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Category Archives:Destinations

The Best Fast Food in the USA: My Junk Food Tour

In-n-nout hollywood header

When I visited the USA 3 years ago I created a blog draft with the same name as you read above. But since I didn’t really eat that much junk food, that’s literally as far as the post went.

At the end of last year I was back in the USA for around 3 weeks and this time I made a concerted effort to ensure I enjoyed some of the finest dining experiences fast food USA has to offer. I made a list and checked off just about all of it.

If you’re visiting the USA soon and you’re a big fan of dirty burgers and seeing how the morbidly obese eat, then you are in the right place!

In-N-Out Burger

The undisputed king of the Western Conference. In-N-Out Burger believes that less is more; simple is better. And that getting it “animal style” isn’t something you’d do in the bedroom.

In-N-Out offer 3 burgers: a hamburger (meat, sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion), a cheeseburger (add cheese), and a Double Double (double meat and cheese). That’s it. Then you have fries, drinks and shakes to round out one of the simplest menus in global fast food. And it works because they nail it. The burgers are some of the greasiest around and the pickle-based sauce is what dreams are made of.

But if that truly isn’t enough for you then customise away with the “secret menu”. Well it’s actually not so secret anymore since some of it is on their website, however, one guy went on a mission to try everything on the secret menu and lists everything else here.

In n Out Double Doubles and animal fries
In n Out Double Doubles and animal fries

 

Shake Shack

Shake Shack is In-N-Out’s cross-continent arch-nemesis and undisputed champion of the Eastern Conference. West and East coast burger lovers are forever at odds with each over who has the better franchise but you will never truly know for yourself until you’ve had both.

Shake Shack was born in New York and has a wide variety of burgs to choose from. The burgers are good, but the franchise really comes into its own with the milk offering. Shake flavours are seasonal and at the time of writing they were Mint cookies and cream, salted vanilla toffee and mud pie.

In my view, In-N-Out are cheaper and have better burgers, but Shake Shack has better sides and shakes so it can’t be completely put to bed for me.

Shake Shack Las Vegas. One of the few in the west.

Chipotle

Taking a break from burgers, Chipotle is in my view the best spot for some quick Mexican. Burritos, tacos and enchiladas fill the room and scents of their signature chipotle sauce subtly fill the airwaves. The burritos are big and will have no trouble in filling you up.

Five Guys

Despite my fanfare above about In-N-Out and Shake Shack, Five Guys was actually my favourite burger joint across the US. A thick, juicy patty, the right amount of pickles and onion (i.e. lots), a token amount of tomato, all overflowing with yellow American cheese.

And speaking of overflowing, these guys know how to do fries. The put a tiny paper cup in the bag, and generously fill the cup a laughable amount so you have chips all throughout the bag. It’s just wonderful.

Five Guys love tooting their own horn with awards and reviews plastered all over the world, each one of them well-deserved, and many from bygone eras. They also want you to see the ingredients they use (or have little storage out back); so much so that they stack them in the restaurant!

Chick-fil-A

Despite my best efforts, I actually never made it to a Chick-fil-A. And it certainly didn’t help that they aren’t open on Sundays – the day I was most often available to go. But I still wanted to include it because of its reputation and my disappointment.

Everyone raves about the nuggets so I’d be backing up the truck.

Fuddruckers

Maybe a little left of field, but I have very fond memories of Fuddruckers. I visited one in California back in 2011. Fuddruckers’ uniqueness is that you order the size of the patty you want (and you can go BIG), how well you’d like it cooked, and then add the toppings yourself from the salad bar. That way you get exactly what you want on your burger and how much of it.

They also bake all of their buns in house, something that cannot be said for most other chains.

P.Terry’s

Special mention here must go to P.Terry’s of the greater Austin area. My good friend brought me to a P.Terry’s for one of the greasiest, dirtiest burgs I’ve ever had. Along with fresh French fries It was pure bliss after a few beers. Earlier that evening we had also enjoyed Chipotle for dinner.

