Sydney is full of places for outdoor enthusiasts to discover and enjoy, one of the most prominent being the Blue Mountains. The famous range and its Three Sisters formation are known around the world and frequented by locals and visitors alike.

Now comes my confession: though I’m an avid outdoor fanatic and I’ve lived in Sydney for over two decades, I had never been to the Blue Mountains before. When a group of friends and I were talking about possibly taking a weekend staycation and one of them mentioned wanting to tour the Blue Mountains, I jumped at the opportunity.

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The Three Sisters

We started out on a Friday morning and went to settle into the bed and breakfast suites we had reserved. I was finally going to see The Three Sisters in person, and couldn’t have been more excited. However, I was surprised that the experience surpassed my already lofty expectations. It’s hard to describe how I felt looking at sandstone peaks that had stood for thousands of years towering high above me.

We ran into another group of people touring the area, one of which was a professional tour guide taking a short vacation. My friends and I talked with them while taking a rest stop, and the guide told us all about the Aboriginal folklore surrounding the history of The Three Sisters.

It’s believed that there were three gorgeous sisters from one tribe who fell in love with three brothers from a different tribe. The ladies were forbidden to marry the brothers, so the men captured them. A terrible battle ensued and the sisters were turned to stone for their protection. It’s quite a tale, but definitely befitting of such a storied landmark. Gaining cultural tidbits like this definitely makes exploring the outdoors a richer, more fulfilling experience.

Important Lessons

Our trek back down to our car was filled with laughter and sharing, and though we hated to leave The Three Sisters behind, we were famished and looking forward to some much-needed nourishment. There are an incredible number of restaurants and cafes in the area, but we chose to eat at a cozy spot in Katoomba before heading back to the bed and breakfast. Lesson number one: bring more than three trail mix bars and a quart of water along if you’re going to spend the day hiking in the Blue Mountain range.

Thank goodness one of my friends had more experience and sense and brought some spare food to share, or else I would’ve had to drag myself drown the mountain instead of walking. The views are out of this world, but it’s physically taxing and you need plenty of fuel to make it through.

Lesson number one: bring more than three trail mix bars and a half litre of water along if you’re going to spend the day hiking in the Blue Mountain range. Thank goodness one of my friends had more experience and sense and brought some spare food to share, or else I would’ve had to drag myself drown the mountain instead of walking. The views are out of this world, but it’s physically taxing and you need plenty of fuel to make it through.

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Caving On The Fly

My group enjoyed a great rest Friday night and decided to spend the day touring the Jenolan Caves on Saturday. This is yet another site that was new to me, so I was anxious to go exploring. I took heed from my experience the previous day and packed a good sized picnic for all of us to share, we got our gear together, and then hit the road. “Magnificent”, “stunning”, and “breathtaking” don’t sufficiently describe how I felt after entering the caves. There were many other people taking tours that day, but I hardly noticed them because of the beauty of the formations.

We meandered our way through and had a blast along the way. If you’ve never been through a cave before, be careful which one you choose. The Jenolan Caves have many routes, and we went through Lucas Cave. It’s not for the faint of heart or novices, but it’s quite the challenge for anyone with spelunking experience.

After exiting the cave, we took a walk around Blue Lake to have our picnic lunch and I saw one of the highlights of our trip — an adorable platypus. The curious little guy waded around the water, and though he didn’t come too close to where we were, it was amazing to see one in person.

Yet Another Lesson

We all felt a world away from everything else while experiencing the natural wonders within the Jenolan Caves, but on this particular trip, it’s a good thing that we weren’t too far from civilization. We went back for our final night at our accommodation. The following morning one of my friends — the one who had driven us around — discovered he no longer had his car keys in his pocket. We searched high and low, but couldn’t find them. With no spare around, we had to call a car key cutting service to get us out of our bind. Lesson number two: great adventures require careful planning and a secure place for your keys!

After all the fun and craziness of the last couple of days, I was more than happy to settle back and relax in my own bed. Then again, it won’t be long till I get the itch for a new for more outdoor adventures with my friends and seeing what new experiences await us in the world. The hard-learned lessons were well worth all that I gained.

My flight to Peru was booked, and my dream of hiking the Inca Trail and walking through the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu was finally becoming a reality! But then the reality hit me: I had never done an overnight hike before! What did I pack? How did I get in shape? Was it safe? Should I go alone or with a group?

As excited as I was, I realized I had a lot of planning ahead of me—but every moment of preparation (and, sometimes, extreme anxiety) was all worth it. Here are a few tips and tricks that helped me not only survive the Inca Trail but have the trip of a lifetime!

 

  1. Find an Incredible Tour Group

Before booking my trip, I wasn’t sure how I felt about going with a tour group. I was worried that traveling with a group of strangers would take away from the trip. However, after plenty of research, I decided to go with Active Adventures on the Ultimate Peru Adventure.

Along the trek, our trip leader was incredibly helpful, offering plenty of local tips, and he told us tons of interesting information about the surrounding area. He made us all feel comfortable and safe, even those of us who weren’t used to trekking. I became close friends with my small tour group of ten people and still keep in touch with them.

Picking a quality tour group not only helped take the stress out of planning the travel logistics, but is truly what made my trip such a fabulous experience. (And for all the foodies out there, our chefs along the trek were incredible!)

