catsUpdated: 25 June 2017
In 2015 I visited 12 countries in 12 months. It wasn’t a challenge I’d set myself at the beginning of the year, but by the time I was two-thirds of the way through it, it seemed silly not to continue, and I ended up travelling to 12 different countries in 2015.
After chatting to friends and family at the beginning of 2016, I decided I needed a new challenge for the year (and seven months of 2017): I’d attempt to visit 30 countries before I’m 30. It was a challenge a lot of my favourite travel bloggers have completed or are attempting – and I wanted to be able to say I’d achieved it too. So when I set about the challenge, with 22 countries already ticked off and over a year to complete it, it was more than doable…
But as I inched closer to my 30th birthday, and with huge changes in my personal life earlier this year, it became a bit trickier, and many thought I wouldn’t make it.
I even had doubts myself whether I’d make it. And up until two days before travelling to Berlin I was in a total panic, as one of my cats went missing. I was considering cancelling my trip altogether, but luckily she came home (the little minx, off out exploring like her mum!), and I could continue with plans for countries 29 and 30.
So now here I am, in my beautiful hotel in Hungary, updating this blog post for the final time, as I’ve made it to 30 countries.
Changing everything from the present participle tense of “going to visit” to the past tense of “have visited”, here is a list of the countries I’ve conquered as part of my “30 before 30” challenge:
1. France – Toulon, Paris, Rennes.
My first ever trip abroad was to France, in the summer of 1999, aged 11. I travelled alone on a British Airways flight from Gatwick to Marseille, to stay with a family I’d never met for six weeks during the school summer holidays.
It sounds a bit scary, and I’m pretty sure I was bricking it as I boarded that plane – but there was nothing to fear. I was heading to Toulon to stay with my French penpal, Alyss, and her family. It was a journey I made many times over the next few years, staying a bit longer each summer, never wanting the trips to end (going home meant going back to school). The trips really helped with my understanding of the French language, which in turned has helped when travelling to other countries like Morocco and Tunisia.
But as I got older and started getting responsibilities, it was harder to visit. But the friendship hasn’t faded. Hand-written penpal letters have become Facebook messages – and I have promised one day I will visit Toulon again, to spend time with my second family.
Apart from summers in Toulon, I’ve also visited Paris and Rennes.
2. USA – Florida, New York.
Like many British families I know, our first family holiday abroad was to Florida.
Though my brothers and I were a little too old to appreciate the “magic” of Disney, no one is ever too old for thrill-seeking rides (except maybe dad, who didn’t appreciate us tricking him on to a roller coaster by telling him it was a baby ride). Oh, and water parks. I have great memories of mum, dad, my two brothers and I all on a flume in a massive inflatable rubber ring. Dad and mum both kept leaning to the side to make the rubber ring go faster and higher around the chute bends. So much fun.
The only other US state I’ve been to (so far) is New York. But I’d love to go to California, Texas and Louisiana one day – so I’m keeping my eyes out for cheap flights.
3. Portugal – Albufeira.
I visited Portugal when I was 15, on a family holiday to Albufeira. As we hired a villa for two weeks, I didn’t get to explore much. I don’t even have any real memories of the holiday, other than it being extremely hot, very dry and dusty, and there being orange sellers along the sides of the roads everywhere we went.
I’d like to go back to Portugal one day to see more – I’ve heard great things about Lisbon and Porto…
4. The Bahamas – Nassau.
Again, on another family holiday to Florida, we took a cruise liner from Fort Lauderdale out to The Bahamas for a few days. Though my brothers weren’t massive fans of cruising (both got terrible seasickness), I really enjoyed it, especially the evening entertainment on the ship. I mean, what’s not to love about a tropical Caribbean party where your waiters start doing a conga around the tables with a flaming baked Alaska on their heads? Especially after a few Bahama Mama cocktails.
5. Italy – Pisa, Rome, Siena.
When my friend Melissa got a new job teaching in an international school in Siena, I jumped at the chance to go and visit her. It’s the only time I’ve been to Italy, and in the five days there we managed to cram in tours of Pisa, Siena and Rome. We also ate a lot of bread and pasta, of course. Pompeii is on my bucket list, so I will go back to Italy one day.
