What’s your idea of a trip of a lifetime? Is there one location you’ve always wanted to visit or a particular activity that remains top of your ‘must-do’ list? For me it’s got to be the chance to follow the trail taken by Che Guervara on his famous motorcycle tour of South America. The descriptions of the locations he visited and the people he met in his classic travellers tale The Motorcycle Diaries stirred my imagination to such an extent that I want to go and have the same experience myself.
And one of the great things about travelling today is that I know at sometime in the not too distant future I will have every chance of fulfilling my ambition. Whereas even just a few years ago great swathes of the planet were out of bounds to all but the most adventurous of travellers, today tickets to even the most exotic of locations are often just a click away on an internet travel site.
“I’ve always wanted to visit Machu Picchu but somehow in the past it’s always come across as a little too exotic and inaccessible. Now though it seems eminently reachable with loads of companies offering all-inclusive tours. And with regulations in place to restrict the number of visitors allowed on the trail each day, the place is protected from becoming overrun and losing its mystique.”
The very nature of travelling has been challenged in recent years, allowing the notion of the trip of a lifetime to be opened up to a wider definition. It wasn’t too long ago when the very idea of going on safari in Africa or walkabout in Australia was a fantasy out of reach for many of us. With just four weeks holiday a year and the high price of air travel, we were often limited to perhaps a couple of weeks in Spain or a short visit to Florida. Well not any more. Often inspired by TV travel programmes or books by travellers with whom we can directly identify, as well as the growth in high-quality but often reasonably-priced travel companies, suddenly traveller-wannabes like 43-year-old Sian Payne are grabbing the opportunity to do something they had always wanted to do; see the world.
“I handed in my notice at the office. With just over a month to spare before starting my new position, my husband, Stan and I decided this was the golden opportunity we had been waiting for to take the trip of a lifetime to California. We decided to travel independently and arranged a trip that was tailored to when we wanted to go, how long we wanted to stay and more importantly allowed us to visit exactly the places we’d always dreamt of seeing.
“We sat down and decided on the destinations: Los Angeles – to visit my cousin, who I hadn’t seen for years; Las Vegas – because of its proximity to the Grand Canyon; San Francisco – for the trolley cars and Alcatraz. Stan is studying for a PhD in astronomy, so a trip to the observatories at Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island just had to be included, as did a hop across to Oahu to visit Pearl Harbour and Honolulu.
“I spent about a week on the internet researching flights, hotels, transfers and an assortment of tours for the various destinations. The following week we were off on our epic adventure.”
Of course, a trip of a lifetime can cover a wide range of travel experiences, from a month-long career break such as Sian’s, to couple a couple of weeks in one specific place such as Cliff is planning, to a year off travelling the world. And best of all, it really is an option that’s open to an increasingly diverse cross section of people who want more from their leisure time than a coach tour around the Algarve, as CTS Horizons’ marketing manager Rachel Russell explains.
“Like the rest of the industry we are seeing a shift in travelling habits in line with changing demographics. The original backpackers and adventurous travellers of the 60s and 70s have grown up but still want imaginative itineraries, the time built into schedules to truly savour a destination rather than just tick it off a list. They also want the reassurance that the knowledge is there which only comes from working with specialist operators who truly know and understand the territories they serve.
“As we have seen with all of our itineraries, including trips to China and Latin America that have become particularly popular destinations with travellers looking to experience the trip of a lifetime, clients want to see all of the main sights combined with a twist or hidden extras. So this might include Machu Picchu at sunrise or the chance to take a solitary walk along the Great Wall of China.
“We’ve also been noticing new trends in this type of travel, such as the arrival of gap year travel from those choosing to take a career break. This type of traveller seems more able to embrace new destinations and experiences with a sense of adventure and spirit that has little to do with the age on a passport.”
This view of the more considered traveller is one shared by Daniel Pawlyn, the marketing manager with Intrepid Travel.
“We are finding that more and more people are interested in discovering the real place when they travel these days. They want to see icons such as Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu but equally as important, they want to meet the people, experience the culture and travel as the locals do. In fact, something we’d call real travel!
“The demographics have shifted too with families wanting to show their kids the real world when they travel and age is no longer a boundary to adventure, as an 82 year old on our recent Vietnam Comfort trip testified.
“Honeymooners seeking something different are certainly on the increase. OK, they want to relax on a beach for some of time but why not choose to strengthen marital bonds by climbing Mt Kinabalu and cooing over baby Orang-utans in Borneo first?”
Typical of those newlyweds intent on making the very most of the opportunity a honeymoon allows to take the trip of a lifetime is Sue Congdon and her husband Andy.
“We’ve been planning our trip of a lifetime, a one month tour across Canada, for a number of years now, and our honeymoon gave us the chance to finally turn the dream into a reality. We’d always wanted more from this special event than a week on a beach and Canada seemed ideal. As a big fan of the rock band Rush, I’d had a lifelong desire to visit their home city of Toronto, while Andy was also keen to go to Vancouver. So we’ve combined both with a spectacular train journey from the east coast to the west, taking in the expansive countryside that I’d always loved in guidebooks and TV travel programmes, and which I’d always wanted to see for real.”
