So today I turn the dreaded quarter-of-a-century; the big Two Five. However, instead of frantically worrying about not being married/knocked up/editor of a magazine/rich and famous, I decided to work on a much bigger and exciting project; travelling twenty-five countries before I turned twenty-five.
Despite panicking slightly about funds at the beginning of the year, I’m so pleased to say that as of April 2nd…
I have officially completed it!
I learnt a lot along the way, from my first travels out of the country beginning when I was five years old with the traditional family holiday to France, to my final stop in Warsaw, Poland a few weeks ago. As my travels evolved, so did my outlook and made me want to explore all the more. Here I tally up my countries and what I discovered along the way…
1-11: My first holidays, school trips, Inter-Railing and road trips
France, Belgium, Monaco, Spain, Netherlands, Hungary, Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland
My first few holidays were always the same; driving to a villa somewhere in France with my dad and siblings, normally spending it exploring theme parks, reading books by the pool and cycling through beautiful towns. Even a quick trip to Belgium on our choir music tour didn’t seem much like travelling and was just an excuse off school.
However, my love of going abroad started when I went to Monaco and Spain; the first joining my dad on his business trip and the latter my first solo flight at 16-years-old to stay with a family friend in Malaga. Looking back, I was so excited to see new cities and culture that I assumed every kid was like that at the chance of a free holiday, but realised it was different for me, excited by driving around beautiful towns and learning about the local life. The Spanish town I was in actually only had their post once a day and you had to go and pick it up from the local mailing office at the bottom of the mountain. Add in some one euro churros for breakfast and it was by far the highlight of my year as a kid.
The start of my love of travelling officially began when I planned a 33-day trip Inter-Railing around Europe during my first summer at university. I knew it would make or break me as to whether I liked travelling when it wasn’t just cushy family trips.
We ended up doing ten cities in just over a month; Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Rome, Milan, Venice, Barcelona and Paris. With six of us planning the entire trip ourselves, it was certainly a trip that tested our friendships. It included people threatening to go home early, me running out of a club at 3am after a tray of glasses getting smashed on my legs, getting stranded in Milan due to train strikes and numerous people getting ridiculously ill. Oh, and of course, a standard mugging in Barcelona. We survived but what I mainly took out of it was how much we saw in such little time. Despite being on a budget, we experienced the local culture and ate the finest authentic cuisine whilst exploring every country. It was amazing to see so much history and meet some of the craziest people that upon my return, I knew it was the start of more adventures.
The following year, I decided to do another trip around Europe, mainly to get over a heartbreak. This time? A road trip with three university mates; one car and one motorbike. This trip took us to France, Switzerland, Italy and then a frantic drive up through Germany trying to make our ferry back. As with all trips it had its struggles; trying to find surf yet failing, one of us getting rushed to hospital with suspected appendicitis at 4am and stressful driving swapovers when unable to find a campsite and ending up in a nunnery park. But this felt like the first ‘open’ trip I ever did without a plan. We just found campsites and drove until we were tired. We cooked pasta on our stove as we looked at the lights of Mont Saint Michel Castle. We stayed at the very top of Lake Como looking over the river for barely a couple of euros. We drank during the big street festival in Geneva, nearly getting hit by a tram when we drove the wrong way. It all added up to the adventures I knew I should be having as a young woman and more importantly, wanted to keep having and keep exploring.
12-18: Testing the waters of solo travelling and planning my own trips
America, Greece, UK, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam
After the success of my previous travels I ended up wanting to see more of the world; Europe was too easy and I wanted to stretch myself. This led to one of the best things that has happened to me even four years later, which was a return flight to New York for my 21st birthday. Staying with a family friend I had money burning a hole in my pocket, something that I’d never had whilst travelling. I’d also never fallen in love with a place like I did with New York; it showed me that I loved the urban lifestyle as nothing is quite as grand as the Big Apple. The sheer size of the buildings made it feel like London on speed as everything is ramped up. Even though I was by myself I never felt more in my element as I did there as I wandered around with the locals, coffee in one hand and camera in the other.
After a few other firsts, such as my first all inclusive girly holiday to Corfu (recommending OnTheBeach for some easy sun), exploring the UK by heading to Scotland for Hogmanay and Wales to visit friends at university, I decided to do the biggest journey I’d ever done; three months around New Zealand and Asia. What really sealed the deal was another heartbreak, and the biggest one I’d ever had to go through. So whilst it required a lot of saving and a lot of planning, a year later I was ready to go.
It’s hard to explain your feelings as a whole when you go to such diverse places in such a short time. New Zealand was a mixture of thrill seeking, drinking with English buddies, breathing in clean air and jumping into freezing cold lakes. It also was my most expensive place not just because I smashed my camera on day one but because of all the activities on offer; black water rafting through glow worm caves as the instructors serenaded you with Ed Sheeran, sitting in natural waterfalls and rock pools with the locals, and my proudest moment of bungee jumping 134m. My most costly trip made me push my fears to one side and realise just how amazing nature can be on the other side of the world.