6. Spain – Alicante, Marbella, Majorca, Lloret De Mar, Madrid, Barcelona.
An abundance of cheap flights has meant travelling to Spain quite a few times. My weekend in Barcelona earlier this year for my friend TJ’s birthday was fantastic, and definitely my favourite place in Spain (and my favourite European city so far). I especially loved all the colourful street art we managed to snap photos of while wandering around the city, and our trip to Park Güell – which was a surprising green oasis on the edge of the bustling city.
7. Greece – Rhodes.
In 2012 a friend and I decided we needed a cheap week away somewhere hot, where we could chill out and catch some rays. We ended up booking seven days in Rhodes. Most of the week was spent lounging by the pool, reading books and sipping all-inclusive cocktails, but we did take a day trip out to Lindos in the middle of the week. The view from the top of the Acropolis down to St Paul’s Bay was beautiful.
I’d love to see more of Greece, especially Athens.
8. Egypt – Luxor, Cairo, Sharm el Sheikh.
Ever since I can remember I’d always wanted to travel to Egypt. In 2013 that dream became a reality. I took a cruise down the Nile for a week, then spent three days in Cairo and then a week relaxing in Sharm el Sheikh. There was so much history to take in on the trip, it was amazing.
9. Turkey – Antalya, Istanbul.
Turkey is a really interesting country, and I’d love to see more of it. My trip to Istanbul last year was only a flying visit, so hopefully I’ll get back there soon.
10. Belgium – Brussels, Ghent.
My trip to Belgium in 2014 was booked on a whim and had no real itinerary, but I had a great time exploring the city of Brussels. My favourite snaps from the weekend in the capital are all street art snaps – and it was in the university city of Ghent that I confirmed my love for Roa, after finding one of his early pieces.
11. The Gambia – Kololi.
In 2014, when my mum text me suggesting we go to The Gambia for a holiday, I actually laughed out loud. “Who goes to The Gambia?” I asked my colleagues at work. “I’m going next week”, said a friend. So I started looking at holiday options, and managed to find a great deal with Thomas Cook for a week in Kololi. I’m so glad we went, because it’s an amazing country with some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
12. Norway – Oslo.
My first solo adventure (and my first country of 2015) was a trip to Norway. I’d never been to Norway before, and it wasn’t somewhere that particularly appealed before I went there, but as soon as I touched down in Oslo airport I knew I’d made the right choice to spend a few days here before heading to New York.
One of the things I particularly liked about the city was its street art scene, which definitely has to be seen.
13. Finland – Torassieppi.
In 2015 I managed to tick off a few bucket list activities in Finland, including:
- Seeing the Northern Lights (three times)
- Driving a husky sled
- Snowmobiling into the Arctic Circle
- Ice fishing (though not catching anything)
- Staying in a real log cabin out in the wilderness.
It was an amazing trip, and I was so lucky to have gone as part of my job.
14. Austria – Mayrhofen.
I am not a skier or snowboarder, so when I got invited to the snowboarding festival Snowbombing 2015 last April with work, I was a bit nervous about hitting the slopes.
I did manage one attempt at skiing, but after a few tumbles and bruises, have since decided it’s really not for me. Luckily there’s more to Austria than just winter sports though. Just check out this view from the top of the gondola:
15. Tunisia – Sousse.
I loved Tunisia so much, that I went there twice in 2015. I’d even booked to go a third time, but my flights were cancelled after the terrible terrorist attack in June. I’m not going to let that scare me from going again though; Tunisia is a beautiful North African country, and I’d love to go back and explore some more.
16. Colombia – Bogota, Cali, Santa Marta, Cartagena.
Ah, Colombia. My favourite trip of 2015 was my summer holiday in Colombia. So much to tell you about such an amazing country, I could bore you all day. Check out these couple of posts for a taster:
- Cartagena: a love affair on the Caribbean coast
- Why my heart belongs to Cartagena
- Colombian food: 23 things you must try in Colombia.
One thing I will say is that if you are dubious or doubtful about the safety of travelling there, don’t be. Ignore what you’ve seen on Netflix and read in crappy novels; the Colombia of today is as safe as any other South American country.
17. Denmark – Copenhagen.
Ever been to Denmark? I have, for just six hours. Myself and some girls from work went to the Scandinavian country last year for the day, and managed to tick off the main attractions in Copenhagen (including Nyhavn pictured below).
