We are closing in on a year since we brought our trip to a close and in that time, the world has changed entirely. Three years ago we knew that our decision to pack everything in and head off around the world was a relatively unusual one, certainly none of our friends were doing it. What we couldn’t possibly have anticipated was that within 12 months of our trip, it wouldn’t even be an option. As we write this blog from lockdown in central London we have many conflicting feelings but the one that we feel the strongest is lucky. Lucky because we live in England where the NHS is practically our religion and the likes of Captain Tom our heroes. Lucky that our friends and family have weathered the crisis so far, maintaining their health and good humour. Lucky that we have been able to continue working and haven’t yet been threatened with furlough. Lucky that our tiny patch of London real estate has the holy grail of lockdown survival: a garden. And so very, very lucky that this didn’t happen in 2017, 18 or 19 and denied us an experience which, with each recalled moment, will make us smile for the rest of our lives.
This is not a blog about Coronavirus, quite the opposite, it is a celebration of the very best and very worst of travelling around the world for two years. We always intended to write a wrap-up post and as the months wore on it slid lower and lower down the To Do list. We have finally pulled ourselves together and done it. We couldn’t do it without mentioning Coronavirus, not only because it continues to ravage the globe, but because it has changed something fundamental about the narrative of our trip. Three years ago, and throughout the trip, when we told people what we were doing we heard a lot of different responses but the two most common were “you’re so brave!” and the teeth-grindingly infuriating “you’re so lucky!”, as if we had won the lottery and were spaffing money about. We made a life choice, we planned for it and worked for it and saved for it and built a relationship that could not only survive, but thrive during it. In the grand scheme of the world of course we were and are fortunate. In the grand scheme of the people we were talking to, we were organised, determined and more than a little resilient. We really didn’t take anything for granted, we worked hard for the money that paid for the trip, we spent hours planning and packing and re-packing, we put real life on hold as our friends progressed through their careers, moved away and started families. We tried to get the very most out of every country we visited and did and saw the most amazing things. We revelled even in the lowest moments because they were an experience in themselves. We battled with visa portals, stomach bugs, border crossings and language barriers. We took nothing for granted.
Except that we did. We took it for granted that so long as we could buy the ticket, we could get on a plane and go anywhere that we liked, never for a moment imaging that that would ever not be the case. So, the narrative has changed. Today we agree; yes, we are incredibly lucky.
We had previously approached this blog by writing a list of questions that we wanted to answer; they were really specific questions that meant that we didn’t have to make difficult choices between so many options. There were about 100 questions on the list and no sane person would ever have posed them; “what was your favourite bus journey?” does not come up in conversation. So, we chucked it out and started again by asking ourselves the questions that everyone has asked us and making ourselves answer them. So here it goes:
Did you have a favourite country?
We have both tripped over and tongue-tied ourselves explaining the three or four or five different countries that might have some feature that made it on to the list. Not the approach this time. The answer is no, we didn’t. And how marvellous is that? There was no stand out country that was the best at everything, they all had something to offer and if we were pressed we could probably find one thing for each and every country that that particular country was best at (we won’t though!)
What’s the best thing about being home?
Caro: A glass of wine on my own sofa and fully functioning indoor plumbing. Also, pubs (although not at the moment)
James: Home comforts, particularly having our own space and the ease of making a cup of coffee and toast for breakfast.
Where did you have the best food?
Caro: Vietnam. The nems, the noodles, oh my word the morning glory. Everything in Vietnam tasted fantastic and had the added bonus of actually having some nutritional value, so many amazing vegetables!
James: Argentina. Amazing steak and wine for so little, Pomelo and chipas for snacks. All so great.
Where would you go back to?
Caro: It would be quicker to list where I wouldn’t go back to, but I have to pick one. I’m going to be a bit boring and say Vietnam again. It had something of everything that we love: amazing natural beauty, vibrant cities that are bursting with culture, (a language we could never hope to learn), you can have beautiful clothes made, the people are just gorgeous and the food, let’s not forget the food.
James: So many places. South Africa, Australia and New Zealand particularly though (I know I have cheated giving three). I loved the outdoor aspects of the countries. All three are excellent for road trips, have amazing camping spots, great hiking through stunning scenery and great people.
Is there anywhere you wouldn’t go again?
Caro: Probably Laos; we saw a lot in our three weeks and we had a great time, but it felt like a country on a precipice of losing what makes it great. We were lucky to see it when we did. Cambodia had a similar feeling to it but it might just have enough oomf to maintain some of its own identity.
James: Laos, I think we saw all we wanted to see. As Caro said it was incredibly interesting but I would not rush back. There also parts of eastern Europe which are not high on my travel itinerary for the time being.
Where would you live?
Caro: If I had to choose I would say New Zealand. But the reality is that it is too far away so my number one choice of where to live is England for two simple reasons: it is where (or close to where) all of my friends and family live and English is the national language.
James: New Zealand. I just loved the lifestyle and outdoor living. But we would miss our families and friends too much. It is just too far away. I think one thing we learnt is we loved coming home. We moan about the weather and how crowded the tube is, but we are extremely lucky to live where we do.