Thailand was exactly what we wanted to make it. We didn’t want to get drunk every night and miss out because of a hangover. So we tasted the most delicious Pad Thai, explored Chiang Mai with ex-convict massages and cooking classes with the locals. We ventured south to the islands for lazy beach days in a hammock and exploring the touristy markets. Of course with this came bug bites and drink spikes but who cares when you’re paddleboarding with new friends at sunset?
Then heading through Cambodia and Vietnam, a haze of absinthe distilleries and the devastating Killing Fields. However, the latter really shaped my biggest trip. I was bedridden for the first half of Vietnam yet during our final week, I met the kindest people on my journey, with locals so willing to look after me and giving me faith in the world. They happily upgraded me to an en-suite in the hotel, brought me blankets, painkillers and bread, all while running a hostel for the other guests. On top of this, having clothes hand-made, haggling at the local markets, and discovering chocolate buffets, egg coffees and delicious ‘Vietnamese tea’ was the perfect end to a sensory-overwhelming adventure.
The trip made me realise that travel drives me and keeps my mind open to new and fantastic places, and how I can do anything if I want to, I just need to put in the work. If I can save money and successfully travel for three months with a friend, then the next step was solo travel and one that I couldn’t wait to experience.
19-25: Establishing my love of travel and being paid to write
Denmark, Portugal, UAE, Sweden, Cuba, Romania, Poland
In the past two years, I’ve worked hard on not just discovering new places but to improving my content by working with brands and press trips. After finishing my job at Cosmopolitan, my solo trip to Copenhagen was one of my favourite trips. A week in a beautiful country at Christmas, mainly full of delicious and stunning treats and delicacies, was a great place to destress. I worked with Hotel SP34; a stunning boutique hotel in the city centre which was one of my first collaborations abroad.
It’s only when I was in Lisbon this time last year that I realized just how many countries I had travelled to in my life. Whilst it was just a long weekend by myself, it was exactly the city I needed with its steep hills and quaint houses and streets. I almost immediately went onto Dubai. Hands down the most decadent trip I’ve ever (and will ever) go on, this was my first press trip with my friend Jenni over at Cosmopolitan. A blur of sushi and cocktails, stunning five-star hotels and a suitcase full of new ASOS dresses, it was luxury like I’ve never experienced.
I was in the midst of planning my next trip as I had hit 20 countries and knew I wanted to try and complete the 25:25 challenge, when Full-Fat PR got in touch regarding press passes to Way Out West festival in Gothenburg. Despite never having heard of the festival, I quickly accepted, booked my flights and flew to Sweden a week later. There were low points, mainly with the price of the flights (being so last minute) and the accommodation from hell. However, I also met some great people, saw live music such as Sia and Chvrches, as well as embraced the Swedish life with coffee breaks, young, good-looking dads and delicious cinnamon buns. This was also when I started getting questions about travelling by myself, as lots of my trips have been solo. It’s something I both enjoy and sometimes get bored of, but travelling by yourself means you can do and see whatever you want and selfish travel is often what you need.
As great as short breaks are I decided my big trip of last year was going to be Cuba, what with the American Trade Embargo easing up and hotels scrambling to be the next to build. Booking dirt cheap flights in monsoon season, Natalie and I headed out for a nine-day break. The trip was an interesting one; it was nothing like I had been led to believe with a lot of unexpected harassment as well as it being hard to find un-touristy places. But it did have some beautiful Caribbean beaches to relax and soak up some much-needed sun. This was the trip which really taught me a lot, if not just by realising you can never understand a place until you go there yourself, guide books and websites be damned. I’d also love to see how rapidly it’s going to change and will definitely go further down next time; beware its size as Cuba is the biggest Carribean island.
The last two months were stressful to say the least, as I had two more countries to hit with very little money yet I was determined to do it. So I sat on the Ryanair website and waited for the cheapest flights to a new place. This ended up being Romania and Poland, with the former being just £9.98 return. The two Eastern European cities confirmed to me that a) travel really doesn’t have to be expensive and can cost the same as a night out in London, and b) just how beautiful Eastern Europe is compared to the nearer countries.
I’m hoping to also hit 30 before 30, but I’m not going to put pressure on myself if I want to return to a country, such as New York or Budapest. I am hoping to experience some new things this year, with a week in Croatia already planned and maybe a few more places closer to home. I’ve been fortunate that some of the trips came through other people, such as France, Spain, New York and Dubai. However, I paid for most of my travels myself by working damn hard to put money away to keep on going. I have the rest of my life to travel, so where to go next?