So what distinguishes a trip of a lifetime from any other travelling experience? Well the great thing today is that the answer is very little. Our travelling ambitions can be catered for in such comprehensive ways now that we can pretty much create and fulfil our travelling ambitions with a routine and regularity that was previously unobtainable.
Take Steve James, a regular Real Travel contributor and world traveller for whom it is a passion to visit and revisit countries that hold particular and quite varied appeal. New Zealand, Patagonia and Southern Africa have all been recent travel destinations, each with their own unique appeal, so once he has achieved one travelling ambition, he can’t wait to find the next. He contacted us from his latest trip – six months touring India and China.
“I’d first been to New Zealand 35 years ago and always thought of it as one country in the world where I could settle down and make a home.
Since that time it had always been a ambition to return there and see how it had changed, and I was so pleased that after a four-week self-drive tour around both islands just over a year ago, I found the country as magical and the people as friendly as ever.”
“As for Patagonia, that was the one area in the world that I had most wanted to visit, firstly because I didn’t actually know where is was, and secondly because I had heard that there was a Welsh contingency somewhere in the mountains that still spoke Welsh, baked welsh cakes and worked as Shepherds.”
“When it came to Southern Africa, it was like realising a childhood dream. Since I can remember I had wanted to tour the area in search of wild animals and when I finally achieved it, I wasn’t disappointed. Now I can’t wait to return, even though there aren’t many animals left to see that I didn’t see on my 11-week overland tour last year.”
Of course, as Steve’s adventures show, once you’ve fulfilled a travelling dream, there’s no reason to pack your suitcase away in the roof, buy a rocking chair and spend your free time studying butterflies. In fact, many find when they travel that their eyes are opened further to the notion that the world is a fantastic place full of new and ever-evolving challenges and destinations to explore. Rather than diminishing, the list of places to see simply gets longer. This is certainly the case with Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the Lonely Planet guidebooks and a man who is constantly searching for new travelling ambitions.
“I’ve always got a ‘must do’ list going and periodically I manage to put a tick beside some of those ‘why on earth haven’t I been there?’ possibilities. In the last 12 months this has included getting to Timbuktu (with a name like that you simply have to get there) and, in the last few weeks, making a long overdue return trip to Afghanistan. One trip, however, has been on my ‘trip of a lifetime’ list for 15 years and every year I ponder why I haven’t found a spare month to finally make that multi-time-zoned trip along the Trans-Siberian Railway. It’s the Big Red Train Trip, covers the whole spread of Asia from east to west or west to east and sounds irresistible.”
In recent years taking the trip of a lifetime has been as much to do with the activities you get up to as the location they exist in. Swimming with dolphins features highly on the list of many travellers must-do lists, as does driving a campervan around New Zealand, taking a Harley Davidson down Route 66 in America or working with animals in Africa or South America. Typical of the last of these options are the travel opportunities offered around the world by the environmental charity Earthwatch.
“Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in volunteer travel, with more and more people looking to do something both exciting and worthwhile with their time in order to make that special trip even more special,” explained Hannah Rooley, Earthwatch’s Expedition Recruitment Programme Manager. “There is a move towards a more altruistic style of travel, with people choosing less traditional destinations and using their holiday time to ‘give something back’. Not only has there been an increase in the numbers of people choosing volunteer travel with Earthwatch, but having discovered these kinds of opportunities, more and more people keep coming back.”
As such activity-based experiences become more popular, Philip Genochio, Director European Sales & Marketing for G.A.P Adventures, has seen a massive increase in the uptake of his companies adventures tours of Antarctica.
“I think an Antarctica expedition really is most people’s idea of a trip of a lifetime, and there’s a huge variety of people taking these adventures. These range from people in their 80s looking to do one last great trip to backpackers who perhaps have been travelling around South America and will do the Antarctica expedition as a fitting finale before going home to nine-to-five job.
“I was on one of our Antarctica expeditions last year and we had two couples in their 30s, both taking a career break to travel around South America and who wanted to include an expedition to Antarctica to make an already great trip that extra bit special. In addition, there were people on board doing the trip as an anniversary present to themselves or as a result of taking early retirement.
“Aside from Antarctica, I’ve also seen a much greater uptake from wildlife enthusiasts for our trips to the Galapagos, with the islands continuing to be one of our most popular destinations. We find that people are fulfilling their trips of a lifetime with us, and then returning a year or so later to do another – such as the Inca Trail, a Gorilla Trek in Rwanda or the chance to see the flamingoes at Lake Nakuru in Kenya.”
So what do you do once you’ve complete your trip of a lifetime? As I mentioned, the best idea is to come up with another, and another, and another. After all, the effect achieving a lifetime ambition can have on you is awesome – just ask 27-year-old traveller Amy Clarke.
“My trip of a lifetime was an overland journey through India and Asia that re-awoke all my childhood wonderment – my senses were stirred, my ego silenced and my mind simply blown away! You stumble across things you simply never imagined and the journeys themselves are an absolute adventure. Everyday was an exciting new existence and always a wonderful surprise….”