The following day I came down with a bad case of the voms and it lasted a whole 24 hours. It was clearly food poisoning of some kind. Kynie reckons it was the excess of fast food in one evening. I steadfastly refuse to join those dots.

It must have been something we bought at Whole Foods earlier that day. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.

PTerrys Austin

Hooters

Hooters is on here as an honourable mention. I went to the Hooters on Hollywood Boulevard and I found it a bit overrated. This probably comes as no surprise to anyone. I mean, the service was fine, I couldn’t complain about the atmosphere, the waitstaff were friendly and mildly attractive, and the wings I ate were just ok. It just wan’t a “wow” moment for me.

However, what was memorable about that night was while we were eating, some dude was getting arrested just outside. Yep, that’s Hollywood Boulevard.

Wendy’s

Ok ok so Wendy’s is on here as a bit of a joke. Wendy’s is just awful.

Obviously there are so many other great fast food joints in the US. Which one is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.

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Beyond the Beach: Underrated Activities In The Caribbean

When you think of the Caribbean what springs to mind?

Beaches?

Scuba diving?

Cocktails?

Me too. And when I think back to the trips I’ve taken to the Caribbean, this is immediately where my mind wanders because it’s a feature of the region that is actually incredible. The beautifully temperate waters of Negril’s 7 Mile Beach in Jamaica, or the perfect white sand of Barbados and, well, most everywhere else! Continue Reading

7 Spectacular Drives on New Zealand’s South Island

New Zealand is made for road trips. In fact, the South Island, in particular, is made for road trips because there is one major highway that loops the entire island. With nature at the core of the attractions of the Island, hiring a campervan is an absolute must in my opinion. I hired a 2 berth with my wife in May, and even though things got pretty chilly, I would not have done it any other way.

If you’re not sure what size campervan is right for you, check out this handy guide Campanda have put together.

We just loved the fact that when we’d had enough driving we could wait for a sign to the nearest campground and pull off. Or if we were rolling into town, we just found the closest RV park so we could use the facilities and recharge the batteries; both figuratively and literally.

Being a relatively small island with mountains in the middle surrounded by the coast (obviously), the New Zealand South Island boasts some pretty spectacular roads. I rarely saw more than single lanes, since much of the roadway snaked around mountains. It was a great novelty and very pretty, but I can imagine that would get pretty tiresome if you lived there.

As we drove, there was a constant theme all over the island. I kept thinking to myself that “this town was pretty unremarkable, but the drive in between points A and B was spectacular”. Not every town, obviously, but it happened frequently.

Here are 7 of my favourite driving days I had in my 3 weeks there.

Picton to Nelson

The road from Picton to Neilson is absolutely astonishing. It winds its way up through the mountains along the north coast and gives increasingly beautiful views of the Marlborough Sounds. For those with limited time or money, driving west from Picton along Queen Charlotte Drive in a campervan is an excellent introduction experience to the sounds.

There are walking tracks and various aquatic tours through the sounds but they were all expensive and time-consuming. We were keen to keep moving and having now driven this road I do not feel like I missed out seeing the beauty of the Marlborough Sounds.

Marlborough Sounds along Queen Charlotte Road between Picton and Nelson
Along the Queen Charlotte Road

Blenheim to Renwick

Blenheim and Renwick are both fairly unremarkable towns, but what lies in between is around 45 wineries, all enjoying the soil and sun that prime for growing sauvignon blanc grapes. If you’ve ever heard of the Marlborough sauvignon blanc, this is where it is from. As you approach the region you begin to see a small vineyard here and a slightly bigger one there. But when the bright yellow bushes (during autumn) flank your van on both sides, you know it’s time to pull over and start wine tasting.

Vineyards through Marlborough wine country

 

Te Anau to Milford Sound

The drive to Milford is touted to be one of world standards. In fact, the drive itself is World Heritage Listed. To be honest, it doesn’t start to get really good until about 20 minutes before the Homer tunnel. The first hour it mostly farmland and rolling hills, and granted, this is very pretty. But you don’t get world heritage listed for having rolling farmland.

