My 35 Travel Highlights of 35 Years
January 2016 was the month I started my travel blog and customised travel planning business, something I have wanted to do for years; finally I took the leap. But it was also the month that I turned 35. I have spent years meeting people who travel full time or have spent a year or two travelling the world and before launching my website, I spent months and months reading blogs written by people who had chosen the life of a nomad and I’ll admit, I was jealous but incredibly inspired.
I haven’t done the gap year or the sabbatical but as I started planning blog posts, I realised very quickly that it didn’t matter. As a part time traveller, I have probably seen more of the world in my 35 years than most and for me, it’s just a starting point. These are my favourite memories, good and bad, of my time roaming the earth!
1) My First Time Through the Channel Tunnel, UK to France
It was 1996, a family trip to the south of France with a stop in Paris and my Dad was driving us down there. The tunnel had only been open just over a year and being under what was essentially the sea was a concept that was mind boggling at the time. It only took about 40 minutes to get to French soil but it was 40 minutes of imagining the walls caving in from the pressure of the water. Of course there was nothing to worry about, the channel tunnel is still there 20 years later!
2) Travelling the World with my Violin
Having a skill that would take me all over the world is really how my wanderlust began. From the age of 11 I have been taken to some amazing places and I have played in some of the world’s most impressive concert halls. Musikverein in Vienna, Salle Pleyel in Paris, Royal Albert Hall in London, Festspielhaus in Baden Baden and the Great Hall of the People, Beijing to name just a few. While the venues are memorable, the whole experience of being on tour with 100 other musicians is just totally different to backpacking or travelling solo.
3) Getting so Close to Niagara Falls, Canada
I have been lucky enough to have been to Canada three times and all through music. The falls are impressive anyway, but when you’re 11 and away from home alone for the first time, standing on that boat (Maid of the Mist back then) as it approaches hundreds of tonnes of falling water is pretty intense. I toured Canada with Sinfonia UK just a few months ago and we spent a day off at Niagara Falls. I can tell you that it is just as intense at 34 years old!
4) Staying up all Night to Watch the Sunrise in Finland
Staying up all night when you’re 15 and on tour is exciting. We didn’t mean to do it but it was one of those times when you just talk for hours and before you realise it, it’s 4am so you may as well stay up. We escaped our hostel (literally, through a window) and sat by a marina somewhere near Helsinki and watched the sun come up on a perfectly beautiful morning and we made it back before anyone knew we’d gone!
5) Getting Heat Stroke in Venice, Italy
Again I was on tour, 14 years old I think and yes, I got heat stroke, probably through dehydration. We were performing in a little church in the centre of Venice. All of my friends went off for dinner and I climbed a few flights of stairs and fell asleep in the organ loft where it was cooler, surrounded by old dusty manuscripts, gargoyles, statues, piles of musty smelling books and of course an pipe organ.
6) Seeing Cinderella’s Castle for the First Time, Florida, US
Ok, it sounds cheesy, but when you’re 8 years old and from a family obsessed with Disney (my Grandad who took us used to spend all of his free time drawing Mickey Mouse) the first time you see the castle appear from across the horizon as you cross Buena Vista Lake is magical!
7) Manhattan, NYC, US
Speaking of magical views, I will never forget the first time I saw Manhattan. It was June, it was a perfectly clear day and I had a window seat on the plane which provided the best viewing platform ever as I flew into JFK.
8) Seeing the Yankees play the Red Sox at the Old Yankee Stadium, NYC, US
I don’t know how he did it, but my best friend’s Dad got us tickets that sat us a mere 8 rows back from first base. The atmosphere in that stadium was electric and just experiencing the spectacle was fantastic. But being that close to the action - well, I never thought I would enjoy baseball that much!
9) A Camel Ride in the Sahara Desert, Giza, Egypt
I think officially it would be the Libyan desert which is the eastern part of the Sahara Desert. Camels are not comfortable to ride and trying to stay on it as it stands up and sits down is pretty much the most hilarious thing you will ever put yourself through. But the views across the desert and of the Giza Pyramids in the distance is pretty memorable.
10) Swimming with Dolphins in Florida, US
Since I visited Discovery Cove in Orlando, Seaworld have had a lot of press with regards to the welfare of their animals, and in the bigger picture, whether we should advocate animals kept in captivity. I have mixed feelings on the subject really. However, it was incredible to interact with the dolphins and they appeared to be very happy and well cared for. It was an experience I will never forget, but I hope to have the opportunity to do it again, only this time, I would opt to do it in their natural environment.
11) The Blue Lagoon, Iceland
It was minus 6 degrees, there was about 4 feet of snow and the run from the changing rooms across icy pathways to the lagoon was painful! But my goodness once you’re in the water, you could spend hours taking in the magical surroundings - and we did! We were there in December and at that time of year, the sun never quite rises. For about 3 hours a day, you get to watch a sunrise/sunset and it is stunning.
