I’m being scolded by the author of one of the world’s most famous travel books because I don’t know much about sing-sing.

Patricia Schultz, the travel journalist and Trafalgar ambassador who wrote The New York Times bestseller 1000 Places To See Before You Die, is telling me Papua New Guinea is one of those places.

Schultz went there a few years ago for sing-sing which, she explained, was an annual event that saw tribes gather from across the islands to share their cultures and compete in dance, song and costume.

She couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this wonderful tradition in a neighbouring country, just three flying hours from Brisbane. She couldn’t believe so few Australians knew much about Papua New Guinea at all, much less visited more.

“It was one of my most interesting trips ever,” the New York-based writer told news.com.au.

“I was so proud. I was telling my Australian friend, ‘I’m going to Papua New Guinea,’ and nobody had been. Nobody was even interested. But it really is a place you should consider.

“They have the most phenomenal headdresses in birds of paradise because they have the most birds of paradise species of any place on Earth, and all have the pierced nose and grass skirts … it’s a National Geographic cover from another century.

“There weren’t many white people there. There were so many of them and so few of us, but they make you feel so welcome. They’re so thrilled that you think what they’re doing is of interest enough to get you there.”

Schultz was in Australia this month to promote Trafalgar tours, which offers 302 trips across seven continents.

And while many of us have not been to PNG, she finds us to be a very well-travelled lot.

Australians travel and we travel far. It’s something we have over Americans, Schultz said.

“We were doing the Baltic cruise and we met a lovely couple from Sydney and they were staying away for six weeks and I thought, that is not anything for an American to ever dream of doing,” she said.

“Because for us to take our two weeks (of annual leave time) together is an exceptional thing, and then you worry whether your desk is going to be there when you get back. It’s usually a week here and a week there because the world is going to end if you take them together.

“Do you know how many Australians own a passport?” she asked. (The latest figure from the Australian Passport Office is 57 per cent.) “With Americans, I am always very embarrassed to say, it’s 35 per cent.

“In the same breath we have a fantastic, massive country that’s absolutely chocka-block with possibilities. It’s not like we have 90 per cent of an interior outback. You can drive from (US) coast to coast in either five days, or five years if you stop in every place along the way that takes your interest.”

“So you’re far more travelled, seemingly, than the average American. But we’ve probably seen more of our country than you have (of Australia).”

But, she said, the important thing was that people made travel a priority.

“Time is very precious and we have so very little of it,” she said.

“I put so many trips on my credit card when I had no idea how I was going to pay for them. You never, ever regret the trip you take; you regret the ones you don’t take. Nobody ever said, ‘Oh, I travelled too much’ at the end of their life.”

Schultz is probably responsible for a few maxed-out credit cards out there. While she didn’t write 1000 Places To See Before You Die as a challenge, she’s met plenty of diehard fans who have made it their life’s mission.

She herself had visited about 60 per cent of those 1000 places when the book was published; now, she said, she’s up to about 80 per cent.

But of all the places she has been, there is one country in Schultz’s book she admitted she’d never visited.

“I have not been to New Zealand,” she said.

“Every time I come here (to Australia) with New Zealand in your backyard I never have enough time.

“And it takes you, like, a year to get there from New York! I really need a chuck of time.”

PATRICIA SCHULTZ’S TOP SPOTS TO VISIT NOW

While in Australia, she explained some of her current favourite places to go, all of which are covered by Trafalgar tours.

Egypt and Turkey

“They were a little on the sideline because of the political situations but you’re hearing a lot about them again,” Schultz said.

“They’ve been longtime perennial favourites for a long time because both of them are so rich in history.

“And the Egyptian and Turkish people are some of the nicest people. I think a lot of it is the Arab hospitality because that’s one of the tenants of their culture, that you are a guest, therefore you are a god in their country.

“They treat you like royalty and I so love travelling to that part of the world, which most people hesitate to travel alone to, especially as a novice traveller or a first-timer. That’s why I think these organised escorted holidays come into play.

“I’ve been to those places in all throughout the Middle East and you can come home with the experience of a lifetime but you miss out on so much of that history thousands of thousands of years and crossroads of civilisation over time.

“But I’ve really come to appreciate what Trafalgar offers because I’ve been many times but often those organised experiences topped them.”

Scandinavia

“I think Europe will always be the go-to place for Australia and America — it’s where we share the most of our immigrant heritage — but Scandinavia is emerging.

“Norway I loved the most, because it’s visually the most stunning with the mountains that go right down into these glacier-caved fjords and there’s hundreds of them.

“If you go in the warm months, May through to September, you have the midnight sun and if you go during the winter months, it’s the northern lights. So I would get on a plane to Scandinavia to see the northern lights alone. And the whole heritage of Vikings is great for families and kids.”

Northern Ireland

“Ireland has long been a favourite destination but Northern Ireland is this recent, tacked-on extension because the Troubles, which people think are still happening, in fact have been over for years,” Schultz said.

“But there are still things happening. They still have the gates that close at night that separate the Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods in Belfast. And with Outlander and Game of Thrones and all these shows that are shot there, there’s a lot of interest.

“It’s also a great place for kids because of leprechauns and castles, and the whiskey trail — although maybe not for kids — and it’s easy to do independently because we kinda do speak the same language, and they’re such lovely people.”

African safari

“I never like answering the question, ‘What is your top three favourites?’ but Africa to me, I will tell you, should be one of my top three, because of the safari experience and everything that comes with it — it’s not about the animals at all,” she said.

“But the countryside is so untrammelled and pristine and beautiful and very varied from one country or region to the next. And the people are so nice. The African people — it’s like … you come for the elephants and you leave with new-found friendships.

“I think it’s one of the most exciting destinations (Trafalgar) offers. It’s more accessible and more easily bookable, which is good as it’s kind of overwhelming when there are 50 countries in Africa.”



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