It's always been great. We're talking Caipirinhas on the beach, adventures in the jungle and long nights on the dance floor. But the world's biggest party is about to get even bigger next year when Brazil hosts the FIFA World Cup. Prepare for an already soccer-mad country to go even madder when millions of fans turn up to join the fun. And is if that isn't enough, two years later, Rio de Janeiro will host the Summer Olympics. Couple those two events with Brazil's rise as a world economic power and an increased focus on tourism, and there's never been a better time to visit.
Comfortable, fast, reliable trains criss-cross Europe, Britain, the North American continent and some of Asia. Savvy travellers love how they go from the heart of one city to another, with no need to navigate traffic and airports. Trains give more scenic bang for your buck as well, providing a window to details you can't possibly see from 10,000 metres. And rail travel ticks all the boxes of modern, mindful travel. The transport sector emits one-quarter of all energy-based carbon dioxide worldwide, due mainly to road traffic. A recent report by the International Energy Agency noted rail produced less than 1 per cent of that, and while emissions from other modes have increased, those from trains haven't. Practicalities aside, we love the golden-era romance of rail, too.
Free wi-fi and iPod docks are so 30 seconds ago. Today's forward-thinking hotels have in-room iPads to book massages, adjust lighting and make dinner reservations; infrared sensors to alert housekeeping that you're in the room; and retinal scanners, or wireless radio-frequency identification data, to unlock your room on approach. Yotel in New York even has a robotic luggage handler.
THE LONGER SHORT BREAK
The arrival of low-cost Asian airlines, Middle Eastern carriers and increased competition on the US route has given us access to affordable airfares around the world. Which means places such as Singapore and Bali have become short-break options. Within Australia, where domestic airfares have also plummeted, places such as the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, Port Douglas and Tasmania are weekend destinations.
The golden age of river cruising is nigh. Every major river-cruise company is building new ships, with Viking River Cruises topping the list at 10 this year alone. Ships now feature more space, more suites, better dining options and luxury hotel-style amenities. In addition, the range of itineraries is expanding, especially on Portugal's Douro River, Spain's Guadalquivir, numerous rivers in France, the Hudson and Mississippi in the US, and the Irrawaddy in Myanmar. Meanwhile, cruises along established rivers are offering more flexible, family-friendly options, themed tours and cruise-land combinations. Needless to say, it only takes one river cruise to get you hooked.
RETURN OF THE POLAROID
Spread love and affection with the instant, Polaroid-style pictures produced by the Fuji Instax mini 7s, a Teletubbies-style, moulded plastic miracle camera. In Third-World villages, the Instax mini transforms mere mortals into the Pied Piper. Credit card-size prints are expensive, but not if you buy from Amazon.
Not so long ago, Tasmania was regarded as a cold, bleak place with spectacular countryside. During the past five years, it has emerged as a state renowned for its great produce, seasonal festivals, exciting new restaurants such as Garagistes, boutique wine, cider and whisky producers and glamour resorts such as Saffire. And, of course, there is the ground-breaking Museum of Old and New Art.
As in, "Oh, thank God there's a kids' club". We confess to loving the new trend in creating KCs so cool, kids take one look and forget we exist (leaving us to slink off for an appointment with the poolside bar). Respect to the Soneva Kiri Koh Kood in Thailand which has created The Den, a Lost Boys fantasy built into a jungle along with a drawbridge - a place where kids can go bananas.
HONG KONG FOOD
Hong Kong has 61 Michelin-starred restaurants. Paris shades it with 101, but second place on the podium is no mean feat. Whether it's the food stalls of Kowloon's Temple Street night market or the scallop and prawn dumplings at the three-star Lung King Heen, Hong Kong's dynamic, eclectic food scene takes your taste buds for a walk on the wild side. Ship Street in Wan Chai is suddenly the centre of a red-hot restaurant scene. The open-fronted 22 Ships offers a new take on the tapas bar, orchestrated by Jason Atherton, who cut his culinary teeth in the kitchens of Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and ElBulli's Ferran Adria. Although it's around the corner in the J Senses complex, Bo Innovation - the domain of self-styled "demon chef" and all-round kitchen bad boy Alvin Leung - also has a private elevator entrance at 18 Ship Street. Possibly the most miraculous of all Ship Street's restaurants is Yin Yang, where Margaret Xu, the high priestess of farm-to-table cooking, creates a menu that makes the mouth sing. Michelin-star dining Hong Kong-style is also cheap. A meal at Tim Ho Wan, the legendary Michelin-star Kowloon diner, might set you back $10 - worth it for the pork buns alone.
