display the catch of the day, so it’s not rare to see octopus hanging on a line outside of a restaurant. The dream-like turquoise beaches are usually reachable only on foot, hiking for a good hour. If you get lost, do not fear: ask the local toothless men. Some of them are so old that they can still say a few words in Italian.

 

Places to travel back in time

5. The mountain district of Val Brembana, Italian Alps

The valley of the river Brembo, aka Val Brembana, connects the smooth Bergamo hills with the high peaks of the Italian Alps. This is a wonderful place to go hiking, with paths ranging from mildly steep to vertical ice peaks. The communities that live here are mostly tiny villages scattered on the slopes of the valley. A bunch of stone houses perched upon cobblestone lanes and an old church. The feeling of history and remoteness lingers there all year long, but the best time to visit is in summer, when communities are alive with local Patron Saint festivals, which usually include a Catholic rite, traditional dancing, music and a shitload of local tasty food. Unmissable.

 

6. The lush rural villages in Barisal region, Southern Bangladesh

This is an example of what I mean by not being able to locate a place on the map anymore. I went to Bangladesh in 2014, following my aunt while she was checking on the many projects she built there with her NGO. Southern Bangladesh is a thick jungle full of water and life. Rivers, ponds and lotus flowers are the typical rural scenario there. Following the maze of tracks that cross the rice fields and the fishing ponds, you end up in tiny villages made of straw huts. Their curious people can be Muslim, Indus or even Catholic. I was there just after the rice harvest. The grains were laid out on a cloth to dry in the sun. So were dung patties, used as a stove fuel.
[SEE BANGLADESH GALLERY]

 

Places to travel back in time

7. Hill tribe villages around Tham Lot, Northern Thailand

Another gem of the Golden Triangle is the Mae Hong Son region in Northern Thailand. Bordering Myanmar, for decades now it has been the home of local tribes as well as of refugies from Myanmar. From the lush village of Tham Lot you can start long hikes on the hills, were local families don’t wear the old costumes anymore but still keep their legacy alive, staying in traditional huts and living off farming and the spare cow or chicken.
[SEE NORTHERN THAILAND GALLERY]

 

8. Oudong, the former royal capital of Cambodia

I know that when thinking of timeless Cambodia, the mind goes straight to the centuries-old Angkor Wat temples. Which surely is a wonderful display of Khmer history, but it’s also jam-packed with tourists all year long, so that it’s not easy to feel the magic. A lesser known historical site is city of Oudong, the former royal capital of Cambodia, a few kilometers away from Phnom Penh. A complex of temples and palaces from the 19th century, nestled in a thick jungle inhabited by a band of monkeys. Climbing the 509 stone steps to the hill top temple will reward you with astonishing views of the surrounding countryside. That’s the thing, all around there isn’t any touristy infrastructure. Instead, the countryside is dotted with rural villages bustling with life. People going around for their daily chores in old Vietnamese bicycles. Kids going to school in outdated (but super cute) uniforms, chickens running, everyone shouting hello and eventually pointing in the direction of Phnom Penh for you: the dusty red tracks that connect one village to the other have no road signs. [SEE CAMBODIA GALLERY]

Is Ayers Rock and the red center of Australia really worth the trip?

Is Ayers Rock and the red center of Australia really worth the trip?

Is Ayers Rock Worth it

Is Ayers Rock worth it? Many people have asked me this question during the years. I still remember the day I discovered Uluru’s existence. I was eight or nine years old and I was watching a documentary on TV. I remember being puzzled at the idea of a huge rock placed in the middle of the desert. I also remember the disappointment in finding out that Ayers Rock, as it was generally called at the time, was far, far away from Italy. From the European point of view, Australia is a far and expensive continent to reach, let alone a rock placed right in the middle of the Country’s desert, thousands of kilometers from any major city. I concluded that I would probably never see it. So imagine my astonishment when I finally reached it.

Is Ayers Rock Worth it

Some say they have seen it so many times on postcards, photos, calendars and tv shows that once on the spot they did not seem to find anything new. Others are disappointed because they find it less red than the photographs on the advertising leaflets. Some are moved by its complexity, by the water flowing along its walls and the cool shaded puddles beneath the eucalyptus. I personally belong to those people who when they are in front of an world famous tourist attraction (see Eiffel Tower, Coliseum, Big Ben, Sultanahmeth etc.) are caught up in the Japanese syndrome. I am referring to those people who unplug the optic nerve from the brain to connect it directly camera. But this time I tried to make an exception. I didn’t take too many pictures, as they could never compare to those on books and advertising. I tried to enjoy the place. We saw the rock at sunrise and then engaged in the 10km ring walk around it. Uluru left me speechless. The rock is much, much more than the beautiful pictures on leaflets.

All around it there’s creeks, irregularities, strange shapes on the surface, ponds, groves and caves with rock paintings. Uluru haven’t been the house and the “church” of the Anangu people for tens of thousands of years for nothing! What could have been more sacred ten a ginormous monolith which provides water, food, shelter and refrigeration in the middle of a murderous desert.

