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).
It’s Monday morning and like most of you (except for the lucky buggers on summer vacation over in the UK and USA) I have work to do, so this will be short. August 6 rings an important bell in my world though. A bitter sweet, happy ringing sound: so-called because it marks the beginning of an experience I wish had never ended; happy, because last August was the MOST fun I’ve ever had in my life.
Cooper and I chose to book a new 26-day tour of Europe with Expat Explore, and this experience was nothing short of life-changing. We booked this ‘Ultimate Europe’ trip because in all honesty, a ‘tour’ turned out to be better value than booking each of these countries independently – accommodation, food, transport. We wanted a big ‘taste-test’ of Europe, and this itinerary ticked all the boxes, including economical price! Turned out too, it wasn’t all ‘hostels’ – this tour housed us mainly at very comfy hotel stops (and the hostels we stayed at were actually really cool!).
An added – and extremely unexpected bonus, for the uninitiated, was the friends we made – aged between 23 and 70, mind you! On this date last year, we met people who are still friends today (and thank God, especially on this note, for Facebook). It is because of an extraordinarily cool, lovely, friendly, interesting group of like-minded travellers that August 2011 is (and always will be) especially memorable for me. We were all sad to leave each other on August 31, 2011, but fondly remember each other today.
In the meantime, I know each and every one of our coach (see, I remembered, Steve) mates would agree, if you want to explore Europe, the UK, and (as of this year) South Africa, we’d urge you to book with Expat Explore. While those travelling Europe simultaneously were camping and ‘roughing it’ (from my perspective), we were enjoying finer accommodation, experienced and intelligent guides (ie. Ali A), and an all-round superior experience – for a LOWER cost. Beat that!
Basically, if you’re not going to go with Expat Explore, in my view, you’re missing out. Meanwhile, bringing the post back to my own experience – thanks to all of you for the amazing memories – from silent discos in Rome to splashing around in the pool in Florence after a VERY hot day, drinking (many) cocktails in Berlin, and karaoke in Paris; and let’s not forget all the beautiful cities we visited (first time for me!), dined in, explored and learned from: big hugs to you all today. I hope we get to meet – if not tour together – again one day.
More memories? How about a little La Bamba on the coach somewhere in the middle of Italy (scroll to the bottom of the page for video)! And the story on our trip that appeared in The Australian Times, Londonnewspaper + online.
Please do share your memories too (in the comments below). Have a great week, wherever in the world you may be.
Oh, and PS – a HUGE congrats to the lovely Tash J from our group who just scored Rodeo Queen at one of Australia’s biggest and most important regional events, the Mt Isa Rodeo!! *awesome* effort x
JOIN US ON FACEBOOK and/or TWITTER FOR MORE TRAVEL + LIFESTYLE ADVENTURES, S & C :-)
“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
Will you help make my travel blogging dream come true? The ultimate competition has just entered my online zone… an opportunity to blog for Escape Travelon a new trip into the heart of historical England. Wow (or in other words, Sugoi)!
“If you have appreciated my stories or liked my photos, please pop a little
shout-out for me as the new BACK-ROADS BLOGGER on Escape Travel’s Facebook page, or TWEET…“
As well as writing print magazine features, regular readers of Sugoi! know I’ve been blogging my journey for a good couple of years, from Australia to the UK, beautiful Canada through to officially blogging for Expat Explore‘s fabulous new 2011 26-day tour of Europe. I’ve done this partly as a record of some of the most amazing experiences of my life, but also because I genuinely like to share adventures, tips, stories and life: social media makes this so easy now, and I love it! I’m sad in some ways to actually be on my way home to the ‘real world’ (but obviously swiftly running out of dollars and it will be cool to see all the old crew(s) again); this trip would provide the ultimate in soul rejuvenation though – a journey back to the UK, and an adventure into the country’s historical centre: a land of legends, Vikings, Princesses… Oh, and I could write about it – brilliant (yep, fun in my world)!
If you’ve followed my adventures you will know that:
a) I *heart* the UK (and I’ve told you all about it on Facebook and Twitter). I fell in love with London but unfortunately due to time restrictions didn’t get to do as much exploring of England as I would have liked (so this trip would be an amazing opportunity to further explore).
b) I’m a nerd, so give me old castle ruins and a Knight’s tale any day over contemporary stories. I’ll also be sure to spin an interesting yarn based on a location like Nottingham, or Florence and Pisa (to name just a few), my motto being that it’s always good to learn something new every day!
c) I’m also not a teeny bopper anymore (although some may argue that I behave like one on occasion), and my fiancé and I do like the ‘finer things’, so if we can do style (or ‘style’ in an economical way) then we’re going to share the details on how you can do it too. Like all our travel adventures, we like to share stories that are beneficial to our circle’s demographic (30s, 40s, 50s+).
*****With all this in mind then, spare a small thought for social networking karma and if you have appreciated my stories or liked my photos, please pop a little shout-out for me and my worthiness to be the new BACK-ROADS BLOGGER on Escape Travel’s Facebook page, or TWEET with a note… Muchas Gracias x
Welcome to Travel Live Learn! We are Sarah + Cooper, Aussie expats living in the UK with our Westie dog, London, along for the ride. Our most popular content here is about pet friendly travel, house + pet sitting, and designing a life as expats or digital nomads wherever in the world you want to be.