THE RISE OF UN-TOURISM
More travellers want to live like locals, at least for a week or two, and there are more peer-to-peer (aka "hometel") accommodation options than ever , which is part of a growing trend of collaborative consumption. Beyond the pioneering Airbnb, which lists studio apartments, beach houses and even castles in 34,000 cities, there's the German-based Wimdu, which has 150,000 properties; Couchsurfing, which lets you meet locals as well as stay with them; Crashpadder(now owned by Airbnb) in London, Brazil's Fica la em Casa ; and a multitude of house-sitting sites (such as trustedhousesitters .com and mindmyhouse.com).
NEW DELHI COOL ZONE
History and mayhem are the specialties of the Indian capital, but now Hauz Khas Village, in the posh South Delhi neighbourhood, brings cool into the equation. Hauz Khas Village - HKV to the locals - is where the skinny-jeans people go for art galleries, cafes and designer boutiques. Try Nappa Dori for old-school leather satchels, Ogaan for some of the top-shelf names in Indian clothing, accessories and jewellery, White for Indian designer labels, O Layla for slinky fashions inspired by traditional Indian clothing, Munkee See Munkee Doo for the tailored look, Purple Jungle for funky bags and accessories and Yodakin for books, periodicals, music and DVDs. Most of the cafes and bars are on rooftops. Gunpowder is the dining sweet spot.
NESPRESSO MACHINES INYOUR ROOM
We love the pod. We especially love the pod at dawn, for its civilising influence and strange ability to enhance wilderness views from our lodge, cabin or suite. Our love never waivers because we recall when there was only granulated Continental Roast in thin, slippery sachets and the answer to ''Coffee?'' was ''Not so much ...''
RELAXED AIRPORT SECURITY
You can now travel with pocket knives and sports equipment such as ski poles in your hand luggage on US airlines, thanks to the easing of airport cabin restrictions by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). TSA has also stopped using its controversial full-body ''nude'' scanners, and passengers over75can leave their belts, jackets and shoes on for security at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports.
PETS IN POSH HOTELS
More Australian luxury hotels are welcoming furry guests. Pet-friendly properties include Accor's waterfront Sebel Pier One in Sydney's Walsh Bay and Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains at Leura, along with 8Hotels' Altamont in Darlinghurst, Diamantin Potts Point and the delightfully quirky Albany Motel in South Yarra.
Whether tweeters, bloggers or Facebookers, today's travellers do their research online - talking directly to residents of places they are about to visit. And we all love instantly sharing our own experiences and discoveries with family and friends, as well as other travellers interested in the places we've visited.
CELEBRITIES AT SEA
Want to see a famous face while cruising? They're everywhere. Board the Queen Mary 2 in August to hear author Margaret Atwood, or in October for broadcaster SirDavid Frost. In November, chef Sean Connolly is aboard MSOosterdam while Downton Abbey adviser and Robert the Bruce descendant Alastair Bruce of Crionaich lectures on Silversea's Silver Spirit.
THE NEW SINGAPORE
It can't offer the history and landscapes of other parts of Asia, so innovation and urban attractions are the keys to Singapore's tourism success. Grand Dubai-style projects have transformed Marina Bay, Sentosa and Orchard Road, with plenty more to come. Meanwhile, nightlife, dining and boutique hotel options have vastly improved.
Modern Berlin offers the visitor no end of diversions, but the city's best boutique hotel, Ackselhaus, serves as a portal to other times and places. Each room is ''themed''to a different style ofbygone decadence - early 20th-century Cairo, ancient Rome, imperial China - but it's all so subtle, tasteful and comfortable that it doesn't look or feel like a gimmick.
NEW YORK'S MUSEUM RESTAURANTS
Museums and galleries, though temples to creativity, have rarely been known for innovative cuisine. Things are changing in New York, though, where world-class institutions are replacing cafeterias with edgy eateries that celebrate the culinary arts. At the Whitney Museum, Untitled, by Danny Meyer, was lauded by the 2013 Michelin Guide for ''excellence on a budget''. Cafe Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie brings Viennese coffee and exquisite strudel to the Upper East Side. And M. Wells Dinette, found at MoMA PS1, is the most remarkable of them all: tattooed wait staff have been known to serve everything from rabbit terrine to an entire goat.
