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My Top 5 Travel Experiences

My Top 5 Travel Experiences

Since I was a small I have always had a deep desire to travel to new and faraway places. I used to trace my fingers across the seas and oceans of my Geosafari globe that had long lost it’s batteries and imagined all the places out there that I could one day explore. I especially remember a family holiday to Kerry which, although not exactly a faraway place, completely blew my 10 year old mind. We got out of the car during our tour of the Ring of Kerry and as I looked across the valley, I was reduced to tears. An odd thing to do as a child but it was just that the view was so incredibly beautiful and all of it was right in front of me.

 

The German have a word for this feeling I have had since then. “Fernweh” doesn’t have an official English equivalent but when broken down can be literally translated as “farsickness” or essentially as having an ache for a distant or unknown land. For years I identified wholly with this foreign word because it felt wholly natural to me. I felt restless for a place I had never been which only intensified the more I travelled.

 

I blame the genes really. My mum’s family are all travellers; my great-aunt lived in Kenya during the 50’s and 60’s and met her future husband there, my uncle left Ireland in his twenties and eventually settled in Australia , my aunt has lived in France and Bahrain but it’s my Granny Una who inspired my love of travel. She worked as a WREN in the Mediterranean around the time of WWII but, as was commonplace back then, her travels were cut short as marriage and motherhood took her in a different direction. She has travelled a great deal for a woman of her age (she is still hopeful of travelling to Australia again to see my uncle despite turning 90 this coming April) but I know she would have liked to have travelled more. I make sure to take her photos after any trip because I know it makes her so happy to know her grandchildren are seeing the world.

 

After 6 years of living abroad I finally returned to the motherland in 2014 with tentative feet. It’s been an adjustment but one I have found easier than I had anticipated which slightly unnerved me at fist. What I discovered was that although there are extraordinary places in this world, too many to see in one lifetime, there are some pretty special places that are not too faraway from home too. Just like my ten year old self I found that there are scenes that can move me in Ireland just as much as a tropical reef or an ancient ruin.

 

There have been some spectacular experiences over the years but I’ve managed to whittle them down to 5 in the hope I can inspire a few of you to step out and discover a place you’ve never known and feel a wee bit of this “fernweh”.

 

MADAGASCAR

I battled for a long time with how to describe this country and I still can’t find the words. As a 21 year old many would think I might have been too young to fully appreciate a land that holds so much magic because a place that looks and feels so different to anywhere else in the world is magical. But I did fully appreciate this amazing place and the opportunity to be a part of an expedition there because I was in complete awe the entire time. The animals I got to see, the people I got to meet and the jaw dropping views I witnessed will stay with me forever.

 

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I volunteered as a Research Assistnat in the north-western part of the country where the dry forests are located for a few weeks one summer. The aim was to measure biodiversity which involved recording sightings of birds, reptiles and mammals. I can still remember walking through the forest and knowing that most of the animals I was seeing couldn’t be found anywhere else in the world. Out of all the countries I have been to, this is the one place I would return to first. I hope I do one day.

 

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Highlights

  • Watching sifaka lemurs jump between trees with their long limbs swaying as they held their babies close.
  • Holding chameleons and leaf tailed geckos as they attempted to camouflage themselves against our skin.
  • Walking through the forest at night with our head torches only to see a mass of yellow eyes staring back at us through the darkness.
  • Watching the sunset at Boabab Avenue with a cold beer and watching local kids play totally oblivious to the spectacle before them.
  • Lying on our backs to see the whole of the milky way above us as well as countless shooting stars.

 

CUBA

I will always treasure the memories from our trip to Cuba in 2015 because it was the first holiday Andrew and I took together. It was an adventure for both us because we had such little Spanish and the island wasn’t exactly an easy place to explore. However it exceeded every expectation we had not just because of it’s history but because the landscape was breathtaking at every corner and the people were some of the happiest I have ever met.