But as the hills fade away in your rear view mirror they are slowly replaced by mountains that shoot up right beside the road. And with mountains come rivers. Keep an eye out for good stopping locations by the river, which is filled with boulders large and small. This makes for very interesting white water flow patterns down the stream. Great to look at through a moving window but I would have loved to find a good spot for a tripod and long shutter the shit out of that bad boy.

Mountains along the Milford Road near the Homer Tunnel
Mountains along the Milford Road near the Homer Tunnel

Motueka to Golden Bay

The road out from Motueka was stunning, but nothing prepared us for the view and the ride that awaited us up Takaka Hill. To get out to Golden Bay you must cross this hill and at 792 metres above sea level is no easy feat. The road winds its way uphill steeply and sharply, but the lookouts that you can stop at on the way up are breathtaking and make it all worth it.

The way down the other side is much the same, but with a different view and despite the adventure, you are glad that after 25 kilometres of winding your way up and down the mountain that the road is straight again.

Comically, the speed limit up and down the hill is 100 km/h. That speed is ludicrous because I don’t think we topped 35km/h the entire length.

Highway 60 over Takaka Hill New Zealand
Highway 60 over Takaka Hill

Westport to Punakaiki

The drive south from Westport is spectacular and if possible, make sure you do this drive in the day time. Highway 6 continues on right by the beaches. For the majority of the route you will have ocean and beaches to your west and extreme mountains on your East, so convince your travel partner to drive this leg and keep that camera handy.

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki New Zealand South Island
Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

Haast Pass

The Haast Pass is another incredible drive. The road drives through a valley and essentially follows the Path of the Haast River. So you have enormous mountains on either side of you and the deeper you get into the pass, the bigger, more snow capped, and more beautiful these mountains get. To do anything but stare out the window in awe would be a sin.

Mountains and field by the side of the road in New Zealand South Island
Haast Pass. Long shutter photo, taken out our van door while stopped in traffic.

Makaroa to Lake Hawea

This route is actually a direct continuation of the Haast Pass on Highway 6. But it was so different and so beautiful it 100% deserved its own section.

As we came out the other side of Haast Past we began to follow Boulder Creek. Highway 6 took the form of a riverside drive. The bright blue ‘creek’ in the foreground and the mountains of the Southern Alps in the background made for a very interesting drive. I was actually amazed at how blue the river was. Obviously more glacier water.

After finally turning away from Boulder Creek, we crested a hill and were again awestruck by a Lake Hawea. I am already beginning to see why they call this the Lake District. Lake Hawea was an instant camera grabber and thankfully some smart person had the foresight to put in a couple of lookouts along the drive because there would be a lot of accidents from people either gawking at the lake or trying to be a photographer and driver at the same time. In fact, back near Makaroa, I did see a sign that read ‘high level of accidents next 20km’. Well yep, that would seem about right.

Lake Hawea on the way south to Wanaka New Zealand

New Zealand is an incredible country with natural beauty in all forms literally around every corner. This list could easily be doubled and the quality would remain because the landscapes on which most every road is built are just stunning.

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3 Days in Toronto, Canada: Best things to do

A few years ago I worked at a summer camp in Calgary and did a big road trip through the northeast of the USA, Ontario and Quebec. Toronto was a major stop on this trip, my crew and I spent 3 days there catching up with other camp friends from the summer just past. Toronto is a great city in which to live – It’s often voted as one of the world’s most livable cities – but some people argue that there’s not a great deal to see as a visitor. This notwithstanding, here are some of the things I spent my time doing.

CN Tower

Whenever I visit a city, I always check if there’s a tower so I can get a feel for the lay of the land. This was easy to find in Toronto, as I’d seen in many global tall building comparison pictures and it always featured towards to right. In fact, it was the world’s tallest tower until 2007. It was so high up that the ground seemed hazy due to the small clouds below us. It even has a glass floor so you can see down 550 metres to the ground. Unfortunately, all we could see at the time was a drab worksite.