12) The midnight Sun, Sweden
From polar nights to the midnight sun. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the place we were staying. It was a friend’s mother’s house, quite a few hours drive north of Stockholm and it was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a pine tree forest. I remember being awake at about 11pm and the sun was still shining!
13) China’s Greatest Tourist Attractions, Beijing, Xian, China
China was an experience. It was probably the first time I found myself in the middle of a culture that I didn’t really understand and it was a learning experience; from the exuberance of wealth quite literally surrounded by poverty to sanitation and hygiene standards that I had never come across in my life. But walking on the Great Wall of China and seeing the unbelievable expanse of Xian’s Terracotta Army are unforgettable moments.
14) China’s Pollution, Datong, China
People think of Beijing as being the most polluted city in China. Actually it doesn’t even make the list of the top ten cities in China with the worst air quality. Tianjin, another city I visited is number 10 on the list, but I can’t say I noticed it being that bad. In Shanghai, I quite often had to cover my face in built up areas due to the amount of traffic fumes, but nothing ever compared to the experience in Datong, a mining town in the Shanxi province, about 5 hours west of Beijing. I left the hotel for about 10 minutes to use a cash machine a few hundred yards away and by the time I got back to the hotel I could hardly breathe and my eyes looked like they were bleeding!
15) Being Police Escorted Through Beijing, China
Another tour story. The orchestra I was touring with was due to play at a New Year’s Eve concert in Beijing and the legacy that the traffic in Beijing is ridiculous is completely true. We were stuck and very late and I don’t know how they did it, but the coach drivers managed to get a few police cars to siren us through the hoards of traffic to the concert hall!
16) The Legal High of Amsterdam
Three of us ventured to Amsterdam and it was the most unplanned and therefore error filled weekend of my life. Anything that could go wrong went wrong. There were flight cancellations and delays, Schiphol had it’s worst baggage day ever, we hadn’t booked accommodation and there was non available due to the football team and the Backstreet Boys playing in the city that weekend, we got hopelessly lost on the tram system and one of my friends overdosed on hash cake and freaked out in a restaurant. All hilarious now!
17) The Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome
There is a reason why Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is regarded as one of the greatest works of art ever. It is stunning, complex and immense. There’s also work in there buy Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino, not to mention Raphael’s tapestries. It should be a bucket list moment for any art lover.
18) Romeo and Juliet at the Sydney Opera House, Australia
Being a musician, seeing the opera house in Sydney was an absolute must and I actually spent hours of my week in Sydney just sitting and staring at it! Sydney harbour was by far my favourite part of the city. But to see a performance of my favourite ballet (not much can beat Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet) inside the opera house was a dream come true. I had seats that overlooked the orchestra pit and I enjoyed every second of it.
19) Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
It’s on most people’s bucket list and I am so glad that I did it. It was December, it was over 50 degrees celsius, it was stinger season so I was in a very unattractive stinger suit and I don’t really like fish at all, but I made myself get in there and now I can say I did it! And I would do it again!
20) The St Kilda Penguins, Melbourne, Australia
Nothing beats having a local to tip you off on the hotspots and must dos of a city. I had considered hopping over to Phillip Island while I was in Melbourne but I had limited time and was seriously on a budget so my friend took me to the St Kilda pier where we watched the penguins jump back to shore from their day at sea. It was fantastic, only a handful of people were there, there were stewards who go down there each night to make sure that tourists don’t disturb the penguins (you’re not allowed to touch them or use a flash to take photos) and they pointed out a penguin nest where there were two tiny babies.
21) Christmas Eve in Auckland, New Zealand
When you’re from the UK and you’re used to a cold and rainy (possibly icy and snowy) Christmas, to be on a beach in the warm sunshine while you’re waiting for Father Christmas is very strange. On Christmas Eve, I was on Brown’s Bay Beach, swimming in the warm Pacific Ocean, looking at the Rangitoto Volcano and Father Christmas was on the beach holding a surf board. It was all very surreal!
22) Camping under Mount Doom, Tongariro National Park, NZ
I didn’t really subscribe to the Lord of the Rings tours while I was in New Zealand, though I found it amusing to drive through Hobbiton (Matamata) and parts of Otago and Fiordland looked very familiar. However, seeing and walking on Mount Doom (Mt Ruapehu) was pretty cool. We were there for 3 days and it was so cloudy, we didn’t even see it till the day we left, but when we did, it was worth it. I think we found top end of Mead’s Wall too, though we weren’t really sure!
23) New Year’s Eve in Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown is known as the party destination of New Zealand, but ten times so on New Year’s Eve. The fireworks display was amazing, the atmosphere was electric, it was incredibly busy and it was kind of awesome to be the first people in the world to see in the New Year.