 

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I have written about our travels in previous posts, one of which you can find here but in short our travels took us from Havana through Vinales, Trinidad, Santa Clara and Remedios. What struck me most was the colours of the country and when I think back it’s the first thing that I remember. The red earth, the lush green fields, the bright buildings. A colourful country with a colourful past.

 

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Highlights

  • Exploring the tobacco fields of Vinales on horseback before watching cigars being handrolled by local farmers.
  • Climbing the cobbled hills of Trinidad to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old Town and hiding under the rafters to hide from a tropical rainstorm.
  • Visiting Santa Clara, the site of the last battle of the Cuban Revolution, and learning just how incredible the achievements were of Fidel, Che and all of the rebels who helped change the course of their country’s history.
  • Taking a Chevy from Remedios to an empty white beach and lying in crystal clear waters.
  • Strolling the streets of Havana and drinking our body weights in rum.

 

AUSTRALIA

I wouldn’t necessarily call Australia a travel experience because I lived there for a couple of years but the moments I had there were so incredible they had to be included here. I landed in Perth in November 2011 with my two best friends, no money (spent it all in SE Asis on the way there), no job and no clue what I was doing. I should have been scared but I wasn’t because I had never felt so carefree before and my belly hurt every day from laughing so much that I couldn’t have cared if I tried.

 

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After travelling around the southwest and living on the east coast for a while, I finally found myself back on the west coast living in paradise. I’ve written a post before about what living in Australia taught me because being surrounded by the ocean and ending my days with a cold beer and salty hair changed me forever. I still hang on to the lessons I learned while living there because it’s easy to get sucked in to the grind over here and forget the importance of putting our own happiness first. I might not be throwing back the beers or swimming in the ocean half as much but I appreciate the things I have around me and the little of bit sunshine when we do get it!

 

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Highlights

  • Swimming with whalesharks – three times! – with one occasion resulting in an impromptu swim with a humpback and her calf. AMAZING.
  • Taking the boats out with friends and exploring islands, swimming and watching manta rays courting.
  • Road trip through Queensland and Northern Territory and seeing a rainbow over Uluru.
  • Living in hostels with my best mates.
  • Living with my family in NSW and being taken to the Blue Mountains.
  • Taking a road trip with my Mum down the NSW coast.

 

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa is a land of economic and environmental extremes. Witnessing such an unnecessary wealth divide in a country that is supposed to have progressed was incredibly frustrating but what I cannot deny is how welcoming the people are and how beautiful the country is.

 

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The South Africans are very proud of their country and the enthusiasm for the land is totally infectious. I completely fell in love with the savannah and was lucky enough to come close to animals I had only ever seen on TV or through glass. I had such respect for every creature I saw because they were exactly where they should be and reminded me that the world continues on the way it is supposed to despite humans trying to tear it apart.

 

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Highlights

  • Walking with a guide in the open savannah and on returning back to our hotel, noticing fresh leopard prints that were not there before (meaning there had been a leopard metres from where we were without us noticing).
  • Visting the vineyards of Stellanbosch.
  • Coming back from dinner on our safari trip and finding a warthog at the door.
  • Ending up in a shanty town pub on New Years Eve.
  • Seeing penguins on Boulders Beach.
  • Seeing Cape Town from Table Mountain.

 

SOUTH EAST ASIA

The trip where I laughed from start to finish. After graduating from university, my two friends and I decided to spend nearly two months in SE Asia before landing in Australia for a year. We landed in Bangkok a little innocent and unsure of where we were going but it didn’t matter because we knew it would all work out. And it did! We laughed our way through Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia before landing in Singapore without so much as 50 quid to take us to Australia.

 

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I would urge anyone in their twenties to backpack with their friends for even a few months because there is a small window in life where there is absolutely nothing to worry about other than where you’re going to go to next. It’s a huge luxury to have and one we were well aware of as we clung on to every ounce of joy. We may not have seen as much as we would have liked but we were young and a little bit reckless. I would relive it all in an instant if I could.

