Last year, 21-year-old Jordan Lea Hart, embarked on a once-in-her-young-lifetime trip abroad. While she’d enjoyed a holiday or two closer to home and with family, this was her first significant trip overseas – just she and her best friend, Rachael. We’d spoken to the girls a few times about travel and life abroad, and were very excited to hear when they took the massive step to book and confirm it all.
Jordan Lea and Rachael enjoyed the same tour of Europe with Expat Explore that we did in 2011 (on just the second 26-day itinerary since the group launched it), and I was keen to find out more about the experience, their tips and stories of travel and friendship. Most importantly, I was keen for insights into why they too, advocate taking the chance to travel, live and learn!
When did you travel to Europe?
In July and August 2015, European summer time.
This was your first major overseas trip – how did the decision come about to do it?
Throughout high school, my best friend and I always talked about travelling to Europe, specifically London, because we love historical buildings and English boys! Once we finally had enough coin we booked it.
When did you decide what type of travel option to pursue?
I wanted to do a coach tour as it just seemed like the most cost-effective way to get a taste of each country. Originally the plan was to go on a month tour, then rent a car and road trip around Ireland, Scotland and Wales, however that didn’t end up on the agenda due to work and study commitments.
We decided on Expat Explore’s 26 Day Ultimate Europe Tour because it is great value for money (even considering the conversion from Aussie dollars).
One of the first things our tour guide, Will, said was, “You guys are travellers, not tourists, we are not going to hold your hand everywhere you go, it’s up to you. YOU create your journey, we just guide.”
It was awesome because that’s exactly what he did – told us the way to our hotel, how to get home, and what time we would be leaving for the next trip. We never considered a party-type tour, we really wanted to make the most of our travels, not spend the time in bars 24/7 and hung-over every day! Not to say we didn’t have a few cheeky drinks.
Was there anything you were worried about prior to taking this big trip so far away from home?
I was worried about missing home too much; I was in a brand new relationship so this trip was a massive test on us. I missed him terribly but we survived it, thank God for Viber.
Do you think you were well prepared for the trip, or did you learn along the way?
Prior to us leaving I quit my job! I was treating this trip as a fresh start for me, to get perspective on what I really want. I had to be very careful with my money, budgeted a lot, made trips to the local supermarkets to get fresh fruit and snacks for the long coach journeys.
Clothing was something I was not prepared for. I was under the impression Europe would have cold days, and I would only need so many shoes or pairs of socks. The little things ran out fast, and I packed about 10 jumpers and no summer clothes. That was a massive wake-up and I spent a lot of money buying summer basics (most of Europe is hot in summer!). But I learned little tricks after a few weeks, like washing delicates in the sink then rolling them up in the bathroom mat so they dried a lot faster.
I also thought this would be a great best friend trip, just myself and Rachael the whole time! But we met some lifelong friends, we created ‘the squad’ after two days on tour – myself, Rachael and three rowdy British girls – we were inseparable.
What were three highlights of Europe?
The whole trip was a highlight but I do recall a few special moments.
Our first stop was Amsterdam, and Expat scheduled an optional activity for day one on the road. Everyone else on the bus went except Rachael and I; We ditched it. Woke up late, caught the train into the city centre, wandered around just taking it all in for six hours. We walked away from all the tourist areas and went local. We found all these amazing hidden cafes and lunch hot-spots. It was beautiful and so peaceful to just wander and soak up all the culture. Once we got back to tourist-central, we naturally tested the devil’s lettuce from the local coffee shop (not to be confused with cafe) and ended up having the wildest night of our lives.
Sneaking into random hotels, running along the canals and eating the best yogurt and fruit anyone could ever have – our first day was done right.
The second highlight for me was meeting the squad, Alice, Anya and Sara. Here are five girls with completely different backgrounds and we clicked instantly as if we were long-lost soul-mates. We had one night in the Rhine Valley where we all had too much wine, ended up smashing karaoke with a Spice Girls comeback, and we were almost as good as the real thing. So many nights were unforgettable with these girls!
Barcelona was an absolute highlight for me personally; the culture of that place blows my mind! Oh and the sangria!
