There’s a reason why people get all misty-eyed and sentimental when they talk about sailing – the freedom of being on the water, miles away from phone calls, emails, traffic jams, your office … not to mention seeing all those corners of the world that you’d usually miss on a conventional holiday.

1. Kerala Backwaters

Spending an unforgettable night on board a houseboat in Kerala’s leafy backwaters has got to be one of the best waterborne experiences out there.

The iconic boats, with their thatched roofs, are also known as kettuvalloms. They drift slowly through 900km of waterways, passing tiny riverside villages, through narrow canals and across wide lakes.

The main hubs to get on one of these trips are Alappuzha and Kollam, and both of these towns are packed with tour operators who will arrange your trip for you.

But be warned, lots of these are unscrupulous charlatans, so if you like the staff at your hostel ask them or other travellers for recommendations.

Most boats set sail around 11am and dock at nightfall, between which times you can sit on the deck, snapping stunning pics of this cluster of swooping palms, or that traditional fishing boat, waving to Keralan villagers, or stuffing down the platefuls of onion bhajis, fresh fish and fiery curries that are brought out to you.

The boat docks overnight and then sets sail again at first light, meaning if you’re up early enough, you get to see the sun rise over the backwaters. In other words, this really is a textbook serene, idyllic boat journey.

However, peak season from November to February is a different story.

Not only do prices rise, but miles of the riverbanks are lined with boats full of other tourists, all after their own private piece of paradise.

Avoid this time of year at all costs, as the atmosphere is chaotic and you won’t be able to appreciate any of the scenery.


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2. Arctic Circle

The region may be one of the coldest, most inhospitable and remote on earth – but for the adventurous, an Arctic cruise is probably one of the most exhilarating, off-the-beaten-track experiences out there.

It’s all about embracing the wilderness on one of these excursions, where puffins and polar bears, northern lights, glaciers, icebergs and epic snowscapes will be all part of the adventure.

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3. Halong Bay

Halong Bay really is a strange-looking phenomenon – about 3000 limestone karsts of different shapes and sizes jut out from the water.

The name means ‘descending dragon bay’, based on a legend that in ancient times dragons defended Vietnam by spitting out jewels which turned into this assortment of islands.

The best way to explore it? You guessed it: by boat.


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4. Amazon River

Want to take on the Amazon River? At 6200km, you’re probably going to have to start by choosing a small section somewhere between the Peruvian highlands and its mouth on the coast in Brazil.

Get close to jungle wildlife and check out traditional settlements on the riverbanks on a slowboat in Bolivia. In Brazil, you can string up a hammock on your boat to bask in the sunshine as you drift downstream.

Or, in Paraguay, sail as far as the foothills of the Andes.

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5. Norfolk Broads

OK, so the Norfolk Broads may not sound quite as sexy and exotic as the rest of the boat trips on offer – but that’s not to say you won’t have an amazing journey.

It’s easy to charter your own boat (companies will give you an hour of tuition before you set off) and spend a week drifting through the scenic British waterways.

Best of all, you don’t have to stay off-land the whole time. See a cosy, riverside pub you like the look of? Dock and head inside.


Photos: Getty, Thinkstock