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Looking back on the 2010s – Part I: My Travels

I should be in Georgia right now, on a much-anticipated 10-day exploration of the country. Like everyone else however, I’m stuck at home, in my case at my home home in Hampshire with my family. But I’m trying to stay positive and see the silver linings – one being that I finally have time to catch up on half-written blog posts that sit in my drafts folder for months on end! Today’s post is the first in a series of three ‘Looking back on the 2010s’. It’s look back at the last decade of wonderful travels that the 2010s held for me.

Polishing this blog post with the hindsight of our current lockdown, the 2010s were honestly an absolute blast and I was immensely lucky to have so much travel, much of which I think I took for granted, believing that that privilege would never be retracted… Writing this post during quarantine has been a therapeutic indulgence in wanderlust and has truly transported me to the locations of each of these memories below, and I can highly recommend it as an exercise for anyone needing an escape from the present crisis surrounding the pandemic.

As this New Year marked the start of a new decade, I found myself casting my mind’s eye back over the whole of the 2010s, in addition to reflecting on 2019. The 2010s roughly equate to my twenties, give or take a few months, so the turn of the decade is also a coincidental milestone marking my own progression from my “discovering-life twenties” into my “grown-up thirties”. I also wrote about the 20 trips you should do in your 20s as I turned 30 last year.

So what did the 2010s hold for me?

I started off the decade as a student in my second year of a degree in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese at the University of Exeter. I then spent a summer studying in London, an Erasmus semester studying at the University of Córdoba (Spain), and 6 months interning at Giorgio Armani in Modena (Italy). After my fourth and final year at Exeter, I started this blog and did a 2-year graduate scheme at O2, involving a 6-month assignment in Madrid. After another year in the company I took a 7-month sabbatical, predominantly spent volunteering in Nepal. I then started a Masters in European Politics and moved to Groningen in the Netherlands and Uppsala in Sweden. I returned to London after a year to start a second graduate scheme, the Civil Service Fast Stream, where I’ve had three different rotations over the past two years, working on EU Policy, trade policy, EU negotiations, and international engagement. And voila, a decade of my CV in a paragraph!

But beyond the headlines above, I’ve picked out a few of my favourite moments from the last decade:

My Travels in the 2010s

Longest continuous trip without visiting home:

Volunteering in Nepal, for almost 4 months. Possibly the most eye-opening and developmental period of my entire life.

Shortest trip:

A fleeting 24 hours in St Malo, France, as a birthday surprise for my sister. I literally caught the Eurostar and train there from Paris, spent one day, then returned with the rest of my family on the ferry!

Favourite trips:

  1. Exploring the Balkans for a month starting in Albania, going through Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia and finishing in Hungary – genuinely learning so much about a region that was really missing from my awareness beforehand.
  2. Three weeks travelling around Sicily in September, eating the most delicious fresh Sicilian food, visiting uncrowded beaches, speaking non-stop Italian, discovering the island’s history, as a last indulgent escape before moving back to London in 2017. Read my itinerary for 2 weeks in Sicily here (one of my most popular posts).
  3. Returning to my childhood holiday home on the south-west coast of France in 2018 after 15 years of not visiting, and re-discovering that it’s the perfect combination of laidback escapism and comforting familiarity, and is the ideal admin-free trip for when I just need to relax without endlessly planning, exploring and learning.

Albania

Least favourite trips:

All the work travel I’ve ever had around the UK, sleeping alone in soulless hotels and rarely glimpsing the actual city in question. Thankfully I haven’t had a huge amount of that in my jobs to date, but as a result I try to avoid domestic work travel at all costs.

Most fun experience abroad:

Studying as an Erasmus student in Córdoba, in Spain, aged 21 in 2010. This was a hard one to pick as the vast majority of my trips involve activities I find fun, but I’ve chosen this 4-month stint because of the sheer number of parties, nights out and friends I met from all over Europe – it was an unrepeatable period of my life and was a heady, endless celebration of being young and multicultural and having the world at our fingertips! My second Erasmus experience working in Italy was also fun but had the big downside of needing to work unpaid for 6 months (!), and my Erasmus Master’s semesters were fun but far more studious and nowhere near as carefree.

