A London City Airport survey has found that the average Brit has only visited seven countries, and only 31% have made it to 10 or more of them, despite there being an incredible 193 countries in the entire world that could be explored. This data, which I was reading about in Wanderlust Magazine, really got me thinking about my own travelling past, as it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really started accumulating a respectable country count.
Rather than tally up where I’ve been, I’m going to admit why I haven’t been to as many places as you. It’s time to come to terms with my travel inadequacy and look back on those few countries with fond memories.
The early years
My childhood holidays didn’t involve hanging round Italian villas or going to exotic islands, unlike those of my friends, though I have collected some rather memorable souvenir tat from their trips (hello, parrot candle from Lanzarote from a former friend -though I should add, it wasn’t the candle that severed the friendship). Nine times out of ten, we headed to Cornwall, Norfolk, southern Ireland or northern France for our summer break, spending two weeks in a rural cottage close to a beach, which was perfectly adequate but not exactly a game-changer in terms of playground boasting when term time rolled around again.
I can say with hindsight that I am relieved to have been spared a trip to Disneyland or Disneyworld, and I do believe I’ve had more rewarding holidays because of this lack of enforced fun policed by men dressed as stuffed animals. Who needs Pluto and Mickey?
Instead, I ate fish and chips in the rain and worked my way through Cornish ice cream menus; I watched my dad repeatedly try and master French, with limited results (“Deux baguettes, s’il vous plaît,” being the extent, to this day); I stepped inside more National Trust properties than you’ve had hot dinners; I had my first of many trips to Edinburgh, a city I adore. However, I’d have loved to build on this and have memories from a little further afield, too. The saving grace came when I was 10 and we jetted off to Canada to see my sister’s best friend – one of the best trips I’ve ever been on, and my first time on a plane.
The teenage years
Whilst I did tick off school trips to the east coast of America, Canterbury and Boulogne, where the locals showed off their English at every opportunity, much to the chagrin of my French teacher, I was still not getting the passport out as much as I would have liked. This really began to burn a hole in my pocket, but holidays consisted of more Cornwall and Ireland, mixed with Madrid and Florence (tres fun) and the Lake District (tres boring).
Then at college, I finally had the chance to go away with friends. At last! My heart leaping with the possibility of inducing jealousy on my brand new Facebook feed, I suggested a faraway island with a bucketful of culture and some fantastic shops, whilst my equally enthusiastic friends suggested… the Lake District. I love my friends, but I didn’t love them enough to spend another week in the land of geriatrics and hiking outlets, especially as it cost nearly as much as going abroad, only without the possibility of hot Mediterranean waiters.
With a tinge of sadness, I skipped the holiday and went straight off to uni, ignoring the prospect of a gap year, and suddenly three years of my life promptly became lost to essay deadlines, clothes shopping and extravagant nights out which began in Wetherspoon’s. That is not an edgy way to spend three years, FYI. Holidays were spent working in a local charity shop, where I managed to spend a lot despite not taking a salary.
The post-grad year
Now came the time to study Fashion and Lifestyle Journalism in the bright lights of London. Juggling part-time retail work and, after graduating, a fashion PR internship, there wasn’t much time or money to go away further than Brighton. Whilst I was saving by living at home, most of my small supply of cash was put towards buying magazines (necessary career inspiration), clothes (not quite so necessary) and drinks in the pub (totally unnecessary in principle, but much-needed after doing sale prep in the shop). Fortunately I didn’t earn enough to be taxed, but unfortunately I didn’t earn enough to jet off somewhere nice, except when I tagged along for a short but amazing break in Boston with my family.
However, my PR internship did include a stint at London Fashion Week and a trade show in Paris during Paris Fashion Week. Whilst these were work opportunities, they felt like holidays because I was in a completely new and fascinating environment. I learned so much from these trips and also managed to see a few famous faces in the fashion world along the way.
Screw going to a hot country when you can say you met one of your idols (the accessories editor of Elle) in Somerset House, or you worked a couple of floors up from design duo Antoni and Alison in Paris. Sometimes you don’t need to go to a new place to feel like your world is changing.
The industry years
Straight after Paris, I was plunged into the dizzy and exciting travel industry, relishing the chance to research destinations and really get under the skin of what each one had to offer through its USPs (Unique Selling Points). In between becoming a destination expert on hotspots such as Prague, I squeezed in trips to Berlin and Dresden, Rome, Reykjavik and Thailand’s eastern islands, fuelled by reading inspirational travel blogs.
Despite getting all those journeys under my belt, sometimes it still felt like I hadn’t done enough, particularly when I spoke to other travel enthusiasts at events. Honestly, sometimes all it takes is one comment to make you feel inexperienced – for example: “What do you mean, you haven’t been to Africa?” or “Why do you want to go to Singapore? We’ve all visited and we found it quite boring,”.
Whilst 99% of the time I find these events to be positive and inspiring, just occasionally they make me feel as though everyone else is in a bike race and I’m still using stabilisers. That was one of the reasons why I made a clean break and gave myself a few months to focus on travel and journalism – not to try and get even as such, but to try and get some more experience. What better way to do that than to see more of the globe? Enter Cuba and Peru, with more to follow.
What I’d do differently
Looking back, if I could have told myself a few home truths about the real cost of travel, I think I would have ditched the prospect of new clothes or a night down the pub in favour of putting some money towards a weekend away in a new country. I’d have also pestered my family a bit more to try something out of their comfort zone, as there are loads of accessible holidays in Europe for young families, and having small children (or big and grumpy ones with hormones) shouldn’t put a spanner in the works when it comes to picking a location.
Aside from the issue of saving and not spending, and of not starting my adventures young enough, I think one of the major blocks for girls is finding someone to travel with. At the age of eighteen, I wouldn’t have trusted myself to jet off alone for a few days to a new place where I didn’t speak the language, or to join a group and be the token solo traveller, but I’d have happily gone with a few friends, if only we could have agreed on somewhere everyone wanted to visit and managed to stick to a tight budget along the way.
These days I firmly believe there are a lot more options out there for young people with limited funds, thanks to initiatives like low deposit schemes making it easier to save up gradually for a summer break. We have it better than ever right now, with sites like Skyscanner proving popular and helping to cut costs. If you’re looking to add more stamps to your passport, you shouldn’t feel like you’re being held back by technology or money, but I understand better than anyone that other aspects of life can get in the way, from the family’s preferences to getting time off work.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that travel can be life changing, but it’s about what you do as much as where you go. The memories you hold onto and the countless photos you take are better than hopping from place to place in a whirlwind. Soak it all up, whenever you get the chance to enjoy a change of scene, but don’t let your itchy feet make you miss out on experiences closer to home, whether in Cornwall, Normandy or London.