 

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Highlights

  • Sitting on the front of an empty ferry boat as we entered the Pulau Langkawi islands in Malaysia at sunset.
  • Walking through the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
  • Getting matching tattoos in Ko Phi Phi.
  • Climbing the trek to see the Erawan Waterfalls.
  • Eating the most delicious street food in Penang.
  • Being fined £250 for out staying our Thai visa and having no clue we did it (and later being told we could have ended in prison – had to laugh or we would have cried).

 

Being able to travel is a privilege I never plan on taking for granted because the world is too beautiful to experience from one perspective. I want to see it from every possible angle, drinking in cultures and expanding my mind so I can absorb all opinions and views. Life is a continuous learning curve that cannot be traversed from an armchair. We must get out there to really live.

 

Now excuse me while I go plan another adventure.

8 Ways I Prepare For A Trip

8 Ways I Prepare For A Trip

Andrew and I are in the midst of preparing ourselves for a week-long break to Croatia and I could not be more excited. We both need an escape so badly, especially one that delivers heat! We have been feeling incredibly restless within our jobs. Miserable actually. Getting up every morning to drive in to a job that doesn’t fulfil you and you get no enjoyment from is a draining process. Thankfully we have new jobs in the pipeline and we both start on the same day after we get back – sweet relief!

 

I also found my hospital admission to be pretty difficult and a bit of an isolating time, despite the fact I have been through this so many times. I was able to finish off IV antibiotics at home which was great because I was out of a ward that was full of elderly people making all kinds of noises from dusk until dawn, but it also meant that I was on my own throughout the day until Andrew got home. It was a stressful time for us both; me frustrated with myself for feeling tired and useless and Andrew worried about me. I’m feeling back to myself again and I look back on those 2 weeks as if there was a little black cloud over our house. It’s well gone now and Croatian blue skies are right ahead of us!

 

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We fly in to Split and plan to spend a couple of nights there before heading to the island of Hvar where we will base ourselves for day trips and island adventures. It will be a holiday filled with sunshine, the sea and not much else! Before we go though I always like to make sure to make a few lists to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything because I am notorious for being a scatter-brain (on our last overseas trip in January I left my wallet on the plane…with all my money in it…d’oh!).

 

If you’re heading away soon and you’re a fellow forgetter then you might want to have a lend of my list here and check a few things before you go…

 

  1. Clothes

OK so you obviously won’t be naked on your holiday (unless you are going on a very different kind of trip) so you need to plan ahead. A few days before I go, I like to plan every outfit for every day and make sure I can alternate different items across for different looks. This means you will bring less stuff which is essential if you’re only bringing carry on. You should try everything on to make sure it still fits which can be an emotional process. You will also need to make sure everything is clean too so it’s always best to leave time to get everything washed and dried!

 

Clothes I like you bring along to for a week in the sun are:

  • 3 x day dresses (all they need is heels for the evenings)
  • 1 x pair of shorts
  • 3 x tops
  • 1 x maxi dress (always)
  • 2 x bikinis
  • 1 x heels
  • 1 x comfortable flats
  • 1 x flip flops
  • 1 x wrap (great for the beach, sun lounger and picnics)
  • 1 x cardigan for the chilly nights
  • 1 x hat
  • 1 x handbag
  • 1 x beach bag
  • 1 x towel

And that is it! I do pack underwear but I’m sure I don’t have to list that although do make sure to pack a strapless bra in case you need one for your outfits!

 

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2. Toiletries

I only like to bring the absolute bare essentials with me and things that I know I can’t buy cheaply over there. My bare essentials tend to be:

  • Moisturiser
  • Few make-up items (concealer, mascara, eyeshadow, bronzer, blush, lip balm)
  • Cleansing wipes
  • Deodorant
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Nail Polish Remover (sand can really mess those little tootsies up)
  • Nail Polish
  • Shampoo & Conditioner
  • Toothpaste
  • SPF (face and body)
  • Hair Oil
  • Soap

We’re carrying on our luggage so I’ve bought wee containers for my suncream, shampoo, conditioner and nail polish remover. It’s good to get the liquids already separated out in to a clear plastic bag and leave it at the top of your case so it’s easily accessed when going through security.

