Our top guided holiday luggage tips

You’ve found where in the world you want to go, you’ve booked your Trafalgar trip, and you’ve turned your cupboards inside out to piece together your holiday wardrobe. Now it’s time to decide where you’re going to store all of those shorts, tops, dresses and shoes.

Unsure where to start? We have some top baggage tips from our Travel Directors and trusty past travellers to help you lighten your load.

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New Zealand: Maori culture and customs

With such beautiful and seemingly untouched landscapes, you’d never guess that New Zealand has been inhabited for more than 1,000 years.

Maoris are the indigenous people of New Zealand and they arrived in the country around 1150 A.D. Today, their culture is still deeply ingrained in the country’s identity – villages, towns and cities still embrace Maori names and colonial architecture, and Marae (tribal meeting grounds) still exist across New Zealand.

The remaining Maori people – around 14% of New Zealand’s population – are actively involved in keeping their presence and language alive. We’ve found some of the Maori traditions and customs that still exist today:

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Scotland’s Year of Homecoming

With National Tartan Day in the offing, we thought it was a fitting time to get kilted-up and talk all things Scotland.

This compact country in the United Kingdom is crammed with cultural and natural treasures, and you don’t have to look far to find them. World-famous castles bound by turbulent history, scenery to rival that of New Zealand’s, and some of the coolest cities in Europe.

The Scots are proud of their culture and heritage, and they love to celebrate it – particularly so in 2014. It’s Scotland’s Year of Homecoming; a time to showcase all that’s great about their country.

We’ve put together a timeline of upcoming highlights so you can get a flavour of what Scotland has to offer in 2014.

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Halong Bay: the emerald in Northern Vietnam’s crown

To me, Halong Bay is the jewel in Northern Vietnam’s crown.

Its glistening emerald bay is occupied by an archipelago of 2,000 lushly-vegetated limestone islands, each towering above the calm waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect before I arrived in Halong Bay; I know my imagination certainly only stretched as far as the visual beauty I’d seen in photos. But that all changed the moment I climbed aboard my Vietnamese junk boat.

I visited Northern Vietnam during its cooler season, which is between November and March. Some prefer to experience Halong Bay in summer, because its colours are much more vibrant.

My out-of-season trip presented a different perspective; one in which its already extraordinary backdrops were shrouded by a mystical haziness. There were fewer people, too – always a bonus!

Halong Bay in the mist

Halong Bay in the mist

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How to get by (politely) in Scandinavia

Scandinavia’s got a lot going for it: sprawling glaciers, dramatic fjords, intoxicatingly-pure air, quaint wooden churches, uber-chic capitals, and trusty-old IKEA.

Combine all of that with friendly and sophisticated folk, and you won’t be surprised to hear that its kingdoms – Denmark, Norway and Sweden – have all ranked highly in the list of the world’s most prosperous nations.

Norway

Norway

While its people have a reputation for being chilled-out and fancy-free, everyone has their protocols, naturally. I picked up a few little etiquette tips during my journey through Scandinavia that you may wish to follow if you decide to visit sometime soon.

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Foods and flavours of the USA: slice 1

When I travel, food is as much of a draw as the cultural and historical sites. That’s because some of my most treasured travel memories are closely associated with culinary experiences: the never-tasted-before flavours, the unique and extraordinary settings, the people with whom the meal was shared.

When I can’t travel? I work my way around the world through food – whether it’s sampling something new at a local restaurant or by trying my hand at a recipe.

Many countries are defined by food but when it comes to a huge continent like the USA, it’s impossible to pin it down to one particular cuisine. So over the next couple of months, we’re going to give you a flavour of its very different-tasting regions on our own virtual foodie tour.

This week, we’re serving up a mixture of dishes and delicacies from the USA’s western and south-western states: Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. We’ve picked out trips where there’s free time for you to try each local speciality, or tried-and-tested recipes you can attempt at home.

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Rio: beyond the carnival

With another Rio Carnival drawing to a close this week, we decided to shine a spotlight on Brazil’s second-largest city.

Surrounded by white-sand beaches and lush rainforest, and bolstered by a towering statue of Christ, it’s no wonder that the proud people of Rio enjoy making a yearly spectacle of their cidade maravilhosa (marvellous city).

Rio Carnival is considered the biggest party on earth. Millions of revellers take to the streets during the five-day festival, which is marked by masked balls, open-air concerts and all-out neighbourhood parties.

The pinnacle of the carnival is the Samba Parade. Up to 90,000 people attend the Sambodromo, a specially-built venue, to gape at vibrantly-costumed dancers moving to the hypnotic beats of the samba drums.

Rio's Sambodromo - Photo by Christian Van Der Henst S. under creative commons licence.

Rio’s Sambodromo – Photo by Christian Van Der Henst S. under creative commons licence.

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