Why do you love to travel?
This is probably one of the most commonly asked questions I get, and also one of the hardest to answer without sounding like I definitely shouldn’t be a writer. ‘Because I just… love to!”, doesn’t really get the response that’s anticipated.
So when I was asked this month to tell my travel story, well I kind of panicked. I’ve already pinpointed the trip that inspired me to travel – 30 days in Kenya if you fancy a read – but my story?
I never really look back at my childhood as one of a ‘typical traveller’. You ask most travel bloggers and they’ll tell you that they moved around as a kid, had parents from different countries, relatives in the Australian outback. Even exotic holidays where they were forced to spend 10 hours on a plane.
I didn’t have any of that. The furthest that I moved was approximately 6.3 miles from Farnborough to Sandhurst and the only sort of relatives that I have living overseas are my Step Dad’s uncles and aunts in Switzerland whom I’ve never met. Instead I saw the best of the UK, begging my Dad to take me camping almost every weekend where we’d explore Devon, Cornwall and Exmoor, finding ponies in the New Forest and going crabbing along the coast. We’ve recently begun returning to these beloved places and as an adult I can see exactly why my Dad has such fond memories of our trips here.
Now remarried, and thus gaining myself an extra holiday a year - wahoo! - my Mum and Step Dad would take me and my two younger siblings to seaside towns and countryside homes before our one big trip to Disney World. We’d have giggles over games in caravans and soak up the Spanish sunshine, turning bright red like classic British holiday-goers.
But what I may have lacked in trips to visit cousins in New Zealand, I made up for with inspiring, adventurous accounts of my parent’s spontaneous travels around the globe. Sleeping under the stars on a Greek Island, fighting off creepy Italians in Naples, finding shelter in Israel… mini Eppie would sit cross legged and listen as Mummy and Daddy told their tales of a lifetime before she was even a little bean, tales that she carried with her into adulthood and thought, ‘I want to do that too’.
So you can ask for my travel story and I’ll happily ramble off some artistically written account of my exotic school trips and dreams of exploring the rainforest, but ultimately, my story begins with theirs. Readers… Mum and Dad!
Meet Pia. Or Mumma as we call her. Younger at heart than her mid-twenties daughter she’s never one to turn down an adventure, passing down her curiosity for wild flavours, creativity and fierce as fuck attitude. Now remarried to my Step Dad Alan since I was prancing around in pull ups, Mumma bestowed me with a 17 year old brother (Ollie), 10 year old sister (Elsie) and two pups who play the babies of the family until I finally grant her wish for a grandchild. Whilst deciding what her hair colour of the week will be, she styles and cuts others’ locks whilst keeping on top of PE kits and advising on our young adult dramas.
Next up we have Papa Shepherd, Paps and Kev Shep as he’s been called over the years. Overtly different to the mother of his child, Kevin practices a peaceful lifestyle teaching shiatsu, yoga and pretending to be a health freak whilst secretly eating digestive biscuits. His spiritual way of life was at first an embarrassing parental feature (probably not helped by the ponytail and public park meditating) but with maturity I eventually saw sense in a calm and collected mind-set, mixed with Mumma’s BS-free attitude of course. A keen explorer and lover of the countryside, Papa is a regular guest on the blog often accompanied by Poppy the fox red Labrador.
Where was the first place you went without your parents?
Mumma: My first holiday without Nana was to Ibiza when I was 16 and I went with Jodie (Eppie’s auntie) who was 18 at the time. We chose Ibiza because we wanted to party! We joined a group in the 18-30 Club (which I was obviously too young for) and had a blast.
How Nana let us go I’ll never know… it was a wild place!
Papa Shep: At 18 had my first experience of the Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea during Autumn, I just booked a flight and took a chance at finding a place to stay with locals. I fell in love with the Greek Islands then. Later with Pia, we travelled to Greece for a few months. Having saved a little we gave up our jobs and felt free. We didn’t have a set plan and were just excited to travel and experience. I remember our parents being encouraging, but also worried. We had a very special few weeks on a remote part of the island on a beach surrounded by mountains. We slept under the stars, with a sort of shelter I made from a sheet and sticks, had a fire at night and ate fresh calamari. Apart from the occasional passing of goats and herder, and a few fishermen we enjoyed the isolation and the simple beauty of it all. We travelled on a low budget and so had no expectations of any luxury. We stayed until the rain came. From Greece we travelled by boat to Italy, hitch-hiking across the country which was more accepted then to Naples, Sorrento, Pompei, Rome and Florence. We had a very memorable trip in the back of a truck that was carrying shellfish and made our rucksacks stink for weeks. Then on we went to Austria and Germany.
My next travel was alone to India. Again I just booked a single flight and with a friend’s recommendations and his hand drawn maps, I just explored. My journey with yoga had already begun in England, but in India it grew. Later I travelled to Nepal, another place that I fell in love with, where I stayed in a Yoga Ashram for 2 months as well as trekking to Annapurna high in the Himalaya.
How did you first catch the travel bug?
M: Jodie decided to go travelling when she was 21 after the break up with her fiancée. She started in France and went to Greece where I met her aged 19. Kevin and I had broken up for the first time and I needed my sister. She sent me money to get a flight to meet her in Athens… so I gave up my job and off I went! Jodie funded me for the trip to be honest which was incredibly kind of her. We were both mending broken hearts and so we didn’t want to come home until we were ready.
P: I suppose like some, my first travels were in my imagination, from reading books drawing me to more remote lands and times of the past, romanticizing, inspired by explorers and adventurers, and conservationists, dreaming of discovering. I have been captivated by islands since childhood, including our own beautiful British Isles, and I include these in my story.