The last highlight, even though bitter-sweet, was our final night of the tour in France, sitting under the Eiffel Tower and its 9pm light show, drinking mini bottles of wine, with our cheese dips and chocolate.
Some England highlights?
The UK was a short but sweet stay, four days in total, but so full of life. We went to the markets, Harry Potter studio tour and stayed walking-distance from Oxford Street. Also spent a night drinking cocktails with some of my favourite people. It was the perfect end to our trip.
What did you learn about yourself through this experience?
That if I set a goal to do something it will be achieved. And, that I can successfully catch public transport in any country! It helped me also appreciate how lucky I am to have had the chance to do this at 21. Most people don’t get that chance, even couples on our tour said this was their first holiday overseas and they were well over 50.
How has such a significant travel experience shaped the way you are now planning for your future?
It only makes me want to plan for more! I have the thirst for travel, the way it opens your eyes is something else. The world is a fascinating place.
What’s your advice for anyone planning to travel or tour Europe in the summer?
You need a reliable water bottle, sunscreen and good walking shoes.
Be warned of the crowds in Italy, it will have you feeling like you’re suffocating, so go see all the major sights in the afternoon, because in summer the sun doesn’t set until 9pm so it’s nowhere near as hot then.
Learn the underground in European cities. Local trains usually work like clockwork and will take you anywhere you need to go. It all works in colour lines so don’t worry about not knowing the language if you need to get around.
In France, buy souvenirs from the salespeople on the street, not stalls; the sellers are lovely and you get the same thing but for half the price!
What are your essential travel planning websites and apps?
In Europe, always search for the city metro map and have a screen copy on your phone for reference. In London, download the app Kabbie. I would have been lost without this – it’s like Uber but cheap. Another helpful tip is to buy your food and alcohol for your trip. This saves you so much money; the supermarkets have everything you could ever need! Don’t get stuck buying supplies at expensive bars or corner stores.
Would you recommend a tour and why?
Yes! Especially if you have never travelled to that country before, it helps you get your bearings and you have a whole coach support system; a tour guide who you can bother with a thousand questions as they know all the good spots, and you meet amazing people. Once you have done a tour, you can go back the places you enjoyed and you’ll already have knowledge to get around like (nearly) a local!
What does travel mean to you now?
A world of opportunities! I have found what I want to do: work, save, travel.
I was recently contacted by a TravelLiveLearn.com reader who is excited to be touring Europe this summer with our fab mates from Expat Explore. As it’s her first time on tour in Europe in the summer, she was keen to know what she should take, and she was confused by the plethora of information available on the Internet. Being that this seemed like a valid travel query, I’ve decided to post my answer and suggestions here for anyone else lucky enough to be touring through Europe in 2013 (bliss!).
Summer tour packing tips:
High heels are not required. You definitely do need flip flops, comfortable walking shoes (there’s LOTS of walking which is fine, but you need comfy, supportive shoes that aren’t too worn), and one other pair of casual type shoes that will double for if you go out or want to wear something different to dinner – I’d suggest an easy-going, pretty pair of wedges or mid heels – an ‘all rounder’ kind of shoe. Regarding clothes and shoes, you will find that you wear the same things over and over, and a lot of the items you pack ‘just in case’ (eg. high heels, a pretty shirt that you don’t wear often, a new skirt…), you won’t wear at all. It will be hot, so think of what you feel most comfortable in when you’re at home in summer – that’s what you end up wearing all the time!
Regarding medications, obviously if you have a particular condition (eg. asthma), be prepared. Perhaps buy a packet of travel sickness tablets in case you get motion sickness from the coach or plane. If you’re in any way unsure if you get sick while travelling, get some to have on hand – always better to be prepared, and these are generally sold over the counter in pharmacies. I would always also bring a packet of paracetamol, non-drowsy antihistamines (eg. Zyrtec or cheaper generic brand), a pack of Nurofen (Ibuprofen), and not that we needed it, but I always carry something for diarrhea. Ladies, if you tend towards urinary tract problems, it’s probably a good idea to take Ural sachets (or similar), just in case. I’d also suggest taking a multivitamin with you (or Berocca), to keep your immune system up to speed. They’re exciting but long days.