DINING WITH LOCALS
Underground restaurants started for locals in big cities to get to know their foodie-loving neighbours. Hong Kong, New York and San Francisco led the way but now the word is out, they are more likely to be filled with tourists. Enter social-network dining. Register with sites such as dinewithlocals.com and eatwithalocal.socialgo.com and be invited to a local's home for dinner instead. North America and Europe lead the way.
THE APPLE PASSBOOK
This Apple app creates a one-stop shop for all travel tickets from airline boarding passes to festival entry. British Airways, Lufthansa, Qantas, Delta and Virgin are just some of the big travel names jumping on board (pun intended). Add Moshtix and Ticketmaster and paper is history.
''You're upgraded'' are two of the happiest words you can hear at the check-in desk, and Optiontown delivers seats at the pointy end of the aircraft at a bargain price. Optiontown sells unsold premium seats aboard a few international carriers at a big discount, although you might have to wait until you reach the check-in desk to confirm. See optiontown.com.
PLUGGING INTO THE SUN
Go ''off-grid'' and stay connected thanks to an array of solar-powered gadgets. Examples include the world's first solar-powered laptop - a 25.7-centimetre netbook by Samsung; solar cases for iPhones, Kindles and iPads; andbackpacks with solar panels. Then there's the SunRocket, a solar kettle with reflectors that fold out to boil water for tea or coffee on theroad.
Hidden among pine trees above Bhutan's Paro Valley, the villas at Uma Paro bring a game-lifting mix of luxury and architectural integrity to the world's last Buddhist Himalayan kingdom. Built from the same hand-hewn stone and timber as the farmhouses below, each villa is astylish enclave with a large living area containing a Bhutanese bukhari wood stove, separate king bedroom, a mini-kitchen and a spunky bathroom with a huge dressing room. There's also a butler, who will bring you masala chai with buttery biscuits when you return from daily expeditions, light your fireplace, and arrange massages in the sanctuary behind your bedroom. See comohotels.com/umaparo.
TOM BIHN AERONAUT BAG
The Bear Grylls of carry-on bags, this tough, stylish and lightweight nylon bag sneaks in under the maximum dimensions yet holds a whopping 45 litres. It has no wheels, however, and the US$250 ($323) price tag limits its appeal to demanding frequent flyers with a penchant for quality engineering. See tombihn.com.
ONLINE VISA SERVICES
Remember sending your passport by registered post to some bureaucratic outpost, then sweating bullets as you awaited its return? Electronic visa services are cheap, easy and fast. America's ESTA (electronic system for travel authorisation) online visa, for instance, arrives the moment your credit card clears. Even the communists are getting with the program: an online visa application to Vietnam costs from $25 and takes three days.
VIENNA'S NEW SHINE
A new airport terminal, extensive city-centre transformations and numerous new luxury hotels are bringing a renewed tourist buzz to Vienna. Even its impressive cultural legacy is being overhauled, with the reopening this year of the Kunstkammer imperial treasures collection, and a new concert venue for the Vienna Boys Choir.
WE CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S AN AIRPORT
Just as airline food has improved with input from culinary stars, airports have also lifted their game. Whether it's a roasted veal chop with anchovy, chilli and celery salad from Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food at Heathrow, or cod fritters from Michelin-starred chef Carles Gaig's restaurant at ElPrat in Barcelona, airports are signing name chefs and, more importantly, serving food that reflects its provenance that you would happily eat beyond the concourse. And it's not just food: sleeping at the airport is shaking off its bad reputation, too, thanks to rest podspopping up in terminals around the world. Munich Airport's napcabs have a bed and work desk, pods at Abu Dhabi have a sliding shade to shut out noise and light, and, in Delhi's international airport, rest pods have a bar fridge and bed. With crisp sheets, monsoon shower and 24-hour menu, the morning after has never looked better thanafter a night at the Yotel atHeathrow.
LONDON'S SPEAKEASY BARS
Nothing to do with The Great Gatsby and everything to do with a well-hidden drinking joint shared only by those in the know. London loves the notion of social stratification reinforced by a door you can't find, perhaps best illustrated by The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town (Aldgate), which is accessed through a Smeg fridge. Today, the capital is dotted with dozens of secret bars - and they're just the ones we know about. Pass through a sex shop to access La Bodega Negra (Soho), descend into an old gents toilet for The Cellar Door (Aldwych), and tug at an oil painting for The Underdog (Shoreditch). Inside isademi-monde of voodoo lounges, cocktail galleries and dens of iniquity. Or should that beinequity?