 

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3. Do Your Research

Before I go anywhere I like to do plenty of research on the area I’m staying in; where to eat, where to drink, activities available to us. Of course there’s lots of room for spontaneity but I always like to have a back up plan in case we get lost or have no idea what to do. Before we went to Cuba I printed off restaurants, bars and excursions I had read about so we knew where to go and how to get there – our Spanish was so minimal that this saved us a lot of stress!

I like to search travel blogs because I enjoy reading a traveller’s perspective with honest accounts of where they recommend to go and places to avoid as well.  I like to check out Tripadvisor too for the top rated places to eat and drink for all price ranges so, depending on how much we want to spend on a particular day, we have lots of choices.

Another great tool is a Lonely Planet guidebook. I love these guides because I feel like a proper traveller flicking through the pages during breakfast on my holiday, dog-earing areas of interest. It’s nice to collect these guides as mementos from travels and displaying them on shelves at home.

 

4. Get Your Money Sorted

The whole EU debacle has meant that the sterling has dropped and we’ll be losing out on some money when we convert our cash to the Croatian kuna. It’s a pain but we try to avoid losing out on more by choosing the best credit card that won’t charge us a fortune when we use it abroad. To be completely honest this area is Andrew’s forte, I don’t own a credit card because a. it terrifies me and b. it terrifies me.

 

Make sure you know what your bank charges are when you use a card abroad and if they’re extortionate, think of getting a travel card from the Post Office. It allows you to transfer money across easily with an app, there are no charges and you can withdraw using an ATM. The only thing is that there are only 8 currencies available so it means we can’t use it in Croatia.

 

5. Medication

Having CF can be really inconvenient sometimes, especially when I’m travelling! I’m lucky that I keep quite well so I don’t have to take a lot of medication with me but I do usually have to pre-empt and order some extras in case of emergencies. Fortunately for me nebulisers are small and easy to transport these days, the old ones would have been a nightmare to travel with!

 

I know most normal people don’t need to take as much on holiday as I do but it’s important to plan ahead – there is nothing worse than trying to sign out with your hands that you have diarrhoea in a foreign pharmacy crowded with people. Nothing.

 

A few things I pack as well as my own prescribed medication include:

  • Painkillers
  • Ibuprofen
  • Rennie’s (or any other heartburn remedy)
  • Imodium
  • Dioralyte (especially if you’re going to a hot country!)
  • Anti-histamines
  • Anti-histamine cream (the only thing that helped my mosquito bites)
  • Plasters

 

6. Insurance

Boring I know but so important because I’ve heard too many horror stories to wing it. Health insurance is obviously an important one for me but everyone should have it no matter how long they’re away for. At the very least and if you’re travelling through Europe, make sure and apply for the European Health Insurance Card. The free card enables you to receive medical treatment on the same basis as residents of the country you’re in including treatment for pre-existing medical conditions and pregnant women – #win. The UK leaving the EU has led to questions about the validity of these cards however the NHS is still distributing them and they will work until we are told otherwise.

 

7. Prepare Your House

This is also a boring one but it feels so wonderful to come home to a clean house that doesn’t reek to the heavens of stale milk and damp! A few things to remember when you’re heading away are:

  • Chuck out anything that will go out of date in your fridge and cupboards
  • Water all your indoor plants and herbs and place them outside where they might get some rain
  • Put some fresh sheets on your bed (not necessary but feels great after a long journey home)
  • Wash and put away all dishes
  • General tidy up

You will say a massive thank you to yourself when you come home and can just rest your weary bones in fresh sheets!

 

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8. Save room!

Last but not least try and make room for little souvenirs you might pick up on your travels because you will kick yourself for bringing those extra pair of heels instead of making space for those handmade gems. Oh and make sure to bring a wee notebook for a diary too – sometimes better than photos when recalling a holiday!

 

At the moment I am frantically trying to follow my own advice and get everything ready for tomorrow! Can’t wait to post a guide to this amazing country and give you some great tips!

 

Take care!