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Image courtesy of Martin St-Amant under CC BY-SA 3.0

 

  1. Get Fit

On the Inca Trail, we had people of all ages, sizes and fitness levels. However, I highly recommend preparing your body a little and familiarizing yourself with how your body reacts to high altitude. But don’t worry; you don’t need to do an extreme amount of training. To prepare, I went on one or two hikes a week and did plenty of dog walking. My hikes (on average) ranged from 3 to 7 miles.

But no matter how fit you are back home, it’s important to remember that everybody reacts differently to altitude! If you can, try to find a hike in your area that has somewhat of a higher altitude. I only had the opportunity to do one higher altitude hike, and although it wasn’t as high as the Inca Trail, it still gave me an idea of how my body would feel in high altitude.

But don’t stress too much; your guide has helped many people hike the trail and will be there to help you if you start to feel sick (or even if you simply need a little extra motivation!).

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Image courtesy of World Wide Gifts under CC BY-SA 2.0

 

  1. Technology Tools

I am a firm believer in digital detoxing when traveling, but when hiking in the wilderness, it’s comforting to know that I have a few helpful resources at my fingertips if I ever need them. When hiking (or traveling in general), there are always a few resources and apps I like to have on my smartphone to stay safe.

For my Inca Trail trek, I downloaded the MotionX GPS app, which allows GPS navigation minus the need for cell service. Thankfully our guides kept us on track, but it was comforting to know that if anything happened, I had my phone for backup navigation.

 

  1. Visit Your Doctor

Whenever you’re traveling anywhere, it’s important to check in with your doctor first. Depending on where you’re going, you may need to get certain vaccinations or medication. Before visiting your doctor, it’s helpful to do a little bit of your own research, since your doctor may not always be aware of what medications or vaccinations are required for the places you plan to visit. You should definitely make sure to mention to your doctor if you plan to visit the Peruvian Amazon or anywhere at high altitude.

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Image courtesy of Alexandre Buisse under or CC BY-SA 3.0

 

  1. Pack Light

The hardest part of my trip (aside from trekking up the stairs of the Inca Trail) was packing! There are several limitations on how much you pack on the Inca Trail, including both size and weight limitations.

Each porter is limited to carrying 20kg, which includes all blankets, clothes and personal belongings. Talk to your tour company and/or guide before your trip to get up-to-date information about what you’re allowed to pack.

 

  1. Enjoy Yourself!

Last but not least, be ready to have spectacular experiences and create memories that will last a lifetime. When I booked my trip to Peru and the Inca Trail, I had certain expectations and ideas of what the trip would be like. I was really looking forward to seeing Machu Picchu, but I found that the journey and all of its unexpected surprises was also an incredibly special part!

Nightlife, Beaches and Culture on the Greek Islands

Boasting 227 inhabited islands that are surrounded by clear blue waters and glorious beaches, it’s not hard to see why Greece is such a popular tourist destination. In fact, some of these islands have become so popular that their entire economy is now centered around the tourism trade. But with so many great destinations on offer, choosing the best island for your holiday in Greece can be tricky. Luckily, our guide to some of the best Greek islands is here to help. Whether you want to relax on the beach, soak up some of that famous Greek culture or party until the sun goes down, there’s an island for just about everyone!

Thira, Santorina at night

 

 Best for Nightlife: Mykonos

Greece’s answer to Ibiza is known for housing some of the country’s  very best beaches, but it’s the incredible nightlife that attracts most  of the island’s holidaymakers. Every summer the island comes alive  with sun seekers and celebrities who spend their days sunbathing  and their nights moving between its myriad of bars and clubs.

The only real downside of Mykonos is how expensive it is, so you might want to save your pennies while before you leave. Also, think about how you’re going to cut down expenses whilst you’re floating from club to club on the thumping sounds of the lastest dance anthems. There are plenty of affordable hostels available, the local food is cheap and great, pick up a local sim card (make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave), and spend time admiring the natural beauty on your own rather than indulging in expesive tours.

 

Best for Sightseeing: Rhodes

Though there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy sunbathing and nightlife in Rhodes, there’s also plenty of culture to take in too, and the island was once home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the ‘Colossus’.  One of Greece’s earliest holiday destinations, Rhodes’ medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there are plenty of museums dotted around to punctuate those days lounging on the beach and nights spent discovering the vibrant nightlife.

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 Best for Architecture: Hydra

Hydra is one of the prettiest Greek islands, and thanks to a strict development  policy there’s a whole host of beautiful architecture there that has been  wonderfully preserved. The large houses dominating the hills and the pretty  harbour are real highlights! The island is also home to some basic nightlife and  wonderful beaches.

 

Best for Scenery: Santorini

Many people claim that if you’re only going to visit one Greek island you should make it Santorini, and it’s not hard to see why. As well as breath-taking views and its distinctive white and blue architecture, this volcanic island is also home to one of the most stunning sunsets in the world. While the black and red sand of the volcanic beaches might not appeal to everyone, Santorini offers the perfect mix of tranquil romance for couples and vibrant nightlife for younger holidaymakers.

 

Best All Rounder: Crete

As the largest of the Greek islands, Crete really does have it all and it’s the perfect all-rounder destination that will suit just about every kind of holidaymaker. From a distinctive local culture and old towns such as Chania and Rethymno to deserted beaches, unspoiled mountain villages and the best food of any Greek island, there’s so much on offer in Crete that you won’t be able to experience it in just one trip and there will always be something new to discover no matter how many times you return.

 

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This was written by Dave Holcroft of www.globocation.com a website dedicated to independent  travel and all things backpackerish! He’s seen a bit of the world on a shoestring shorter than you  can care to imagine. He also enjoys writing in the 3rd person…