PUERTO PIRAMIDES, ARGENTINA
This tiny Patagonian port resembles the proverbial one-horse town, with a single through-road and a permanent population of fewer than 500. But the surrounding shore line and adjoining Valdes Peninsula are also seasonal home to right whales, orcas, penguins, elephant seals, and Magellanic penguins, all arriving and departing on their own migration cycles. In the past fiveyears, the town has become aworld-class centre for ecotourism without spoiling itself through overdevelopment. Even the shortest walk, or drive, along the coast will lead to an isolated spot where the whales seem tojump for your private entertainment.
SAVING THE SHARKS
Everyone loves a hotel with conscience, so when the Peninsula group took the Asian delicacy of shark fin off its menus in 2012, it won many plaudits. The Shangri-La is among other hotels to implement a ban. Ironically, both hotel chains remain among the most popular with Asians. Sharkfinning is considered cruel(the shark is often thrown back into the sea to drown) andalso threatens global sharkpopulations.
It might sound frightening to some, but for business travellers - and those merely desperate to Instagram a photo of their inflight meal - the increasing availability of wi-fi on planes is a godsend. Emirates is leading the way, with on-board web surfing from US$7.50 ($9.7), while plenty of North American carriers have followed suit.
'CRAPLISH' FOREIGN T-SHIRT SLOGANS
Our favourites include: from Tokyo, ''BASIC AND EXCITING - Refreshed and foppish sense and comfortable and flesh styles will catch you who belong to city-groups''; from Hong Kong, ''ForestRove Best Love No Chicken''; and, from Guizhou Province, this touching tribute to Walt Disney's famous mouse, ''MIOKFY - TheLovely Rich Is Strange Very Popular'' .
Former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe is the soothing voice behind the Headspace meditation sessions on Virgin Atlantic's inflight audio system. A 10-minute trip is all it takes to a quiet inner space that takes the edge off the inflight experience.
Opened early this year after refurbishment, the Melrose Wing at the Art Gallery of South Australia, in Adelaide, redefines how art is displayed. Works ranging from painting and sculpture to video appear not chronologically, but by themes such as ''seduction and death'', spanning 2000 years of juxtaposed artworks. Confronting, enlightening and wonderful.
DESIGNER DIGS ON A BUDGET
It used to be that well-designed budget accommodation was an oxymoron. But a new wave of stylish hostels and pod hotels from Madrid to Miami is attracting a more mature group of travellers who want smart, contemporary lodgings without the hefty price tag. Closer to home, we love Melbourne's design-conscious pied a terre, Ovolo; small but well-considered studios cost $225 a night midweek.
Each day, Scoopon delivers deals to our computers promising discounts of 30per cent to 80per cent on travel packages. The group-buying powerhouse - and others such as Groupon and Getaway Lounge are actually fishing for our business, dangling hooks baited with ''use it or lose it'' prices. It's not everyone's idea of careful travel planning (or buying, for that matter), but it has an undeniable frisson.
For too long, cruise lovers were condemned to eat average food and drink mass-produced wines. But all that is changing rapidly, and we love LukeMangan for putting together high-end restaurants for P&O. Others in a growing band include Nobu Matsuhisa's Silk Road for Crystal Cruises, while MSC Preziosa launched recently in Genoa, with the first floating restaurant from the upscale Eatalygroup, which specialises inartisan and traditional Italiandishes.
RAFFLES HOTEL, BEIJING
Formerly owned by China's Communist Party - Chairman Mao once held private dances in the ballroom - this once-austere hotelunderwent an upgrade when the Raffles group took over before the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Thanks largely to in-house Raffles ''ambassador'' John Spooner, it'sperhaps the best-run luxury hotel in China, and a short walk from the Forbidden City and the ancient alleys of the capital.
We love discovering a city that's been slipping under the radar. Among the few Japanese cities not to be firebombed in World War II, Kanazawa has the best-preserved historical ''samurai'' and ''geisha'' districts in the country, and remains much greener and prettier than the crowded urban sprawls of Tokyo or Osaka. In recent years, the new 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art has also helped it generate a distinctly youthful and creative energy.
Begone the bulky polar fleece and fluorescent stripe thermals - functional and funky travel clothing is on the rise. Icebreaker's Journeys range includes a lightweight, quick-dry, non-crushable dress made with NewZealand merino wool. Mountain men can make a statement in a Paddy Pallin lime green puffer jacket.
