25 countries in 2.5 years: how I made the most of a new job in Europe
Almost without fail, the first thing you get asked when someone learns that you work at Lonely Planet is: 'So, do you get to travel a lot?' The reality for most of us (apart from our freelance writers, who visit every destination for every new guidebook edition) is that we don’t travel for work. My standard, not-funny response is: 'Only into the office!'.
However, it’s true that almost every person working for Lonely Planet loves to travel, and does what they can to make it happen. (I have yet to find the employee who doesn’t love to travel... but I’m sure there’s at least one among us!)
The location of each office comes with different challenges to making international travel work: for Melbourne, Australia (where I am based), it’s always a long, expensive flight before you can land in a different country. Our closest easy-to-reach neighbour is New Zealand, a 3.5 hour flight from Melbourne. No, Tasmania doesn’t count (it’s an Australian state); and while Papua New Guinea is technically our closest neighbour, flying there from Melbourne takes twice as long.
Recently, though, I was lucky enough to spend 2.5 years working in our Dublin office, and I was determined to make the most of the suddenly easy proximity to Europe (and other places), and range of budget airlines. Sure, it’s a fabulous opportunity to be able to take a year off work and travel exclusively and slowly; but my challenge was to do as much as I could while also working full time and on a limited budget.
My tally (according to my Instagram feed, which I started with the challenge of posting only one shot for each adventure): 36 trips to 25 different countries (you just can’t keep me away from Norway and, of course, the UK is such a close neighbour and good opportunity for a weekend jaunt), ranging from 36 hours in Berlin to 3 weeks in Costa Rica on my way back to Australia.
A trip to Europe is no longer considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as it was for our parents when we were growing up, but it is still limited enough that many travellers approach it with a bit of anxiety about making sure you don’t miss out on the ‘best’ destinations. So how did I choose where to go?
I thought about this a lot when I was preparing for my move. I certainly had some ‘bucket list’ destinations in mind (Budapest, Istanbul and Marrakesh); but I was otherwise excited to let new destinations present themselves to me through friends’ travel plans ('Don’t come to me, I’ll meet you somewhere fun!') and last-minute flight deals. The former took me to Berlin, the English Peak District and Salamanca; and the latter to Oslo, Romania and Riga.
Events and hobbies presented some otherwise unconsidered destinations: on my first trip to Oslo I discovered a band I like would be playing on my birthday in a small Norwegian town called Bodø, which led me to discover the beautiful Lofoten Islands. This also tied in with my obsession with chasing the (for me) elusive Northern Lights, which had already taken me to Iceland, and then Rovaniemi (on the Arctic Circle in Finland), while Eurovision prompted a trip to Kyiv, Ukraine. Costa Rica won out for my trip on the way back home to Melbourne because it had some great surf/yoga retreats on offer.
Of course, reading about travel all day, every day at work, and working with a bunch of similarly travel-obsessed colleagues also added many more destinations to my list: everyone’s been to Lisbon except me? How beautiful are those shots of the Faroe Islands? Budapest was on my bucket list because the idea of seeing the socialist-kitsch of the city’s Memento Park has always stuck with me from my early days as an editor at Lonely Planet.
My first trip outside of Australia was to England: I spent my gap year in 1996 working in a boarding school, a time when the concept of smartphones was crazy talk. Although I now read a lot about travel trends and technology at work, I am still constantly delighted by the small things that now make travel so much easier.
Apart from budget airlines and geopolitical developments that have opened up so many more destinations, how about wifi, which lets you keep in touch with friends at home, drop a pin for friends to find you in a strange city, and watch Netflix wherever you are? Offline maps (such as those in Lonely Planet's city guide app) let you see where you are and where you need to get to, even without wifi – ‘back in the day’ buses were tricky, because you’d never know where to get off, and I never dreamed I’d be able to find my way around Marrakesh medina on my own.
Wheelie suitcases mean a lot of people are ditching backpacks unless hiking (it’s not just that we’re getting older!), and the EU’s reciprocal mobile-data rates take the sting out of those moments when your flight was delayed, the wifi isn’t working and you’ve missed check in.
In some ways travelling more, and travel being generally easier, makes you more blasé and prone to travel bloopers. I’ve certainly cut it fine when organising visas and vaccinations; and had one trip where I booked checkout for every accommodation one night earlier than I meant to (did I momentarily forget checkout is the day after your last night’s accommodation?) – meaning I got back from a day trip to find my belongings in the hallway, and the great rates I’d gotten on accommodation were negated by having to find a last-minute Saturday night hotel room, in the snow.
I’ve been fooled by hotel-location descriptions (always check the location on a map rather than trusting that it’s near what it says it’s near), and had ‘too good to be true’ fares turn out to be exactly that (when they’re cancelled at the last second, you’re stuck with the cost of last-minute fares instead). I’ve been scammed by taxi drivers and people taking advantage of a tired traveller forgetting what exchange rates are, but it’s important to keep perspective – sometimes a $2 scam is worth the story!
Now that I’m back in Australia, I’m so happy to be able to look back on my time in Europe and know that I achieved what I set out to: I made travel a priority, and had so many great experiences. But it has also inspired me to change the way I think about travel at home. Just because an international weekend away is less achievable, doesn’t mean a really interesting experience is! Look out Australian destinations, I’m coming for you next.
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