Is Ayers Rock Worth it

This was until that William C. Gosse did “discover” the rock in 1891. Open to tourism since 1936, Ayers Rock (Gosse had the brilliant idea of appointing such a geologic rarity with the name of the late South Australia Governor) now hosts up to 1,000 daily visitors. At least since 1985 the rock has been formally given back to the traditional landowners, who renamed it Uluru and are now an active part of the park management. Nonetheless, the Australian government still holds a lease on tourism for the next 70 years.

Even more surprising than Uluru are the treks to Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. Even if it’s usually framed as “in the middle of nowhere”, Uluru is actually very close (in Outback terms, obviously) to other unique rock formations. Kata Tjuta, where we walked on sunset, right after being regurgitated off the Great Central Road, is a Bornhardt like Uluru.

These are rocks that resisted weather erosion while the world around them collapsed under the force of the elements. If Uluru looks like a lonely mountain, Kata Tjuta (“many heads” in Anangu) looks more like a mountain range. In the midst of its rounded peaks, you’ll find falls and gardens, leaping kangaroos and colorful parrots.

Kings Canyon, three hundred kilometers north of Uluru, also looks like an oasis on Mars. Its steep vertical walls and rocky peaks conceal a verdant gorge and a natural freshwater pool.

I think that what makes Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon unique and inevitably magnetic, is the incredible life that they shelter in such a prohibitive territory as the Australian desert. It is not difficult to figure out why Aborigines consider them sacred since the beginning of time. The presence of water alone, in such dry places, makes them magical. Even nowadays, the journey to reach these rocks, be it by plane, on a bus tour or crossing dirt desert roads, is so hot and tiring to look like a spiritual pilgrimage. Surely the brave nomads that come from the desert score the highest points! And don’t have to pay the entrance fee. So is Ayers Rock worth it? Definitely yes. It’s actually quintessentially Australian.

And what better way to get out of the mystical heart of Australia than taking another dirt road with our Mitsubishi Delica? We came from the desert and we left from the desert. This time we drove off the short but impetuous Giles Road, a shortcut to Alice Springs very far from tourist buses and the giant caravans of the locals. That night we camped in the bush, alone under a blanket of stars, and for once we felt in the center of the world, and above all, thousands of miles from Japanese tourists.

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GREAT CENTRAL ROAD

Ninja Packing: how to travel with a 6kg carry on

Ninja Packing: how to travel with a 6kg carry on

south east asia packing list

Ninja Packing is a fine art that you can master with time and experience. As a former long-term traveller, I learned the hard way that the less the better, even if travelling for shorter trips. Travelling with a carry on can be more than sufficient for most destinations and will allow you freedom of movement while sparing you a lot of stress.

The priciple of ninja packing is that the less you carry the less you’ll stress. Carrying around plenty of clothes means struggling with the weight when travelling and stressing out when trying to figure out the right outfit. On the other hand, carrying less allows you to have a few stress-free, preplanned outfits that you just have to wash more frequently. Laundry is usually cheap and easy worldwide and, trust me, an extra laundry is better than carrying around plenty of smelly clothes just because you have enough.

Ninja packing is not an exact science though. Wheater conditions, planned activities, sports and the lenght of the trip can make a huge difference. Thus said, over the years I fine-tuned my basic South East Asia packing list (or for warm Countries in general) and I’m pretty happy with my less than 6kg carry on 50L backpack.

south east asia packing list
south east asia packing list

How to choose the right backpack

I travel with a Decathlon 50L backpack with front zipper and rain cover (bought separately). The front zipper is key, because it allows you see the full content of your backpack if you pack it properly. I find the 50L size super flexible. In its full capacity it can be used as a hold luggage for long trips or for journeys that need both light and warm clothes. When used for warmer climates though, it can be filled partially (all external pockets must be empty) and actually fits as a carry on.

I also carry a daypack that can be folded and put away when on planes. This one varies depending on the trip. If I have to hike a lot, I will take a proper outdoor backpack and if I have to carry my laptop I will have a properly padded one. In this case I’m stayng two weeks in Portugal and I wanted something sturdy enough to go hiking and at the beach, but also nice enough to be weared with dress and sandals at night.

Being sure that all your clothes,
shoes and accessories match
is a key point of ninja packing

My South East Asia packing list

Clothes

4 panties + 2 pairs of socks + 2 bras

2 t-shirts

2 shorts

2 beach robes

1 sleeping T-shirt

1 dress

1 long trousers

1 light sweater

1 rain jacket

1 comfy shoes + Birkenstock + plastic flip flops

Personal Care

Travel toothbrush + toothpaste

Bar of soap + mini shampoo and conditioner

Mascara + concealer + pencil eyeliner + lipstick

Mini deodorant

Disposable razor

Brush

Mini SPF + Mini aloe cream for burns + SPF lipbalm

Mosquito repellent (with +50% DEET)

Mini hair straightener

Condoms (they're not so easy to find in SEA)

Travel essentials

Sleeping mask + Ear plugs

Sunglasses

Locker for hostels

Head lamp

Inflatable travel pillow

Moneybelt

Camera / Iphone / Kindle + chargers

Medicines

Maalox (antacid)

Dissenten (anti-diarrheal)

Buscopan (antispasmodic for angry bellies)

Ciproxin (broad-spectrum antibiotics)

Cortisone cream (for insects sting or burns)

Antihistaminic (for allergic reactions)

Paracetamol + Ibuprofen (painkillers / fever treatment)

Disinfectant + Plasters