SLOW TRAVEL APPS
Every revolution has its counter-revolution, and so it is with travel technology. First there was GPS and Google Maps, which untangled foreign cities with a touch of the finger. Now there is Wanderous, which does the opposite. Just as the slow-food movement prioritises taking your time, this app celebrates the scenic route. Plug in a destination and take a meandering route past landmarks and attractions. Drift, ''an app for getting lost in familiar places'', gives random directions such as ''walk north until you find an example of anarchy at work''.
CHEAPER ROOM SERVICE
Begone the interminable wait for a $50 hamburger. Enter PUBLIC Chicago, which reinvents in-room dining from the packaging up. The ''Public Express'' concept offers gourmet food by Jean-Georges Vongerichten with no service charges or wait time. Slow-cooked salmon and crunchy challah French toast is delivered in a paper bag. This no-frills approach means slimmed-down pricing - a small change that makes a big difference at checkout time.
SYDNEY RYDGES AIRPORT HOTEL
Finally, Sydney has a true airport hotel that's stumbling distance from the terminal. And it has put genuine thought into the requirements of travellers, with 24-hour facilities and live flight-departure screens.
The best way to see a city is through local eyes, and thanks to the Brisbane Greeters, you can. The scheme's free walking tours, run by volunteer guides, are tailored to your interests and reveal everything from the city's spicy colonial past to its newest cultural happenings.
BIG BATHS WITH VIEWS
No longer tucked away behind closed doors, the humble tub has morphed into a statement piece - it's the ''so-now'' custodian of hotel-room wow factor whether in the tropics or in chic city digs. Today's hot bath has a killer view, is the size of a dinghy and is preferably freestanding. Outdoors? Even better. Top of the total immersionlist? Try Queenstown's Matakauri Lodge, with the snowy Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu out the window or the Fiji Intercontinental's outdoor numbers with a Pacific Ocean soundtrack. Sydney's Sebel Pier One stunner takes our top award for harbour views so close you can wave to ferry commuters from under the bubbles.
Most would say museums are stores of history and fact, or repositories for culture and art. MoNA, in Hobart, has become infamous for challenging these ideas, but it is really only the beginning. In Istanbul, Turkey, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk blurs the line completely with his Museum of Innocence. ''As far as I know, this is the first museum based on a novel,'' Pamuk recently told The New York Times. It is filled with cigarette butts, shoes, ticket stubs and old photographs. It is, in effect, both fiction and fact, asnapshot of changing Istanbul through the eyes of its pre-eminent writer.
FREE PHONE CALLS
Taking a mobile overseas can be akin to carrying a ticking time bill in your pocket. Smart travellers use airplane mode, wi-fi and Skype's low-cost call packages to ensure communications to home cost cents rather than arms and legs. But the free Viber phone app has made footloose phoning a snap. It enables free mobile-to-mobile calls and texts anywhere in the world to anyone using the same app, providing you're in range of wi-fi or a 3G service. Spend 30 seconds registering your phone number and get family and friends to do the same before you travel. And, it works with dependable clarity. Whatsapp Messenger costs 99 cents for a similar service. We also send out some love to Words with Friends - still a favourite time-killer and a great way to send free texts.
Heat, flies, dust ... champagne. From Uluru to the Kimberley, high-end digs have been proliferating in Australia's remotest places, and the latest to open, Cicada Lodge at Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, is a star addition. Owned and operated by the Jawoyn people, its 18 cabins, their interiors all comfortable, low-key elegance, touch the earth lightly. The service is personal, the tucker made to order and the communal area, with its pool, outdoor couches and bar, a divine place to relax with a book and a beverage - all the sweeter after you've learnt about Aboriginal culture from the Jawoyn themselves, and about the ancient landscape from which, you soon grasp at Nitmiluk, they are indivisible.
AIRLINE CABIN LIGHTING
Ambient cabin lighting is increasingly common as carriers introduce more modern aircraft. Airlines can now choose from a palette of 16 million colours (really) and select brightness levels and ''dynamic transitions'' to promote a more pleasant and calming cabin experience. These lighting levels can simulate sunsets or sunrise, supposedly to minimise jet lag. That's a stretch but we love any enhancement of an experience that can be far less than a pleasure.
- Sydney Morning Herald
Do you use a smartphone when travelling overseas?