I’ve been pretty lucky over the last few years. I’ve been to many incredible 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 experiences” lists but I can’t imagine a time when 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. I’ve asked a few friends who have been and didn’t think much of it and found that they didn’t really visit Dusseldorf’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 had fun inside and outside of work. Fingers crossed I’ll get to go back someday.
9. Volunteering in Honduras
My two-week trip to Honduras was my first travel experience outside of Europe. I spent one week snorkelling the coral reefs around the Cayos Cochinos islands in the Caribbean Sea, 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, surveying bugs and trees. I haven’t done anything quite like it since.
8. Trying “exotic” food in Asia
Sampling local delicacies is a must in any destination and trying bugs and parts of animals you had never considered as edible before is a backpacker’s rite of passage. Fish heads in Singapore, chicken feet, duck tongue, pig intestine and squid mouths in Hong Kong, jellyfish and durian fruit in Malaysia, crickets, chicken cartilage and duck bill in Laos – I can’t say they have been some of my tastiest travelling treats but they certainly have been the most memorable.
7. Staying with locals around the world
I’ve been lucky enough to stay with locals in several of the countries I’ve visited: America, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. In Egypt, a local took The Flatmate and I under his wing. He helped us visit all the sites we wanted to in Luxor and twice took us to his family’s house for a home-cooked feast prepared by his mother. Being able to spend time with people who know the area can give you a real insight into a country’s culture and help you to find some amazing places you would never have found otherwise. But the best thing was just meeting new and hospitable people, who welcomed me into their homes when they didn’t really know me at all.
You can’t beat those memories: sitting under the stars in a family home in Luxor, watching the world cup in a family’s living room in Malaysia and attending their nephew’s wedding, spotting possums on a friend’s patio in Brisbane and fulfilling my lifelong dream of cuddling a koala with her, sailing around the islands of Hong Kong with an old school friend, eating fish head curry with the Gap Year Buddy’s uncle in Singapore and getting to know her family throughout California – they are just some of my best ones.
6. Touring Southeast Asia
For my second trip to Southeast Asia, I booked myself on a guided tour starting in northern Vietnam before going through Laos and northern Thailand, finally ending my journey in Bangkok. This is an amazing part of the world, with some much culture and beautiful landscapes.
My travel buddy and I 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 can tell you about the places you’re going to and recommend things to do. Secondly, 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 almost certainly meet some pretty awesome people but on a tour you actually get to stay with them for an extended period of time, which is oh so much better.
5. Backpacking in New Zealand
New Zealand is truly an amazing place: full of sleepy towns and exquisite landscapes. I found that the activities on offer generally fell into two categories: long walks and extreme sports. One day you’ll be trekking over Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings, the next 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 for over 20 hours each day and serves giant, mouthwatering burgers. Whenever you meet any traveller who has been to New Zealand, chances are you will immediately be able to bond over shared Fergburger memories. There’s many reasons why I loved my trip to New Zealand and why I’d love to go back and I’d be lying if I said Fergburger wasn’t pretty much top of the list.
4. Roadtripping through California
I think an American road trip is on most people’s bucket list and for good reason. If you want to do it as stereotypically as possible, then there are only two choices for transportation – a convertible or a truck. I chose the latter. Driving along the Californian coast, windows down, radio on, a giant bag of iced Circus Animal Cookies on the dashboard, my friend in the seat next to me – things were pretty much perfect. If you’re going to choose anywhere for a road trip, California is a good bet. The Big Sur coastline is beautiful, the weather is generally great and there are a lot of places worth stopping off at, like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Monterey Bay, Santa Monica, Lake Tahoe and San Diego. I was pretty lucky since my Gap Year 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. 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 where 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. Several years later, I may not be an archaeologist but I did finally make it to Egypt. I was planning to go on holiday with The Flatmate in summer 2014 and so when she found a deal for a hotel in Luxor, in a mere three weeks time, we booked that day.
Everything from our hotel – the Sheraton Resort – to the ruins were better than I imagined. The sun was boiling 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. Levels of tourism in Egypt have fallen in light of the political turbulence the country has experienced in the past few years so we found 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 over breakfast and brought us Egyptian tea and we even met a guy in the local market who spent the next week taking us everywhere from the ruins to dinner with his family. It really was the most incredible trip and felt like a perfect balance between travelling and holidaying.
2. Studying German in Berlin
I first went to Berlin in 2007 for a long weekend, in order to get some speaking practice in ahead of my upcoming German GCSE. I can’t say the short trip particularly improved my language skills but from that time onwards I decided I would come back to the city and study German when I had the opportunity. Finally, in August 2013, I 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 where it is actually spoken everyday. I also got to meet some pretty great people 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 to the country 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 will meet interesting 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 Koala 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 goat rodeo. Australia, you did good.