You will also need a good sun cream (for face and body) – essential! – and perhaps insect repellent is a good idea too.
Prescription medicinals – Chat to your doctor in advance regarding any potential issues with health, anxiety, sleeping or illness, and make sure any prescription medication is properly labelled.
Pack light! Start a list before you go that only includes what you would wear in the summer you’re used to. Leave room in your bags, because you’ll want to stock up on food and alcohol at supermarkets along the way – trust me, this is the cheapest and most efficient way, especially if you’ve already invested a fortune in your trip already for example, if you’ve had to fork out for an airfare from the other side of the world to get to Europe/UK in the first place.
Another reason to pack light – it’s cheap enough to buy various season-appropriate clothes on the road, and let’s face it, you’ll be going shopping anyway (it’s half the fun)! Pack your comfiest shorts/skirts/tshirts – this is what you’ll live in. I am not a shorts person, but I think 90% of days on the road I lived in a denim skirt, t-shirt or singlet, hat, walking shoes and socks. All the other rubbish I had in my bag was just annoying to carry around! Also you won’t need jeans I don’t think – it’s too hot at that time of year, and they’re heavy. Pack a light cardigan or long-sleeved shirt, but remember, you can layer with singlets and t-shirts if it’s at all chilly anywhere (which I doubt it will be).
“Rome, it’s as beautiful as everybody says it is; to me it’s not the big things they tell you about – the sculptures, the imposing squares and monuments, though they are amazing. It’s the little things; the tiny details, the improbable awesomeness of every little damn thing.” −Anthony Bourdain.
Last night we were watching Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel. He was experiencing his first visit to Rome, Italy, and one of his initial descriptions really hit home with me, because it wasn’t all the massive ‘stereotypically Rome’ monuments that got to me either … it was the little streets, lamps, fountains, statues. Beautiful, intricate details that to me are now ‘classically Roman’.
Simply amazing Rome, hope to see you again one day x
Why do we love tours? For the travel, education and the friends!
Something we have begun to invest in recently is tours. This may on first thought seem to be the expensive option, or less adventurous; but more often than not, when on the ground in a big city like London, for example, you can find reasonably-priced touring options, and it is worth comparing the cost of these verses independent travel alternatives.
When time is an issue (and for most of us it is), we’ve come to recognise that a decent tour can potentially teach more about a place than might be learned in a short space on your own, especially if you’ve only got a day or so to spare in a new destination. Perhaps a tour is worth your consideration too, because by the time car hire or transport, accommodation, plus language barriers are factored in, tours are sometimes the cost-effective answer (eg. Expat Explore Europe, day tours such as Dublin Bus, Haggis Adventures in Scotland, City Sightseeing (big red hop-on-hop-off bus etc.); and even walking tours that are offered in many places.
Ultimate 6 top tour tips
1. Utilise the supermarket! If we had our time over in Europe we would take a spare case (and even a cooler bag or esky) to enable us to ‘stock up’ when there is access to a supermarket. It is by far cheaper to keep food and alcohol on hand – you will inevitably eat and drink on tour, and it’s better to have paid the equivalent of less than $2 per meal or beverage than over $5 or even $10 per unit.
2.Keep emergency numbers, passport, credit card(s) and phone with you at ALL times. Anything can happen in the time between when you step off the tour coach and when you’re supposed to meet back. Be prepared in the event of an emergency, in case you get lost or you need to make your way elsewhere on your own. It’s a last resort but can happen.
3.Multivitamins – to combat sickness, lethargy and exhaustion. It’s easy to pick up germs when travelling with a group in a confined space so being at optimum health is advantageous.
4.Walk away from the centre of town and main attractions – without exception food, coffee, souvenirs – everything in fact, is significantly cheaper.
5.Sun cream (especially a once-a-day application version like Ultrasun which can be applied in the morning before you head out to conveniently protect throughout the day), and insect repellent are essential (particularly for summer adventures).