My walk to uni in Cordoba

Favourite stint living abroad:

Living in Modena, in Italy, as an Erasmus work placement in 2011. Having just explained that the unpaid internship was a pain, it was still my most authentic experience of living in Italy and I simply adored the Italian lifestyle – going for aperitivo every evening with friends, exploring different parts of Italy every weekend, speaking non-stop Italian, living in a city with very few foreigners, and feeling like a grown-up for the first time. I think I’m still chasing that dream with my wish to live in Italy again one day in future!

Piazza Pomposa in Modena

Hardest stint abroad:

Volunteering in Nepal, which despite being fantastic, was often really hard. I was managing a team of volunteers, some of whom were often homesick, living without hot water, internet, regular electricity, any meat or Western food, and once summer hit, I was without any means of cooling down. It was hard work! Which is precisely why I grew so much, developed so much resilience through it and learnt how lucky I am in the West, and how much comfort I take for granted. It made me infinitely more grateful for the life I do have.

Best solo trips:

  1. A 48-hour blogging trip to Iceland with the company Kayak, where I had a checklist of activities to complete, in competition with six other bloggers. I loved the gamification of travel, and later met a couple who did actually plan a massive scavenger hunt around Iceland for their friends in teams, following their wedding there! Literally the dream couple.
  2. Learning to surf in Siargao, an island in the Philippines. My sister then joined me for another 2 weeks backpacking together, but I started off with a week solo and got into such a delightful rhythm of island life, doing exactly what I wanted.
  3. Moscow. I’d been reluctant to leave my two-week Russian course in beautiful St Petersburg, but my long weekend in Moscow was also the last mini-adventure of my 7-month sabbatical, before I returned to work in London, so I savoured every moment and absolutely adored the city – not caring one bit that I was by myself.
  4. A 3-week coast-to-coast trip across North America with DoubleTree by Hilton, my first big blogging trip and simply out of this world: staying in two-storey penthouse suites in Las Vegas, helicopters into Grand Canyon, wine-tasting in Sonoma Valley, boat trips through Chicago, the deep-south of San Antonio in Texas – I was insanely lucky to have all those experiences without spending a single penny.
  5. My first visit to Padova, in Italy, again on a blogging trip. Realising that city breaks solo can still be hugely fun if you have the right attitude.

Worst solo trip:

Although I spent most of my two weeks in Sri Lanka travelling with friends and I loved those parts of the trip, I had three nights solo and they were just dire. The tourist trail there wasn’t geared for solo travellers and there weren’t many opportunities to meet others. To boot, I stayed in some awful accommodation, felt quite unsafe and alone, and I unfortunately felt like people were ripping me off left right and centre because they could see I was by myself.

Toughest trip:

Attempting to climb Mont Blanc with my mother in 2017. Classed as ‘tough’ purely because it’s physically very demanding, and I suffered from a fair bit of altitude sickness, and mentally tough due to the disappointment of not reaching the summit due to an unlucky weather window. After training for several months and spending a not inconsiderable amount on the trip, it was overall tough. But on the positive side we did reach the summit of Gran Paradiso at 4,061m – the highest mountain in Italy!

Summit of Gran Paradiso

Best trips for learning a skill:

  • Getting my Day Skipper sailing certificate in Antigua on an all-female yacht in the most stunning waters.
  • Learning to scuba dive in Malta, with 3 instructors all teaching me as their only student, and getting to explore WWII shipwrecks in my first week.
  • Learning Russian in St Petersburg, which I liked so much partly due to my great teacher for her insights into life in the Soviet Union and nowadays under Putin, as well as the great people in my class, and the beauty of the city that I explored each day after class.
  • Learning to ski race at the Inferno races in Murren, Switzerland, in 2017 and 2019.

Most luxurious trips:

  • My second safari in Kenya, the highlights including a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the savannah, and staying at the super luxurious 1920s-themed Cottar’s Safari Camp.
  • 5 nights in Bali back in 2014 with my friend Imy, where (thanks to my blog) we were guests at two gorgeous hotels, one of which gave us a butler on call 24 hours a day, a daily massage and all sort of little luxuries.
  • Las Vegas, for the sheer extravagance of my penthouse suite on the famous strip, complete with full-size jacuzzi attached to the living room. My entire stay was exaggerated, from helicoptors into Grand Canyon to gambling lessons in casinos, to  Cirque du Soleil performances. Wow.

