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Why We Should All Visit Places of Political Importance Abroad

Hiroshima peace park

When you travel to a new destination, what do you want to see? Nature at its finest, incredible cityscapes, traditional ways of living, maybe some local art? Travel makes me happy and experiencing the unknown is always where I'd rather be, but what about experiencing the cold hard truth about the history of the country you're in? To be a well-behaved tourist and an ethical global citizen, I believe it is my responsibility to know the background of where I am, even if it makes for an uncomfortable visit.

View of table mountain from Robben Island

The thing is, not everywhere you go will be OK with sharing their history with you. It's often still raw and could put them in a bad light, so they skirt around the edges. China, of course, is not entirely forthcoming with their recent history, but will very much talk about Anglo-French invasions in the early 1900s, or the ancient dynasties that built some of their most famous monuments.

Robben Island entrance

One of my 'must-see' places on my Cape Town to-do list was Robben Island, most well-known for the incarceration of Nelson Mandela for 18 years. It sees scores of tourist take the boat over from the mainland to see his cell and the quarry he did his hard labour in, but in all honesty, it was disappointing. We met a previous prisoner who had clearly been briefed on what he couldn't say, and we were herded from place to place with very little information given.

Robben Island prisoner

Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island

There was nothing to read on Robben Island, the only history I found out was what had been rehearsed and repeated to me by guides. Compare this to the heartbreaking Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg which was so perfectly laid out (you are given a black or white ticket and have to go through that designated entrance, inevitably then being split from the person or people you're visiting with), and which told such brutal truths in shattering honesty that I had to walk away because I was sobbing huge great I-can't-catch-my-breath tears.

Robben Island entrance

I don't want to be upset, but why sugar coat something awful? As it proclaims on a wall inside Auschwitz, 'The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.' After visiting the infamous Polish concentration camp in 2006, I was adamant that it should be a compulsory trip for all schools. To see cases of human hair and piles of wedding rings torn from their owners made me feel physically sick and so much more interested in politics and my own country's history.

Rail track towards Auschwitz

Huts in Auschwitz

Turning history into something beautiful is how Japan chooses to remember the horrific events that hit Hiroshima in 1945. The area the bomb devastated is now a Peace Park with tasteful memorials and artwork throughout where you can learn more about the exact area you're stood. The Hall of Remembrance provides a place for quiet contemplation and the remains of the A-Bomb Dome are a brutal reminder of the impact such weapons have on a community.

Hiroshima peace park

A Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

We must remember these events. We must make an effort to learn and understand so that we can be empathetic humans who always choose good over evil. You don't have to take a huge amount of time out of a trip to do these things, but it will open your eyes to new cultures even more by showing you literally what has shaped and created them.

An Afternoon at The British Library for Harry Potter: A History of Magic

Outside The British Library for Harry Potter: A History of Magic

It's hard to believe that Harry Potter has been a part of my life for 20 years; my love of the series has spanned a time longer than most of my non-familial relationships, and conjures memories of late-night binge-reading under-the-duvet way past my bedtime and being OBSESSED when the next volume was due to be published.

A Solo Traveller's Guide to Taking Selfies

Montane Mansions, Hong Kong

It's all well and good to have photos of the places you've visited, but sometimes it's nice to appear in them yourself. I like having photographic proof of my presence somewhere, especially when I've travelled half way across the world to see something spectacular. It's not just for Instagram (although I won't lie, I obviously want it for that too), but I want to send it to my mum and say, 'Look where I am!', or to have it put in a frame for memories. Travelling solo means you might not always get a great photo of yourself, but here's how I manage it:

Visiting the Floating Torii Gate of Miyajima, Japan

Floating Torii Gate of Miyajima, Japan

Prior to visiting Japan, I didn't know the name of the island that is home to the famous floating shrine. Rather like my visit to Himeji Castle, I knew the emoji symbol and the fact it looked pretty in photos, but it was only with some research that I realised it would be feasible to visit it on a day trip from Osaka, and that the island it lives on is called Itsukushima, but is commonly known as Miyajima.

Steak Frites at Flat Iron, Denmark St

Two flat iron steaks with chips, creamed spinach and two pints of beer

There's a whole heap of places on my London to-eat list that I haven't made it to yet because I just cannot be arsed to queue. Gradually, no-reservation eateries are starting to become less rare, but I do get it with smaller places. Flat Iron on Denmark Street is limited on space which means demand is high, and explains why it's taken me so long to actually eat there.

Just Go

Just go

If the topic of my three-month solo travel adventure ever crops up (or rather, if you can stop me from talking about it), there's a few routes that the conversation could go down. There are people who simply have no interest in travel, and especially not the long-term type, so they'll ask why I'd even want to embark on something so alien to them. I had my reasons, as I've written about before, but for the most part, the responses are more positive, and they go something along these lines:
As of 20th November 2014, any products marked with an asterisk (*) have been provided as a sample for unbiased review