I’ve been pretty lucky over the last few years. I’ve been to many places and done and seen some pretty amazing things. But there’s some experiences that do stand out above the rest. It’s hard to narrow it down to just ten but since I have to do so (well I don’t have to, but I’m making myself do it) then I’d say that it would probably be these, so in no particular order:
10. Working in Dusseldorf
I’m not sure Dusseldorf would appear on many people’s top 10 travel experience lists but I can’t imagine that it will ever fall off mine. In August 2014, I spent two weeks working for a firm in the city and it was fantastic. I think Dusseldorf is seriously underrated, and I have found that people who weren’t fans didn’t really visit the city’s Old Town, with its cobbled streets lined with buzzing bars. But it wasn’t really Dusseldorf itself that made my experience what it was: it was the people I worked with. They were friendly and welcoming and spent time making sure that I was settling in well. We also had fun, inside and outside of work. Fingers crossed I’ll get to go back.
9. Volunteering in Honduras
My two weeks in Honduras were my first travel experience outside of Europe. I spent one week snorkelling the coral reefs off a Caribbean island, whilst learning about reef ecology and taking part in a survey. Whilst there I camped on the beach, dodging crabs and getting seriously sun burnt. The second week was spent camping in the rainforest, finding bugs and surveying trees. I haven’t really been anywhere like it since and I’d love to volunteer again.
8. Trying “exotic” food in Asia
Sampling local delicacies is a must in any destination but trying bugs and parts of animals you had never considered as edible before is a backpacker’s rite of passage. Fish head in Singapore, chicken feet, duck tongue, pig intestine and squid mouth in Hong Kong, jellyfish and durian fruit in Malaysia, crickets, chicken cartilage and duck bill in Laos- I cannot say they have been my tastiest treats but they certainly have been some of the most memorable.
7. Staying with locals around the world
I’ve been able to stay with locals in several locations around the world, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and America. I didn’t get to stay with locals in Egypt but I did meet a local guy who twice took my friend and I home to have a feast cooked by his mother. Being able to stay with people who know the areas where you’re staying can give you a real insight into a country’s culture and help you to find amazing places that you wouldn’t have found otherwise (these places also often have the bonus of not having the tourist price tag). But the best thing was just meeting new and hospitable people, who welcomed me into their homes when they didn’t really (or at all) even know me. You can’t beat that: sitting under the stars in a family house in Luxor, watching the world cup in a family’s living room in Malaysia and attending a wedding with them, spotting possums on a friend’s patio in Brisbane, sailing around the islands of Hong Kong with an old school friend and her friends from home, sampling local delicacies with my travel buddy’s aunt and uncle in Singapore and getting to know her family throughout California- they are just some of my best memories.
6. Touring Southeast Asia
On my second trip to Southeast Asia, I went on a tour starting in northern Vietnam, before going through Laos and down to Bangkok in Thailand. This is an amazing part of the world: I went tubing, elephant riding and biking in Laos, sailed around Halong Bay and explored temples in Thailand. I was with a travel buddy and we were joined by four solo travellers and our guide. Admittedly, guided tours are an expensive way of travelling but they have their perks. Firstly, you’re with someone who knows the area and tell you about the places you’re going to and recommend things to do. Then there’s the ease of having your accommodation and transport completely sorted. But the thing that makes it actually worthwhile is the people you meet. Okay, wherever you are, you will meet some pretty awesome people, as long as you’re not a recluse, but on a tour you actually get to stay with them for an extended period of time, which is oh so much better.
5. New Zealand
New Zealand is truly an amazing place: full of sleepy towns and exquisite landscapes. I found that activities on offer generally fell into two categories: hiking and extreme sports. One day you’ll be trekking over Mount Doom, from Lord of the Rings, another you’ll be sky-diving over the Franz Josef Glacier. Then there’s the most beautiful sight of them all- a Fergburger. Queenstown’s renowned restaurant is open over 20 hours a day and serves giant, mouthwatering burgers.
4. Roadtripping through California
I think an American roadtrip is on most people’s bucket list and for good reason. There are only two choices for vehicle: a convertible or a truck. I chose the latter. Driving along the Californian coast, window down, radio on, a giant bag of biscuits on the dashboard, my friend in the seat next to me- you cannot beat it. If you’re going to choose anywhere for a roadtrip, California is a good bet. The Big Sur coastline is beautiful, the weather is good and there are a lot of places worth stopping off at, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Monterey Bay, Santa Monica, Lake Tahoe and San Diego. I was pretty lucky since my travel buddy had family throughout the state so we had lots of lovely people who were happy to take us in and show us the sites and that made my 3.5 weeks all the better.
3. Exploring Ancient Egypt
You probably wouldn’t have thought that anyone would get travel inspiration from watching The Mummy. You may not think that watching a monster wreak havoc would make you actually want to visit the place that he is doing his wreaking, but that is the effect it had on me. After watching the movie, I wanted to be an archaeologist and I couldn’t wait to visit Egypt. Now I may not be an archaeologist but, what must have been about 10 years later, I did finally make it to Egypt. I was planning to go on holiday with a friend so when she found a deal for a hotel in Luxor in three weeks time, in July 2014, we booked that day. Everything from our hotel- the Sheraton Resort- to the ruins were better than I imagined. The sun was baking so we had to intersperse trips to the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, Luxor Museum and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut with mandatory pool sessions. Tourism has fallen in the country in light of the turbulence it has experienced in the last few years so this meant that we didn’t have to fight through hoards of people in the tourist sites or in the hotel. The locals were also amazingly hospitable. The staff taught us Arabic words at breakfast and brought us Egyptian tea and we even met some people in the local market who spent the week taking us everywhere from the ruins to dinner with the family. It really was the most incredible holiday.
2. Studying German in Berlin
I first went to Berlin in 2007, before I took my German GCSE. I can’t say that trip particularly improved my language skills but from them I decided I would come back to the city and study German. In August 2013, I actually made it and spent four weeks at the Deutsche Akademie. I’m not exactly fluent but I learned more in that month than I did in 6 years of study in England. You just cannot beat learning a language in a country that speak it. I also got to meet some pretty great people who were in my class. Then there was the city itself. I ended up renting a flat with a friend, who was doing the same thing as I was, which we found on Airbnb. It was fantastic. Our flat was amazing and I fell in love with the city within days. Anyone who reads my blog will know my feelings towards Berlin and they haven’t changed a jot.
1. Backpacking in Australia
Australia had been at the top of my bucket list since I was a child and my mum bought me a koala bear toy that became my equivalent of a security blanket. Finally, in May/June 2010 I made it and found that there was so much more than just cuddling koalas (although this was a definite high point). As a backpacker, I can’t imagine anywhere better than East Coast Australia. It’s not exactly “off the beaten track” and you may be more likely to meet tourists than locals but you’ll meet people from all over the world. There’s also a lot on offer, like surfing, exploring Fraser Island, sailing the Whitsunday Islands and snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef. You can see Sydney’s Opera House, get close to the wildlife at Lone Pine Sanctuary, dance on the tables in Byron Bay’s Cheeky Monkey’s bar and go on a biking tour of the town 1770. I even spent a night on a ranch where I learned to round up goats and crack a whip and took part in a rodeo. Australia, you did good.