I always smile when people talk about catching the ‘travel bug’, for in my case the experience was painfully literal.
I was eight years old and had just arrived in Portugal with my parents and younger brother on what was to be our first ‘real’ family holiday. My stomach was in agony. The tales of terrible airplane food were true and I'd been undone by an omelette. Still, the sun was shining, the beach was just a few steps from our apartment and the sea was glinting invitingly beyond.
By the following day, my mild dose of food poisoning was all but forgotten and I threw myself into the trip: I relished my first taste of Piri-piri chicken; explored the twists and turns of historic Lagos, the former regional capital; and hurtled happily down waterslides at the nearby amusement park.
It’s fair to say that subsequent trips have each offered their highs and lows – I particularly remember being stranded in Sicily in October 2002, when Mount Etna burst into action and closed the island's airports. While our school group waited for flights to resume, we took the opportunity to visit beautiful Taormina, from where we had a perfect view of the volcano, as well as the clouds of ash spewing from within. It was a long journey home but when we did eventually make it back to Yorkshire, a local news crew was waiting – fame at last!
Perhaps inspired by my growing love of travelling, I chose to read French and Spanish at university, and spent the third year of my course studying abroad – first in Dijon and then Madrid. Each university assesses its students differently; we were told not to devote our time to libraries and assignments but to ensure we experienced each destination as fully as possible – advice I took seriously. Each weekend, my friends and I would get our hands on a local bus or rail timetable, choose the most exciting place on the line and make our way there. Sometimes, it worked wonderfully and we paid very little to taste wines at famous French châteaux; on other occasions, the town or village in question clearly had a better online profile than it deserved, and we made a note not to return. Still, it was always an adventure, and my love of travel only strengthened across the year.
Since joining Inntravel, I’ve had the opportunity to update the walking and cycling notes for a number of our itineraries. Each trip has varied hugely, and I remember each fondly – though for very different reasons. When I think back to my time in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland, for example, I see the most incredible scenery and recall the fresh, Alpine air. In neighbouring Austria, it was the hearty cuisine and delicious cakes I enjoyed the most, while every time I've visited Portugal, I've been struck by the first-rate hospitality.
One of my favourite places to visit for work is always Greece. As much as Switzerland’s well-waymarked trails are a breeze to follow, I love the challenge that Greece poses. At Inntravel, one of our mottos is that ‘we get lost so our customers don’t have to’, and nowhere is this truer than in Greece. I couldn’t tell you how many minutes I’ve spent glaring at a Greek walking map, willing it to correspond with the situation on the ground, but I’ve also lost count of the magical surprises – the half-hidden archaeological sites; the deceptively delicious tavernas; the tortoise asleep in the long grass; the breathtaking vistas…
I was due to return to Greece this spring, but, like so many others, I find myself grounded by the Coronavirus. While travel is off the agenda, I will have to lean on my other hobbies – namely, losing hours to a good book and trying yet failing to ‘sort out the garden’. Still, there’s nothing to stop me reminiscing, and to start planning more memorable trips for the years ahead.