View from the CN Tower Toronto
View from the CN Tower

Dundas Square

Dundas Square is Canada’s answer to Time Square. While Time Square will always wear the crown for the most billboards on a single block, Dundas Square has done a commendable effort. The square is full of restaurants, cafes and bars and is a centre for the arts with a couple of theatres and cinemas nearby. You probably wouldn’t come here for the sake of it, but it’s a good place to go for a meal or a few drinks.

Dundas Square, Toronto
Dundas Square, via Pedro Szekely on Wikimedia Commons

Eat Poutine

“I LOVE POUTINE”. This was the catch cry of one of the young guys at the camp I worked at over the summer. He’s Canadian and clearly passionate. I can’t say I blame him though, as far as food inventions go, it’s up there with the buffalo wings, the Philly cheese steak, and the burger.

For the deprived, poutine is hot chips/fries with cheese curds and gravy. It’s so simple, and oh so delectable. It should be the first thing you order when you arrive in Canada.

Eating Poutine in Canada
Devouring poutine

Related: How much does it cost to visit Toronto?

Niagara Falls

It might be 90 minutes away, but Niagara Falls absolutely should be on your Toronto list. It’s just spectacular to see 600,000 gallons of water per second thundering over the edge down to the Niagara River 57 metres below.

My crew and I took a day trip, but you could easily spend a night out there to maximise your time. There are plenty of places to stay, but the Marriott is the closest and many of the rooms allow you to wake up to views of the falls. For information, see niagarafallsmarriott.com.

If watching the falls from the edge isn’t close enough for you, the Maid of the Mist cruise takes you as close as possible by boat. Prepare to get wet though, as the body-sized condom they provide doesn’t do a whole lot!

Niagara Falls with the Maid of the Mist
Niagara Falls with the Maid of the Mist

Further reading: an alternative list of things to do in Toronto.

MuchMusic

Depending on your age, this one might seem serious, or could be a joke. I am told that kids all over Canada grow up to MuchMusic, it’s like the Canadian MTV. MuchMusic is filmed at a studio in Toronto and I worked out that Foster the People, one of my favourite bands then and now, were performing on the show while we were there, so we thought we’d try and get in.

We lined up for about 15 minutes before long it dawned on us: all the other people in the line were teenage girls. We quickly bailed and went and did something adult-like. Thankfully I was able to see them play a full set later that month in Los Angeles.

Royal Ontario Museum

The ROM is one of those buildings where you’ll walk past it a dozen times, and every time you get a little more intrigued as to what is inside the doors. An ingenious design completed in 2007, combines the original 1914 building with a jagged, modern crystal-shaped building. Without saying a word it expresses the essence of the museum: everything from history, nature, arts and culture, all combined under one roof.

Royal Canadian Museum Toronto
Royal Ontario Museum

Casa Loma

Casa Loma is a large stone castle built in the early 20th Century. It has served as a residence, luxury hotel, war-time research facility, and museum. Now it serves as a tourist attraction where visitors can explore the great hall, secret tunnels, grand suites, towers, and the expansive castle grounds. The entry fee is pretty steep, but it’ll give you insight to how to absurdly wealthy lived 100 years ago.

Casa Loma Castle Toronto Canada with me
Casa Loma Castle

Toronto is billed as one of the world’s most liveable cities. In my experience, this means that there isn’t a whole lot for tourists to do. I could argue similarly – that it’s not bursting with tourist attractions – however, I had a really fun 3 days there and if you scratch a little deeper than what Lonely Planet tells you and get amongst the local culture, you’ll find plenty of things to do to fill up 3 days.

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Iceland Off the Beaten Track: 11 Alternative Places to See

Iceland plane wreck header

In the last decade, Iceland has seen an explosion of growth. In part due to the beautiful scenes on display in Game of Thrones, tourism in Iceland has more than doubled since 2009. While I think it’s great that the world has discovered another gorgeous country to explore, inevitably, some attractions become more popular than others.

We’ve all heard of Iceland’s Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon, and the Aurora Borealis. These are the ones that fill the pages of Lonely Planet, Instagram, and travel blogs more frequently, and it has a bit of a word of mouth snowball effect.