If you’re considering a short trip like this yourself, check out my tips for travelling when you work full-time.
18. Morocco – Marrakech, Fez.
Inspired to travel to Morocco after seeing a picture of Chouara leather tannery on Instagram, I headed over to the North African country at the end of November in 2015. I don’t think people realise there’s more to Morocco than Marrakech – Fez is a wonderful place to visit.
19. The Netherlands – Amsterdam.
Spending New Year in Amsterdam was great fun, if a little hungover. Being December though, the weather wasn’t amazing, and traipsing around in the cold meant numb fingers when trying to snap pictures. Our trip there was short but sweet, so I definitely need to go back to see and experience more – maybe when the weather gets a bit better later… If I do head back then I will definitely be eating more Erwtensoep.
20. Czech Republic – Prague, Dolní Morava.
When I travelled to the Czech Republic in January 2016, it was completely on a whim. I’d got it in my head that I wanted to conquer the Czech Republic Skywalk after seeing an article in the Daily Mail, and just knew I had to get there as soon as possible.
What I didn’t realise is that Prague – the city I flew into – is actually a really beautiful European city with loads of charm, and plenty of photographic opportunities. Check out my “wintry weekend in picturesque Prague” post to see what I got up to.
21. Puerto Rico – all over the island.
When Norwegian Air has a sale on, you take full advantage. You don’t sit around considering options – you book those über cheap seats as soon as possible. That’s what happened when I went to Puerto Rico earlier this year.
We’ll ignore the fact that I didn’t actually know where Puerto Rico was until I’d looked on a map (after I booked the flights), because this Caribbean country is so lush and green, it’s a real adventurers paradise. Highlights of the trip included:
- Meeting the cats of San Juan Old Town
- Learning about the history of Bacardí (and sampling a few cocktails, of course)
- Exploring the beautiful beaches of Cabo Rojo
- Ziplining my way into the Guinness World Record book at Toro Verde
- Hiking in the El Yunque rainforest (and seeing my first real waterfall)
- Photographing some of the amazing pieces of street art in San Juan
- Wandering around the pretty city of Ponce
- And, climbing to the top of El Morro fortress.
If you’ve never been to Puerto Rico then it should definitely be on your list – there’s so much to see and do.
22. India – Delhi, Agra, Jaipur.
The Taj Mahal has been on my bucket list for so long, I was beginning to think I’d never get to see it. But at last, in April 2016, I jetted over to India, and went on a Golden Triangle tour, taking in the Taj along with many other impressive monuments, temples, palaces and tombs. You can read about some of my Indian adventures here:
- Driving in Delhi: not for the faint-hearted
- Risking life and limb on a rickshaw ride in Delhi
- 7 days in India: exploring the Golden Triangle
- A taste of India: an authentic cookery lesson in Jaipur.
India is such a massive country, and I’ve only seen a small part of it. I’ll definitely be back to explore more.
23. Poland – Mikołajki.
In August 2016 I headed to Poland, as a best friend of mine was getting married over there. Her and her fiancé are both Polish, so it was a traditional Polish wedding complete with tiny coin tossing (instead of confetti) and lots of vodka. Held in her fiancé’s home town of Mikołajki, I got the chance to explore a picturesque part of Poland that not many tourists visit.
24. Cuba – Guardalavaca.
At the beginning of November 2016 my (now ex) boyfriend and I jetted off on our first holiday together: a relaxing week at an all-inclusive resort in Guardalavaca, Cuba.
Though the resort itself was a little dated and it wasn’t as hot as we’d have liked, we still had a fantastic time swimming, snorkeling and drinking lots of Havana Club rum. We even managed to squeeze in a dolphin experience, which was amazing – just look at the big smiles on our little faces:
25. Ireland – Dublin.
Valentine’s weekend in 2016 was spent in Ireland, where I ticked off item no. 10 from my bucket list: drink a pint of Guinness in Dublin.
My (now ex) boyfriend and I stayed in the bustling touristy area of Temple Bar, with it’s many pubs, bars, restaurants and hen/stag parties. But we had a fantastic time – I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in ages. While there we visited the infamous Guinness Storehouse, tasted some local Irish delicacies and papped a load of street art pics.
