This is Amy's personal Love letter to travel; all opinions are her own. In this love letter, Amy shares what travel means to her, how she believes travel can benefit us and be a force for good, what she has learnt from her travel experiences, and what the travel industry itself means to her.
I like to think of my ‘happy place’ as watching
the sun set over the sea from the balcony of a cruise ship cabin, champagne in
hand. There is something so sublime and majestic in its simplicity, something
so calming and tranquil in that moment. It’s something I have experienced many
a time, almost like a daily ritual on a cruise, but I always have a moment of pause,
and reflection, as I just let myself enjoy and experience the moment of pure
Travel is currently on ‘pause’ at the moment, as – indeed – most of our lives are on hold during an extraordinary lockdown as we try to tackle the global Covid-19 pandemic. Like many of our clients, some of my own travel plans this year have been impacted by the spread of Coronavirus. For the time being we are staying home, but I – for one – am looking forward to when I can travel again. I also find myself thinking about what I appreciate about life, including what I appreciate about travel, and what travel means to me, and what I believe travel offers.
I look back on some of my most cherished memories, try to recapture the emotions felt, the wonder and joy experienced, the laughter shared.
"Travel holds a special place in many of our hearts, regardless of where you’re travelling to, or how you’re travelling"
That time I introduced my friend Lauren to the joys of river cruising with AmaWaterways, and we had such a laugh with Christian the Bartender (especially when he tried to ‘hair flip’ like me to Britney Spears’ Work B*tch), and Aurelius the pianist/DJ would put on Spice Girls and Eurovision compilations, when we requested just one song. Or going on family holidays as a child with my parents, brother, Nanny and Granddad; there are many cherished memories there, including from Disney World, but I’ll always remember my Granddad singing out of time (noisily) along with Elvis Presley’s ‘It’s Now or Never’ at a Portuguese resort, or the time when Nanny accidentally overdosed on sleeping pills before a flight, and had to be put on airport assistance in a buggy with flashing lights. Or, after our first cruise as a family, Nanny made her own Baked Alaska at our traditional Sunday Lunch, and attempted her own Baked Alaska parade.
That moment I saw Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate after hiking almost six miles on my 28th birthday. I always knew that would be a special moment that I would never forget. There was so much anticipation and excitement that had been building up, right from the moment we left the train from Ollantaytambo in the middle of the cloud forest. We had experienced varying weather, and my hair had become a frizzy nightmare! But who cares about dodgy hair when you’re standing just a mile from one of the (new) seven wonders of the world, as the sun breaks through clouds? I certainly didn’t, and I remember feeling almost overwhelmed with happiness.
That was certainly a birthday to remember – and just before the ‘big reveal’, my Inca Trail guide, Pepe, had told me to close my eyes, leading me a few steps forward before saying ‘Open your eyes - Happy Birthday!’ But that trip, filled with so many wonderful experiences and memories, was also meaningful for me personally, as I had decided almost a year before to lose a good deal of weight (four stone) and the trip was simultaneously an incentive and reward for me in attaining this goal. Travel can be for special occasions and celebrations, as well as a well-deserved rest from the usual slog, or time to share with family and loved ones, and for that reason alone, travel holds a special place in many of our hearts, regardless of where you’re travelling to, or how you’re travelling.
I think back to experiences where I have perhaps pushed myself a little out of my comfort zone. The first time I rode pillion on a motor bike was something I never thought I would do, not least for fear of falling off. However, I clung on to the back of Herman (I can’t remember if that was his actual name, I’m useless with names, but he was very Herman-esque), as a group of us on a particularly memorable Fred. Olsen Viking Masters’ Trip all rode out from the port at Cape Town to a vineyard in Groot Constantia. The sound of the Harleys’ engines in unison, the exhilaration I felt, the smell of the petrol, the breeze whipping my face (keeping me refreshingly cool), the dazzling blue of the sea as we followed the coastline route by Camps Bay, and the chic white apartments we passed, they all come back to me now as I sit at the dining table in my flat during a fairly grey day in Bedford. I am so glad that I took up that opportunity (especially as I didn’t fall off, despite my fears!), and I was so glad at the time, that I asked to go back from the vineyard by Harley, rather than the coach return I’d originally signed up for! A couple years later, I had another opportunity to go on a motorbike tour, and I didn’t think twice! This time, it was in Paris, and there was a sidecar attached, giving my friend Lissa and I the opportunity to take turns riding pillion and in the sidecar.
While travelling, I rarely turn down any opportunity to experience something new. I have taken that obligatory photo opportunity in the Cu Chi Tunnels, where you jump down one of the hidden manholes and hold the earth above your head. In retrospect, that wasn’t ideal, and I got embarrassingly trapped, and had to have the tour guide and local guide help heave me up out of it (resulting in a bruised arm as well as embarrassment), but it certainly showed how much smaller the Viet Cong were. I have also dressed up in a traditional German dirndl, done a blind Port tasting (which started with salt and water, followed by tomato juice – yuck!), and kayaked in a river. I sometimes feel that ‘Travel Amy’ has perhaps a more adventurous mindset than ‘Normal Amy’, or perhaps it’s because travel in itself is such a brilliant opportunity that we are lucky to have, that it emboldens me to make the most of it all while I can.