6. Make the most out of your time by talking to others – introduce yourself, ask questions, learn about your co-travellers. Even if this isn’t your usual ‘thing’, it pays in the long run and helps forge bonds. If others join a group at varying points in time, remember to also include them into the fold. The life-long friends you’ll make are worth a little effort and personality. Plus, think how it feels when someone bothers to include you – nice, ain’t it?
Once upon a time, in lands far far away, travellers from Australia, New Zealand, UK, America, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, South Africa, Thailand, Malaysia prepared for the Europe trip of a lifetime: 14 countries across 26 days – 2011 being the first year Expat Explore has offered such an itinerary, and our journey just the second on this route!
Reasonably timid at first, we politely greeted each other by the coach at Expat Explore’s Canada Water (London) meeting spot in early August. So much ahead − travel discoveries and many new friends who by now are comfortable around each other – dirty jokes, no make-up and singing presently part of our daily repertoire.
We’re back on the ferry that runs between Calais and Dover, where we met Sarah and Amy for the first time, strangers, but now we are friends.
Amanda and Phil, and Evan and Leann now cross back to the UK as engaged couples! Phil, Rose, Brad, Alex, Cassie and Ash head back to resume life as Aussie expats in the UK. Amy’s off to live in Paris for a year; sadly mother and daughter teams Lindsay and Shawna, and Grace and Caroline part ways again to live in separate countries. Davin will meet up again with his lovely sister, Sarah, who was on the first half of our trip, while Will and Ann continue through Europe for a little while longer before moving back to NZ. Hector may meet up with fellow Espanol-speaker Julio (who left alongside Sarah in Rome) for a drink in London. Tash and Frank will continue to travel for a while, like us. Sapna and her lovely family will get back to life and work in Johannesburg, and Isaac (our birthday boy yesterday) is heading up to Scotland for a week to party with some old friends.
It was extremely sad to say goodbye to our fellow travellers this morning who were staying in Paris for varying reasons, and especially to farewell Ali, our tour guide who has given us so much over the past 26-days – information, inspiration, friendship and leadership.
We’re all unsure about how to resume a normal routine after this, but as with everything in life, we’ll just get on with it. Thank God for Facebook and its ease of staying in touch!
Last night we each said goodbye to the experience in our own way: Tash, Frank, Evan and Leann among a few others spent some time down by the Eiffel Tower with wine, sparklers and cameras, of course. Will and Ann met up with some local mates, cruised around Paris and took a moment to pay tribute to Diana at the spot where she passed – would you believe yesterday evening marked the 14th year anniversary of her tragic death.
A crew of us went out in the Latin Quarter to indulge in ‘happy hour’ cocktails at the ‘sexy time’ Latin Quarter lounge bar and the fabulous pub/club/karaoke spot diagonally opposite Notre Dame Cathedral, Bar St Michel for singing and dancing.
Paris is divine and I’m glad to have had another chance to explore its beautiful boulevards and especially to have had another look at (and inside) one of my favourite buildings in the world, Notre Dame Cathedral. Of course everyone’s day included different sites, and much of the group explored as one during two walking tours of the city. A fitting final day and night on what has been a truly fabulous trip which we initially embarked upon for the sake of ‘travel’, but which I’d also recommend for the surprise element – the people, friends, that you meet and bond with along the way.
To Ali, Steve our lovely, professional coach driver, and all the group who I may or may not have mentioned in this particular post, it’s been brilliant, and just as each place we have visited has its own charm, you all have your own gorgeous personalities and have each contributed in your own way to make the experience extra special. We hope to see you all again online and in person soon.
Travel safe and thanks for the memories x
PS if you are in Paris and located near the Jaures metro stop (as we were), be sure to indulge in a meal at Les Delices d’Amour (3 Avenue Jen Jaures 75019). I told them I’d give them a ‘shout out’ (hi guys!), but I think the fact we ate there four times in 24 hours is testament to how good the food is (and inexpensive too). The line out the door at lunchtime somewhat resembles that of The Soup Nazi’s on Seinfeld so don’t miss out if you’re in the neighbourhood.
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