But like most countries, this doesn’t make the lesser known attractions in Iceland any less beautiful, or any less worthy of your time. I’ve crowd sourced a few of the best off the beaten track places to visit in Iceland to whet your wanderlust for your next visit so you can avoid some crowds and not sacrifice the wow factor.

Laugarvatn Fontana Spa

By Janet Newenham, Journalist on the Run

While The Blue Lagoon was a fun experience, my friend and I much preferred the Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal spa on the Golden Circle. As we were staying in a hostel nearby, we were able to wander down before dinner just as the sun was setting and there were hardly any other tourists around.

The complex consists of a selection of super hot and super cold pools, heated by geothermal springs in the lake that the spa is built next to. You can even run into the lake direct from the spa and get the shock of your life as you skip from hot pockets to cold pockets of water. Just be sure to wear their special shoes so your feet don’t get burnt in the burning hot springs! There is also a sauna and steam room and the best part of all is that you can buy some cold beers to drink while in there!

Laugarvatn Fontana spa
Laugarvatn Fontana spa

Embrace Your Viking Roots

By Lauren Monitz, The DownLo

If you’re inspired by Game of Thrones or just fascinated with Norse mythology, Iceland is the place to practice your pillaging and seafaring. Formerly an official Viking tour to become a battle-tested warrior, the exact itinerary is unfortunately no longer available, but you can DIY your own Viking experience just as easily.

Challenge yourself to a week of intense outdoor adventures from glacier climbing and arctic river rafting to ATVs and horseback riding. While you’re exploring the epic landscape on foot, steed, or by water, it’s hard not to connect with the rivers, mountains, and lava fields and embrace the history of the region.

Wild ponies in Iceland-sm

The Cliffs of Vestrahorn

By Norman, Années de pèlerinage

The cliffs of Vestrahorn are one of my favourite spots in Iceland. Located only a 5 minutes’ drive away from Höfn and easily accessible with a regular car (no need to brave one of the infamous F-Roads), Vestrahorn still offers a more than welcome respite from the ever increasing tourist hordes.

Try to be here early in the morning, so you can capture those perfect reflections the sun creates on the mirror of shallow water and black sand. And don’t forget to drop by at the Viking village at the foot of the mountains. It’s some abandoned film set, but nonetheless utterly beautiful.

Reydarfjödur

By Lauren Jessica, The Traveler’s Guide by #ljojlo

Reydarfjödur in East Iceland is by far one of the most beautiful spots we stayed on our road trip around Iceland. This small town named after the fjord itself, which is the longest and widest fjord in East Iceland, which is spectacular, to say the least.

The town and fjord are picturesque but if you want a wow moment the drive from Reydarfjödur to Neskaupstadur via Eskifjödur was so spectacular we just had to conquer it twice. You drive along the banks of the fjord before scaling a mountain and popping out the other side onto another beautiful fjord. The views take your breath away, and it was here we were able to witness the raw beauty that is Iceland.

Sólheimasandur Beach

By Justine, Wanderer of the World

When considering a trip to Iceland, many are in search of geysirs, waterfalls, natural hot springs and black sand beaches. When visiting the latter, many choose to visit the beaches at Vik along the South Coast.

But what about finding a lesser known black sand beach instead?

Sólheimasandur beach is not too far from Vik, so it’s possible to see both in one day if you really want to. But Sólheimasandur offers a little more intrigue. On this beach is a plane that crashed in the 1970s, which has been left to nature’s power.

The pitch black sand surrounds your feet, the white plane crash looms in front of you, the choppy waves crash behind you and snow-topped mountains glint down at you from behind the beach.

solheimasandur-iceland-crashed-plane

The Seabaron restaurant, Reykjavik

By Natasha, the World Pursuit

The Seabaron restaurant is an excellent restaurant located right on the waterfront in Reykjavik. It’s open all year round and is definitely work at least one visit on your trip to Iceland. It fills up fast, but they only book tables for four or more people.