"Travel is a delight to be experienced first-hand, but it's also a delight to be shared."
Visiting landmarks is more than just a tick-box exercise, and while it’s fun to keep track of the lists of countries visited, countries aren’t collectibles like buying fridge magnets. Each new country we visit, each landmark we finally ‘tick off’ our list, brings with it new experiences and new memories, many of which we go on to share with our friends and families upon our return. You could almost think of it as a gift that gets passed on to others. I love hearing tales of other travellers, and what they’ve experienced, who’s got the funniest travel story. Travel is a delight to be experienced first-hand, but it’s also a delight to be shared. But before we return home and share our stories (or before we post them onto social media, which is a fantastic way of staying connected wherever we are in the world), we are enjoying new tastes, new sights, and new smells or sounds, as we explore countries. We are hearing stories of how the great landmarks that are stood in front of us were created, the skills that were employed, the reasons for their creation, what they’ve meant to the people who have lived there. We are admiring the artistry that went into their creation, whether it’s Angkor Wat or the Taj Mahal, or the Sagrada Familia, or even the Eiffel Tower. Or we are admiring the natural magnificence of natural phenomena, standing awe-struck in front of thundering waterfalls, or keeping our eyes open for a sighting of the Northern Lights, or for sightings of wildlife.
But countries are more than just their landmarks – whether manmade or natural – they are brought alive by people, and their unique cultures, languages, and cuisines, and while neighbouring countries may showcase some similarities to each other, each has its own heady mixture of influences which makes it – and its people – what it is today. That’s why it’s always fascinating to visit marketplaces, to see the many different fruits and vegetables that are produced locally, to see the vibrant colours of the spices, but to discover the products that are unfamiliar to us, and distinct from others, watching as women peel potatoes or cook noodles, men carry large carcasses of meat, a father feeds his baby in a high-chair. People-watching is a fascinating part of travel, whether on while sitting and enjoy a drink on a European city plaza, browsing through a bustling market, or visiting a rural village along the banks of the Mekong.
That doesn’t mean to say that travel is a spectator sport. It isn’t (and shouldn’t be) travellers coming to stare at local people like animals in a zoo. Beyond the economic benefits being brought to local economies by tourists spending money at their restaurants, cafes, or shops, or the jobs created by tourism, there is often a cultural exchange involved, where we are given the opportunities to connect with other people. Many touring companies or cruise lines increasingly offer immersive experiences, where we get to learn about local skills and produce, meet local people and talk to them, hear stories about their lives. Perhaps one of the memories closest to my heart is when my friend Lauren and I were in Delhi and visited the Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib. Situated in Delhi’s famous Chandni Chowk – a bustling shopping area in the heart of Old Delhi, where narrow side streets are crammed with tiny shops packed full of essential oils, traditional Indian sweets, and markets are brimming full of spices, dried fruit, glitzy jewellery and vividly coloured saris – the Gurudwara, first built in 1783, stands on the martyrdom site of the ninth Sikh Guru, who was executed in the 17th century for refusing to convert to Islam. During our visit to the Gurudwara, we watched as people prayed, listened to musicians perform and chant the Gurbani, and visited the community kitchens (langar) which feed thousands of people for free, regardless of their religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity. But we didn’t just visit and watch; we got involved, joining the local women rolling out the dough for chapatis, making our own attempts (with some help from the women next to us).
I have also visited a village in Peru's Sacred Valley region where electricity and paving was introduced in 2012, thanks to the funds raised by the women's weaving co-operative that's been supported by the Planeterra Foundation, the non-profit partner to G Adventures. This is just one example of travel and tourism acting as a force for good, and one I've seen with my own eyes. It was also a memorable cultural exchange, where I had the opportunity to learn about the traditions and skills involved in Peruvian wool weaving, an Andean staple passed down through generations. It was almost a tradition that was lost, dying out as young people moved out of villages and into cities looking for jobs, but with co-operatives such as the one I visited supported by tourism, the traditions have been encouraged to empower the women and their communities. Not only has it helped to raise the funds for the electricity and paving in the village, the women of the co-operative have been able to significantly contribute to their families' incomes, put their children through university, and are the first generation in the Quechua-speaking community to be completely literate in Spanish. Many of the men have also benefited directly from tourism-related jobs, particularly through employment opportunities to work as porters and cooks on the famous Inca Trail.
"On a very personal level, I feel that travel gives me a new lease on life."