Bali

Panorama of the vast suite in Las Vegas

Best accommodation:

Cottar’s Safari Camp in the Masai Mara. It’s a private reserve of over 7,600 acres, with its own runway for private planes, it has just 9 tents, and every luxury you can imagine – including a sunset bubble bath on the terrace of our tent overlooking the savannah. From start to finish I had to keep pinching myself at the sheer luxury.

Worst accommodation:

  • A handful of nights spent in airports during short layovers, unable to sleep and with time dragging on endlessly while waiting for a connecting flight!
  • I also spent one horrendous night in a depressing £8/night all-inclusive hotel in Malta, before swiftly checking out. It depressed me mainly because I saw all the elderly English guests who were staying there, possibly too poor to pay for anywhere nicer, forced to eat the dreadful food with dirty cutlery, sleep in dirty rooms, and have to pass their precious holidays in such an overall dive.

Top road trips:

  • New Zealand – two weeks driving around North and South Islands with my sister and housemate in 2019, in constant awe at the landscapes.
  • Norway – a week driving along the National Scene Routes and hiking high above the fjords, managing both the 10-hour round-trip to Trolltunga in the snow, and the easier 4-hour Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock).
  • Morocco – Although not actually doing the driving myself, my friend Diego and I found a fantastic guide to drive us from Marrakech through the Atlas Mountains and on towards the Sahara, travelling onwards by camel into the desert for a night sleeping around a campfire beneath the stars.

Favourite islands:

Without a doubt Sicily, including the tranquil island-off-an-island of Favignana! This is followed by the tiny island of Capri (visited on my first grown-up romantic trip aged 21) and the Saronic islands I’ve sailed around in Greece.

Favignana, an island off Sicily

Birthdays abroad:

5 out of 10 birthdays in the decade were abroad, roughly every other year, meaning that I should be due another birthday abroad soon! I spent my 2011 birthday in Modena (Italy), 2012 at Benicassim festival (Spain), 2014 in San Sebastián (Spain), 2016 in Santorini (Greece), and 2018 in Tallinn (Estonia).

Birthday parties:

The decade saw two significant birthdays, my 21st birthday party with fireworks at my grandmother’s home in West Sussex. My 30th birthday this year was another black tie affair, this time with a murder mystery game, at my aunt’s home in Surrey.

Turning 30 last year

Favourite Christmas:

Undoubtedly en famille in the French ski resort of Tignes in 2015, skiing under beautiful bluebird skies on Christmas Day itself, returning to a roaring fire and festive turkey feast in the evening.

Christmas Day in Tignes

Favourite New Year’s Eve:

In the 2010s I only spent a single New Year’s Eve abroad, in Barcelona in 2011 during my fourth year of university. Similar to Capri, it was one of my earliest couple’s trips abroad and I spent the night dining and partying with 4 other couples of good friends from Italy, Spain and Chile, feeling like such a grown-up.

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Beyond my travels, the decade of my twenties also changed me hugely as an individual. I grew up and matured; I gained confidence and financial independence; I graduated from two degrees; I pursued two very different career paths; I took on responsibilities like a mortgage and flat renovation; I discovered delight and comfort in so many different sports; I learned about life and overcoming setbacks in Nepal; I developed my resilience and drive and feminist streak; I both worked hard and I took long breaks to rest and reset; I set life goals and career plans; I met people that shaped and inspired me; and I celebrated all kinds of milestones. Many of these things happen to everyone as we progress through our twenties, so they’re not unusual or unique, but they do have special significance to us individually.

What special travels and memories did the 2010s decade hold for you?

Keep an eye out for my next two blog posts in this series, looking back at my blogging highlights and at the ways the travel industry evolved over the 2010s.

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4 Comments »

  1. Some good memories and achievements there for you Virginia. For us the 2010 decade was all about selling up in UK and relocating back to Hong Kong which we did, somewhat unusually in this day and age, aboard a cruise ship that just happened to be heading out east – wonderful !

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