26. Cyprus – Paphos.
In April 2017 my life got turned upside down, and after living up in Yorkshire for seven months with my partner, we split up and I returned to Reading. In dire need of a bit of sunshine and some R&R, I hastily booked a trip to Cyprus, and spent an amazing week in Paphos.
Staying at the Kissos Hotel, I explored the local area, visited the Paphos Archeological Park and learnt about the king-less Tombs of the Kings. Oh, and I ate lots and lots of meze. Then my friend Emma joined me and we visited the best beaches in Cyprus, found a super cute little church in Protaras and met a clowder of cats in Kouklia.
This trip was just what the doctor ordered, and it really helped me accept and begin to get over everything that happened with my ex-boyfriend. It also re-ignited my hunger to travel, my sense of wanderlust…
27. Mexico – Playa del Carmen.
When you find a last minute cheap deal for a week in Mexico, you don’t hang around debating whether to book it or not. You just book it. Then you message your friend Emma to tell her you’ve booked it, and she books it too.
Then a week later you’re both in Mexico, sitting by the pool at your hotel (the HM Playa del Carmen), sipping ice cold beers and chowing down on fish tacos and ceviche. Then you find a beach with chalk white sand and crystal clear sea, and you know you’ve found paradise.
28. Jordan – Amman.
Jordan was one of those countries that I’d wanted to travel to for ages, in fact, pretty much ever since I first watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, aged about seven. Visiting the Lost City of Petra was on my bucket list, but admittedly, that was the only thing I really knew about Jordan. So I assumed a few days there would be more than enough, as didn’t think there was much else to see or do there. How wrong I was.
It’s a country steeped in history and culture, and the Jordanian people are some of the nicest I’ve ever met (especially my driver Ahmad, who helped me in ways I’m eternally grateful for). In the five days I was there I managed to tick off a visit to Petra, as well as:
- A wander around the Amman Citadel
- A trip to the Dead Sea
- A traditional Hammam Turkish bath
- Eating some amazing food (despite travelling to a Muslim country during Ramadan)
- A fleeting visit to the ancient Roman ruins at Jerash
- And snapping some super colourful streets in Amman.
I am absolutely in love with Jordan; I even looked into changing my return flight to stay a bit longer (something I’ve never considered when visiting any other country). But with some personal issues to attend to back in the UK, I couldn’t stay unfortunately. I have promised myself (and my new found Jordanian friends) that I will go back though. And soon.
29. Germany – Berlin.
I have a confession: Berlin was never a city I particularly wanted to visit. There wasn’t any real reason it didn’t make it on to my bucket list, but at the same time, to me there was no obvious reason to add it. That was until I visited in June 2017. Cos boy, what a city Berlin is. From delicious ice cream and desserts to crazy street art and so much history. I felt like I learnt a lot on this trip, about the country and about myself.
One of my highlights wasn’t actually in Berlin itself though, but just on the outskirts. On my second day I decided to do a bit of “urban exploring”, and ventured to an abandoned hospital that I’d read about online. The eerie, derelict building was a photographer’s wet dream, and I spent ages snapping away. Full post to come soon, but for now, here’s a teaser:
30. Hungary – Budapest.
After a non-stop few days in Berlin, I’ve arrived in Budapest, making Hungary my 30th country. Hooray.
I’m staying in this amazing 4 star hotel (which I paid absolutely nowt for), so I’m centrally located to visit all the main attractions, including the beautiful Hungarian parliament buildings. I’ll begin exploring the city properly tomorrow, because for now I need time to relax and rest, reflecting on everything that’s happened and all the places I’ve been since starting my challenge back in January 2016.
What’s my next travel challenge?
This has been a tricky challenge, and there were times I never thought I’d manage it. But I’m so pleased to be able to say I have visited 30 countries before I turned 30 (in fact, 13 days before my 30th). It’s such an achievement; one that’s allowed me to make so many friends, see so many beautiful things and take amazing pictures along the way. All this travelling has taught me a great deal, too.
I’ve already been giving my next travel challenge some thought. My cousin had suggested an A to Z of transport around the world, while my Grandma reckons a country from every letter of the alphabet. Doing 40 countries before 40 would be too easy I fear… What do you think should be my next challenge?
Note: As a few of these places were visited before I started taking photos, I have “borrowed” some of the pictures in this post. I have linked through to the Instagram accounts for the real owners.