Of course, I have my own role within the travel industry, and have been working in travel for five years this year. Although, as my mum has worked within the industry long since before I was born, I have always had an inside glimpse into the trade (and even had the privilege of being her plus-one on a few trips beforehand!). I admit that going into travel wasn’t my plan A. As a kid, I always loved writing and was fascinated by history, so when I was growing up I dreamed of being an archaeologist by day, writing stories by night by a campfire! Later, that career plan got a little more finessed with a focus on journalism, but at some point during my time at University (where I studied history), I worried that that might not have the stability I needed in a post-2008 world. For reasons still not entirely known to myself, I decided to go into law, and after graduating I went straight to law school, doing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which essentially crams an Undergraduate Degree in Law into about 9 months, followed by the Legal Practice Course, which was the year-long vocational study course required for anyone setting out to become a solicitor. Looking back now, early on during the GDL, I began to think I had made a mistake and chosen the wrong path, but I figured that maybe I was just temporarily overwhelmed, and that things would get better. Eventually, however, it got to a point when I realised, not only that things wouldn’t get better, but that they didn’t have to remain that way. I was 25, and one day, I felt like I had hit a wall. I don’t know whether it was a panic attack, but something came over me during a lunch break, and in distress I called my mum, who arranged for an emergency appointment with our doctor’s. I remember my shock when the doctor diagnosed me with anxiety and depression, as I explained (amongst other things) how my chest constantly felt tight, and I couldn’t sleep. It was at that moment that I decided that under no circumstances could I continue with my life as it was. I had earlier toyed with the idea of sending an anonymous CV to my mum, having had some previous experience helping out with some of the admin at Cruise Select, but this forced the issue for me, and we had a heart-to-heart.
Initially, I was supposed to just work on the marketing temporarily. But I immediately felt that travel was the right fit for me. It was as if I had found my raison d’être. There was no looking back for me now. Surrounded by the amazing team at Select Travel Holidays, I am humbled to work alongside such brilliant women, all of whom have worked in the industry well over twenty years, and some for longer than I’ve been alive! It’s fair to say that I miss all of Team Select very much right now. Working in travel isn’t just about the incredible opportunities that we are very lucky to have, it’s about the people you work with, that make it such an unique and amazing industry, and I have been incredibly fortunate to have met many incredible people who all share a love and passion for travel, whether it’s cruising or touring, or luxury tailormade. But it’s also about the clients we work for, too. For most of my time so far at Select Travel Holidays, I have been on the marketing side of things, which is largely behind the scenes, although mum (Rachel) would insist that I show my face at client events. However, I have always been delighted to meet our clients, listening to their stories of the travel they have enjoyed, and what they’re looking forward to with their upcoming holidays. Having ‘cut my teeth’ (so to speak) learning about our travel partners and what they offer, as well as different destinations, from a marketing perspective (and from my own experiences), I have started to work a bit on the sales side too recently (obviously, impeccable timing on my part right there!), and building relationships with clients has become an entirely new dimension to my work, but something I have really enjoyed, and continue to do so, even if much of the work at the moment has been focussing more on helping clients’ existing plans that have been impacted by Covid-19.
On a very personal level, I feel that travel gives me a new lease on life. I have previously described it as ‘transformative’, and that is in part due to how working within the travel industry has changed my life so much, but also because when I travel, it helps enhance and influence how I see the world, giving me more confidence in myself. It is my belief that travel opens up so many opportunities and possibilities to inspire, humble, amaze, and learn from new destinations and new people, and we have seen how travel can be a force for good, empowering local people as well as ourselves. For me, travel is soul stirring, and it offers food for the soul – but it also offers the chance to enjoy some downtime and relax. It can be just as much an indulgence and a chance to luxuriate, as it can be to discover and explore.
There are many ways we can enjoy our holidays and travel. While I tend to prefer visiting many different destinations, whether on an ocean or river cruise or on tour, immersing myself in cultures unlike my own, others prefer to take the moment to stay still, surround themselves with the beautiful surroundings, and stay in a resort or villa. Either represents a break from our norm, and a chance to spend time with loved ones.
Often, it seems that we are surrounded by bad news; our world can seem filled with conflict and confusion, and currently we may feel unsure of when we will return to normal, and there seems little escape of hearing about Coronavirus. But my love of travel is one certainty in my life. When I travel, I am always struck and reminded of the beauty of the world in which we live, whether it’s from watching the sunset over the sea from my balcony cabin, or rolling out chapatis with local women in a Delhi Gurudwara, admiring the craftsmanship of Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu, or that thrill of seeing a lion while on a game drive. While it may be a while before I can experience that again, it is certainly something I can look forward to! Often when speaking to clients at events, or meeting new people on trips, I realise how travel bonds and connects us, and ignites a spark of joy and wonder. There are moments that you’ll never forget, and it’s quite special to share them with others, perhaps whom you might never have met but for a mutual love of travel. But those moments don’t have to be brief and passing, but can live on, cherished in our memories, and shared with our loved ones on our return. As Hans Christian Anderson said: ‘To travel is to live!’
If you would like to share your own travel experiences or what you love most about travel, please feel free to email your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
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