Why is this restaurant so popular? Well, they serve up amazing lobster soup and seafood straight from the ocean they are located on. Plus the lobster soups comes with delicious fresh baked bread and is easily enough food for an entire meal. Even though the Seabaron is expensive by international standards, it is still a decent deal in an expensive country like Iceland.

Lobster soup at The Seabaron restaurant
Lobster soup at The Seabaron restaurant. Image by travellingmitch

Hjörleifshöfði Mountain

By Ben Deleu, Ben Goes Places

Roughly 10km east of Vik on Road 1, look for a gravel road going through the colourful lupine fields towards Hjörleifshöfði, a 220m-high mountain structure on the black outwash plain Mýrdalssandur. The mountain used to be an island in the sea but due to the eruption of the nearby Katla volcano in 1918, it became surrounded by land.

You can drive to the southern part of Hjörleifshöfði and discover a cave inside the mountain. Or you can hike all the way to the top and find out that it has actually been inhabited in the past! If you continue south you’ll reach an enormous deserted black beach. It is a unique alternative to the overly crowded Reynisfjara beach! This beach is one of the only places in Iceland where you can drive off-road, as the tides will wash away your tracks.

The Westfjords

By Greta Omoboni, Gretas Travels

The Westfjords are known as Iceland’s best-kept secret, due to its scarce population and an even scarcer presence of tourists. It’s a very mountainous region with a jagged coastline that makes it hard to travel by land. We spent three days driving around the Westfjords on gravel roads, and despite the bumps, the drive itself is part of the beauty of the trip.

There are stunning viewpoints, waterfalls and beaches all along the journey, with the occasional small cafès or town where you can stop for a break and enjoy the beauty of the fjords. Find out more about what it’s like to explore the Westfjords here.

Westfjords Iceland

Heading there soon? Boho Chica has some great ideas on what to wear in Iceland.

Thrihnukagigur

By Raksha Prasad, Solo Passport

One of the most interesting things I came across while I was travelling in Iceland was going inside a volcano. There is a 4000 year old dormant volcano, Thrihnukagigur, and one can experience the magma chamber of the volcano.

“Thrihnukagigur” literally translates into “Three peaks crater” and was discovered in the year 1974. The activity takes about 5 to 6 hours and it is divided into two parts – first a hike from the meeting point of the tour to the base camp of the volcano and second taking an elevator into the magma chamber. I must admit that this was definitely a highlight of my travel around the country.

Thrihnukagigur hiking in a volcano Iceland sm

Akureyri

By Kerri, Beer and Croissants

Akureyri might be Iceland’s second largest city but it still looks and feels like the small village.

My favourite thing to do in Akureyri was to take the self-guided “Historical Path” through the Old Town. Covering 4km, much of the city’s history is relived through the unique and colourful old buildings and museums that line the cobbled streets. The path winds its way up the steep hills that this city is renowned for. Once at the top, the views are magnificent. The landscape opens up and affords you views of the city, the fjord and its surrounding mountains.

Sitting just below the Arctic Circle and near Eyjafjörður, one of the longest fjords in Iceland, Akureyri offers plenty to see and do, including hiking, skiing and whale watching. It also has some of the best fish and chips in all of Iceland and deserves a spot on any Iceland itinerary.

akureyri Iceland

Mývatn Lake

By Jennifer Melroy, Made All the Difference travel blog

In northern Iceland, there is a 14 square mile lake called Mývatn. The lake was created by a large volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. Nowadays, the area is an ideal place to explore the volcanic features. The first stop is the Hverir Geothermal Area. Once can smell rotten eggs long before they arrive at the bubbling mud pools and hissing fumaroles.

The next stop is the Krafla Viti Crater during summer you can hike around the crater. Another hiking spot is Dimmuborgir which features interestingly shaped rock formations and is home to the Christmas trolls. The final stop in the Mývatn area is the stop lava caves of Grjótagjá and Stóragjá. Both lava caves feature a hot water pool. Depending on the season and water temperature, it is possible to bath in these caves.

Mývatn Lake
Mývatn Lake

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