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”.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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!
- 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 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.