What was the best moment?
Caro: I can’t remember what day it was specifically but it happened whilst we were on Skype for the first time with my parents, so it was probably about 3 weeks into Australia and the whole trip. We were living in Heidi, had probably driven a couple of thousand kms already, done some great walks, stayed on some crazy campsites, got some pretty solid tans and James was rocking the ill-advised yet excellent moustache. Dad said “you look so happy and relaxed”. Of course we did, we were literally living our dream. It was a very small simple moment but it has stayed with me, it was the whole point.
James: I can’t pick a best moment, there were just too many highlights, but I remember sitting in departures waiting for a first flight in September 2017. We were both nervous, but we were actually going after several years of talking about it, planning and saving. The excitement about what lay ahead was great, 28 hours later when we arrived in Australia I felt a little different but that feeling of excitement soon returned.
What was the worst moment?
Caro: Night two of the Ausangate hike: I had such a bad headache that I didn’t sleep one moment and spent the whole night crying instead. It was pure misery and there is no amount of money that would get me to do it again. Those views though….
James: Being stuck on a white-water rafting trip followed by a 5 hour bus journey in Nepal with a serious stomach bug. The memory makes me shiver.
What / where lived up to the hype?
Caro: I think that James is going to say the Taj Mahal so I will take the chance to say somewhere else (he’s right though). The diving in Indonesia, I have never seen so many fish in my life.
James: The Taj Mahal, it was breath taking. We went twice as Caro was ill the first day and it was still amazing the second time. The safari in South Africa, particularly Madikwe. I would go back tomorrow if I could.
James (again): Everyone we have ever discussed New Zealand with has raved about their visits and as you may have guessed from previous answers I whole heartedly agree.
James (couldn’t help himself): Road tripping across Australia was also on my bucket list and it did not let me down, the experience was wonderful. There is something just very enjoyable about setting up camp after a long drive and having a cold one in the middle of nowhere, or visiting outback pubs, or making it to a National Park after a day’s drive. You can just go where the whim takes you and it is a glorious experience.
What / where was a disappointment?
Caro: Oh dear, I have to say Angkor. It is impressive, but so many places are impressive and I just don’t think it lives up to all of the hype. There are also 6 billion people there and it’s a tourist trap and it takes three days to look around the whole bastard place and the temples aren’t that different from one another.
James: Seeing Komodo dragons in Indonesia. The whole experience was just badly managed and I had been really excited to go.
Any hidden gems?
Caro: Ningaloo reef. Everyone talks about the Great Barrier Reef but really Ningaloo is the absolute best of Australia. There is the added bonus of Ningaloo being on the west coast so you your are much less likely to be stung or killed by something. There’s also no bugger there.
James: I agree with Caro on Ningaloo reef, but Karijini National Park in Western Australia was spectacular. The drive there dodging road trains of iron ore is worth every, bumpy, hour. It as an oasis in the middle of the dessert. If you go you have to visit Hand Rail pool for a swim.
James (again, he doesn’t get the rules) Not a hidden gem, but a huge surprise for us was Scotland. It is stunningly beautiful. We travelled hundreds of thousand miles on this trip only to find that some of the most beautiful scenery and beaches were within a few hours of our home.
What would you do differently?
Caro: Very little, it’s all part of the experience. That being said, I would spend more money in India. We saw and dealt with a lot of frankly horrible stuff that I don’t feel added anything to our trip except to make us dislike India. Which was a shame, because when I look back on it now most of India was actually amazing, I would say as much as 80%. I wouldn’t swap my swami with a penchant for astrology for anything but that 20% was downright horrible and by spending more money we could have been spared all of it.
James: What Caro said.
Any words of wisdom for world travellers?
Caro: I had paragraphs and paragraphs to answer this question and then I deleted them again because every trip is different and what worked for us could well be someone else’s nightmare. However, there are a few words that apply to everyone: sun cream, insect repellent, hand sanitiser, Imodium, have a sense of humour, write a diary.
James: Just go, there will always be a reason not to (global pandemics excluded). You will have to make some sacrifices, miss families and birthdays and weddings, but it will be worth it.
James (again, obviously): Also, don’t make too many plans in advance. Your Itinerary will change, and you will want to change it as you travel. You will not like everywhere you go, or may want to spend a few extra days somewhere.
Trip stats (because they are cool)
- 5 continents
- 35 countries
- 67 flights
- 47 boat trips
- 46 bus trips
- 22 train trips
- 14 road trips driving over 45,000km (which included at least 3 full run throughs of the Harry Potter audiobooks)
- 7 cars
- 2 campervans
- 3 tents
- 90 hikes
- 5 Snorkelling / diving trips
- 31 Safaris
- 45 UNESCO World Heritage sites (plus one that became a UNESCO site after we visited)
- 14 diaries
- 182 blog posts
We’ll be honest, we both got a litte bit teary writing this. We can’t really believe it’s over. Thank you for sticking with us.