24) Milford Sound and Gunn’s Camp, Fiordland, New Zealand
This was probably the highlight of my time in New Zealand. I had been warned beforehand not to heighten my expectations of Milford Sound, that it would be beautiful, but often the weather there was awful. Well, I got lucky because it was pristine blue clear skies and it was mesmerisingly beautiful. In my opinion, the most beautiful place on earth (that I’ve seen so far anyway!). This was followed by a night at Gunn’s Camp which was so much fun. Completely rustic and literally in the middle of nowhere, we stayed in wooden cabins that only had electric from a generator for a few hours a day, we toasted apples and marshmallows at the camp fire and went searching for glow worms. The next morning we all had showers with water heated by fire.
25) Earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand
I was there about 10 months after the destructive and devastating 2011 earthquake and the area was still experiencing tremors. I was in the botanical gardens when I experienced a small tremor which sent tourists screaming but staff acted like it was completely normal. Then that night, as I lay in my dorm room bed, the earth shook violently for a good couple of minutes, long enough for me to consider taking cover. The next morning, I learnt that the shake had registered 5.8 on the richter scale, not much less than the 2011 earthquake!
26) A Town Running out of Water, Franz Josef, New Zealand
I didn’t really think this was possible! It was late on in my trip and I was running out of money so I decided to hike to the glacier and back again that day. We’re talking 20km or so in the summer heat. When I got back, desperate for a shower, there was no water. I told reception and they said they’d look into it. The entire town had run out of water other than an emergency supply due to the unusually dry weather they’d had that summer. Needless to say, it was one of the more uncomfortable nights of my life!
27) Winning on the Roulette Table in Macau
The only reason we decided to gamble was because we had $100HK left over from a drinks kitty, so we bet the $100HK on the roulette table at the Venetian in Macau and won. We kept the initial $100HK and gambled our profits and kept winning. Eventually we left with enough profit to pay for 5 of us to get back to Hong Kong!
28) Dodging Traffic in Manila, the Philippines
As I got a bus from the airport to my first hotel in Manila, I witnessed 3 lanes of traffic becoming 5 lanes, extremely brave food and drink sellers jumping from one moving bus to another and weaving their way through unpredictable drivers. I went for a walk that night and soon realised that the rules of a zebra crossing just don’t exist in the Philippines. I was stuck on one side of a road for a good 10 minutes before deciding to risk my life by determinately following a local across.
29) Randomly bumping into a friend in Sighisoara, Transylvania, Romania
It’s true, it is a small world. While road tripping around Transylvania, we stopped in a really cute little town called Sighisoara and realised that a friend of ours was staying about 20 miles away. He came into town to have dinner with us.
30) Kayaking on the Lake Atitlan, San Pedro, Guatemala
A lake surrounded by mountains and volcanoes and the shores of ramshackle towns, the sun beating down and paddling your way around a beautiful vista? Yes please!
31) Seeing a Volcano Erupt, Guatemala
As much as I would love to say that I was witness to and survived a volcano eruption, that’s not really what happened. But to see red hot molten lava spurting out of a volcano at night is fairly exhilarating, even if it was for a minute through the window of a bus!
32) Flying Through Several Lightning Storms in a 10 Seater Plane, Guatemala
As someone who sometimes struggles with the concept of flying, this was quite an ordeal! I flew over to Flores from Guatemala City to visit Tikal for the day and I flew over there in a reasonably small plane, but manageable, it catered for about 40 people. Queuing to fly back, I assumed we’d be getting into the very same plane which was waiting on the tarmac only to be re-directed to a much smaller plane. Much much smaller! So small, it had 10 seats on it, no cabin crew and only a curtain to separate us travellers from the pilots. Added to that the fact that we passed through several lightning storms, I was a nervous wreck. However, I am here to tell the tale, so in hindsight, it can’t have been that bad!
33) Animal Encounters, Tadoussac, Québec, Canada
All you see as you drive through Québec is signs warning you of the dangers of moose. Not once were we warned about the possibility of coming across a black bear. But it happened to us. Driving along the Saguenay Fjord, I instinctively put my foot on the break as something crossed the road in front of us and it took a while to register, but it was a very happy and goofy looking black bear cub! To see this just a day after seeing humpback and minke whales in the St Lawrence river, I felt like we’d won the animal lottery!
34) Boris Biking it round the Montréal Grand Prix Track, Canada
They’re not called Boris Bikes in Montréal, they’re called Bixi Bikes, but the concept is the same. We rented our bikes and cycled the 5km round the grand prix track which is open to residents and tourists to run, cycle and drive around. The top speed limit allowed is 30mph so we found the bikes more exhilarating!
35) Falling in Love, Dalyan, Turkey
Yes it happened, yes it was extremely complicated and no it didn’t work out. Sometimes I wish I had never met the guy, but actually, I don’t regret it. It’s a part of my story.
BONUS) Making Life Long Friends
This is the best part of travelling. They might be old friends; people you’ve known from university, school or through work, they might be people that you’ve met along the way and they will most likely be people that you never would have become friends with if you hadn’t met them away from the comforts of home, but they become friends forever!
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