I’m aware that about 50% of my travels aren’t documented on this blog and no one knows the stories of my earliest adventures – the experiences that made me fall in love with exploring the globe in the first place.
Despite the fact I’ve been writing about travel since I was 19, I only got into posting it on a blog (rather than scrawling it in my diary) during my Asia trip which started in 2015 and ended last year. I continued posting all through this year’s Africa and Europe adventures and have been working on my site and photography skills the whole time.
But my motivation and the reason I love and continue to travel so much stems back to my earliest adventures. Here’s the story!
Oxford – or more specifically a town called Witney that no one has heard of – is where I grew up. Witney is a cute market town and when we were teenagers there wasn’t even a cinema, just a few cafes and restaurants and one infamous bar which was the backdrop for all our teenage escapades.
Like lots of people, I escaped my small town as fast as I could.
By 19 I’d been on holiday to Europe a couple of times with family and friends and gone on a school trip to Russia. I’d yet to do a trip that was more than a holiday or to a different continent so I delayed uni for a year to travel. I’d had a job in a clothes shop since I was 16 so I worked part-time until I finished school, then full-time for the first eight months of my year out.
Volunteering in Ecuador
I found a project that took me volunteering in Ecuador in three different placements – the Amazon rainforest, an Andes mountain community and a beach town.
I didn’t know much about the world back then so South America seemed as good an idea as any.
Getting on a plane with 15 total strangers to go live in the Amazon Rainforest at 19, having barely left my little town before, was terrifying. I think I handled it pretty well but I’m aware nothing will probably be that scary again because I’ve been out of my comfort zone so many times now. The first time is always the hardest.
Luckily, I had an amazing time. Staying with an Ecuadorian family of three in a tiny rainforest community that you couldn’t reach by public transport still remains one of my best travel experiences to date.
By the way, apologies for the quality of these old photos!
The family we lived with spoke the local dialect of Quechua rather than Spanish so the couple of words we’d all learnt weren’t even useful. For most part we couldn’t really communicate with our hosts but we did our best. The wooden house was very modest in a forest clearing with an open porch for socialising and eating, two bedrooms and a kitchen.
There were about 50 other homes in the village and no shops, no anything. Just a small football stadium which doubled up as a place to sit on the steps and chat in the evenings. Residents who visited the closest city occasionally bought back clothes and tinned goods but for the most part they relied on their natural surroundings.
We got stuck into the local food – plantain, yukka, soup, beans. It was heavy and often bland but we ate it all to be polite. It was hard to get used to giant portions of food at 7am then just soup for dinner, but that’s how lots of cultures eat – and it makes total sense when you think of the manual labour a lot of them do throughout the day.
The experience taught me to play to my strengths. The volunteering company had tasked us with building a school which didn’t make a lot of sense. We were totally unskilled Western kids and the locals basically did it for us – we were mainly a hindrance (I have some issues with volunteering that stem from that trip; hear about them here) but on occasion we taught English to the kids, something I loved and that was better suited to my skill set.
It was the only time in my life I’ve felt homesick. The insect bites covering my body, the noise of the jungle and the rain on the tin roof are things I still remember. Strongest is the feeling of waking up, dazed, piecing together what the noise of the hammering rain was, and how it meant I was a million miles from home.
Even though it had its challenging moments, I never for a second felt downright bad or negative. If anything, the new challenegs and emotions tested me in a way that was different to school or work and began to make me way more resilient.
I began to love the feeling of new experience and of being out of my comfort zone.
Backpacking South America
After the volunteering was over, me and four other girls from the placement (who are still some of my good friends today) went backpacking around some more of Ecuador, then Peru and Bolivia.
I still have fun when I travel nowadays in my late (I hate saying that!) 20s but I’m aware that never again will I ever have such a chaotic and crazy and I’ll admit, irresponsible, time. Three words: drunk every night.
As it was 2009 we didn’t bother to bring phones with us and could only go online in Internet cafes when we weren’t somewhere rural. The dark ages. Is that why we had so much fun and so few cares?
I particularly fell in love with Peru – the misty mountains, photobombing llamas and colourful clothes worn by the locals were like nothing I’d seen before. I was so intrigued by the different customs and ways of life outside of my own home culture.
Trekking Machu Pichu with my new friends was such an experience. I also loved Bolivia and spending a few nights on sleepy Isla del Sol (which translates as ‘island of the sun’) in the middle of the enormous Lake Titicaca.
I then flew to Australia to meet a friend I’d made earlier in the year working in the clothes shop at home. Together me and Amy backpacked the East Coast and were equally irresponsible and alcoholic. We stuck pins in maps to decide where to go and got pushed home at 4am in shopping trolleys. Despite all of this, a genuine love for travel was born. I had my first experience of scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, explored Brisbane, Sydney and Cairns, cruised through the Whitsundays by boat and camped around Fraser Island. I knew I wanted to travel again and again.
It was different back then
This is about to make me sound like a 95-year-old grandma lecturing my grandkids, but it was different eight years ago. We didn’t sit in bars on our phones and we didn’t obsess over getting that perfect Instagram shot. Technology has made travel easier in lots of ways but I’m actually really grateful I had a teeny taste of what it used to be like to compare. If I was even three years younger I probably wouldn’t have.
I want my blog to do well beyond all else, but with so many platforms and elements to think about, will I ever lust after the days my friends & I booked adventure activities late and tipsy and had to throw ourselves into terrifying, life-affirming adventures the next day?
Travel blogging wasn’t even a thing back then (I’m only 27 I swear! This post is making me feel so old!), but I wrote about 12 diaries over the course of the year and read them out to my new friends – funny, embarrasing bits and all. It was then I knew I liked writing about travel for an audience.
What happened next
It didn’t end there as I went and studied abroad in Canada in 2010 which allowed me to visit some cities in the US and pack in a quick trip to Mexico.
In my final year of uni I also fundraised for a charity and trekked the Great Wall of China over summer 2012.
It then took three years of working as a copywriter in London after graduating to confirm that I liked the writing bit but not the staying in the same place bit (or the London living costs!). That’s when I left for Asia.
Unfortunately, Canada, America, Mexico and China were before my blogging days too so I’ll have to fill you in on them in a future installment!!
I hope you enjoyed the story of my early travels and can see why I choose to do it again and again…
Enjoyed this? Read about some of my more recent travels!
How do I afford it? Check my resources page!