In June 2015, my sister Suzannah and I (Clara) packed up our London flat, said farewell to our family, friends and jobs and headed off on our round the world trip – in my case armed with a regrettably small backpack. The trip was for almost a year: five months spent in Southeast Asia, three in Australia and New Zealand and several more navigating South America.
Of course, travelling with freedom from obligations and time constraints, while adapting to life away from home comforts, meant I learnt quite a lot of things on my trip. Here are just a few of them:
A good glass of wine can be found anywhere if you’re willing to look for it
While Southeast Asia is renowned for delicious, cheap beer, sometimes only a glass of Merlot will do. To our surprise, we were always able to find one for an extra couple of quid.
More often than not, an English-speaking health professional is available
How lucky I am to be a native English speaker
I had expected English to be spoken in tourism-driven Southeast Asia, but even in Peru, as I embarrassingly fumbled with my limited collection of Spanish phrases, I was shocked when locals apologised to me for not being able to speak English. Similarly I was surprised by the number of travellers who had learnt English as their second language from a young age.
The scariest and most challenging days are often the most rewarding
Canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam, skydiving in New Zealand and walking the Inca Trail in Peru are definite highlights of the trip. Despite being adamant I would never skydive, I surprised myself by first jumping out of the plane, and secondly by laughing my head off all the way down.
Eat in local restaurants
As tempting as it is to stay safe and stick to tourist-friendly restaurants, some of the best meals we had were in restaurants packed full of locals where dishes were selected by pointing randomly at the menu. In Peru, a delicious three-course meal could be found anywhere for £3 or less – especially ideal for our limited budget we were struggling to stick to (see point 1).
Taking time for you is incredibly underrated…
After a few months of navigating the frenetic, lively pace of Southeast Asia, we retreated for a few weeks to the Thai Islands, staying in peaceful bungalows on quiet beaches. It was bliss. To have time to think about life, work and ambitions, without the stresses of bills to pay and deadlines to meet, was both calming and eye opening.
…but too much time for you can be unhealthy
In Myanmar (Burma), we attended a 10-day meditation course. The course was really well run and I’d heard firsthand from people that they’ve had brilliant results… but it just wasn’t for me. The strict schedule requires meditation for 13 hours a day, after handing over phones, reading and writing materials, and taking an oath of “noble silence”. This essentially required no communication with fellow attendees, not even so much as a glance. By day seven I was losing the plot. I even took to sweeping my room in revision breaks with an old broom I found in the corner of a disused building for something to do. I like my alone time, but it turns out not as much as I thought.
So many of our stops were booked last minute, on the recommendation of fellow travellers we met along the way, and they were often places hardly mentioned in the guidebooks. We travelled with amazing people throughout an entire country who we met whilst waiting for a bus. I jumped out of that plane in New Zealand only because the woman who owned the place we were staying in told me her 70-year-old mum had skydived the week before. The experiences with no expectation attached often end up being the best ones.
So there you have it. Nothing absurdly profound or life changing, but these were still some of the best months of my life.