My childhood holidays were simple - camping or caravanning in Dorset or Cornwall - places I still return to today and enjoy with you, loving the smells of the sea. One year in North Cornwall aged 10, I remember going off alone quite a lot and roaming the coastline and climbing cliffs. I was afraid, but was very drawn to explore.
How did your parents react to you travelling? Did they also have a love for travel?
M: Nana was very encouraging but it must have been so hard for her. There were no mobile phones or internet back then! Nana didn’t really travel, I’m sure she would have loved to, but we were a single parent family with no spare money. She definitely loves the idea of it and so she did travel with Jodie to Africa and then to Egypt but then she got really poorly and had to be flown home… the illness never seemed to leave her system and we think that’s why she has ME.
P: Grannie didn't travel, not until late in life, I think she was afraid and didn't have the expectation when she was young. Grandad enjoyed travel in the army and later in his work as European Sales Director for a printing company, but not to experience and roam, it was more for family life. I did however feel inspired by my Grandfathers stories of travels. He was a soldier in the army and occasionally told stories of India and Afghanistan. He didn't talk of wars, which I know he had known well, but spoke of the kind people and interesting places.
The moment my Auntie saw my Mum in a Greek restaurant she was working in, after months of not being able to speak or know when they'd need see each other!
Were you ever afraid? How did it feel not having set plans?
M: I was quite a tough cookie to be honest…. I had a brick thrown at me by an Israeli man, threatened with a wooden stick with a nail in it and was grabbed on the arm by a man selling cigarettes because I gave him too many coins instead of notes! It never really fazed me and I always fought back… how I never got seriously hurt I’ll never know! Having no set plans was fine… it made it more exciting! We just chose where we could afford to go to and where was acceptable to get a job. I went to Greece, Egypt and Israel with Jodie and then came home and then Kevin and I got back together and met up with Jodie to travel again. We went to Germany, Austria, Greece (where we worked in Ios and also visited Mykonos which is utterly stunning) and then Italy.
P: No I wasn't, I was excited. I may not do that now, I don't know it depends, but I have enjoyed the not knowing and seeing what comes. I have felt fear for other reasons though. Its good to make plans and arrangements when you need to, like when doing an organised tour, its easier and better in some ways.
Do you think if you'd grown up in my generation with the help of the internet and social media, you'd have travelled more?
M: Yes I’m sure I would have…. we’d have been aware of far more places to go and also all the areas with a lot less tourists! All our information came from books or other travellers we met along the way.
P: If I had grown up in your generation I think with the information and social media available I do think I may have travelled more as it would be easier and cheaper.
Aubrey (the strawberry), the owner of a hostel in Israel where Mum would sleep in his garden and sneak in the house to cook bacon when he went out!
Looking back, how do you think your travels shaped you as a person?
M: I think I became more wise to people… being able to work out whether someone was genuine or not. Also how to respect countries rules and be much more aware of my effect on people. It opened my eyes to how lucky we are in England compared to some countries.
I came to the conclusion that life should be for living and that I could be brave when I put myself in situations that I never thought I would be able to cope with. I left England a flighty young lady who was unsure of herself and returned still a flighty young lady but one who was in control of herself and her life. It developed my sense of empathy and maturity and I knew I would want to travel again.
P: I think travelling has taught me many things, particularly when alone, and I have grown through my experiences. I have also found some special friends in different areas of the world.
If you had to pick, where's your favourite place that you've been? How do you think it would be different now?
M: That’s difficult because every country I have been to has had something different to offer. I adored Egypt; the history was incredible and I loved visiting places like Valley of the Kings in Luxor, the pyramids of Giza, climbing Mount Sanai, the museum in Cairo, getting a Felucca (which was basically a raft) on the Nile, Abu Simbel, the Luxor temple etc.
The locals were lovely - we had the most wonderful taxi driver who took us all over the place, places most tourists wouldn’t have seen and we ate at a lovely spot with the locals too. He charged us just £40 which we gave him the night before and then realised he might not return! But he did and we had the best time. I’ll never forget him, he said that he really wanted to bring his wife and children to England but just couldn’t afford it. I often wonder if he ever did manage to come here, I really hope so. I would love to go back and take Elsie and Oliver too but it’s not the safest place to go now. Also the big tourist hotels there don’t interest me.
P: My favourite place is Nepal, particularly in the hills over the Kathmandu Valley, staying at the Ashram in a little traditional village and exploring up near the border with Tibet.
I remember the lovely unspoken experience with Swami Ram Chandra after our meditation at the top of a mountain we had climbed before dawn on his birthday, and the incense filled temple (unknown to tourists) that we found by chance. Hearing chanting prayers I entered through an old wooden door and sat in a timeless holy space, the vibration opened my heart further and I could not move.
I would like to return one day and help at the orphanage. I know they have grown in numbers. I also loved Skopolos and would like to return there too.
What made you take a break from travelling? Did you ever have any regrets? Do you think having a family stops people from travelling?
M: When I returned from my second wave of travelling, I was 21 and thought that I was totally grown up. Kevin and I then got married on 4th May 1991 swiftly followed by you being born on 14th July 1992. Travelling wasn’t on the horizon then but I knew I would travel somehow in the future.
When our marriage broke down in 1995 life was totally different… you would go away camping quite a bit with Kevin and I would miss you so much it would physically hurt. The only way to deal with it sometimes was to go away myself so Alan and I would just have the usual Spanish holidays but we did venture to Amsterdam which we both loved. Over the years we had holidays with you but mainly places like the Isle of Wight or Centre Parcs. We went to Florida for our honeymoon which I desperately wanted to take you to so when Ollie was 4 and you were 11 we went there and I’ll never forget your little faces at the evening waterfall show in Disney… Alan and I both had tears in our eyes!
I don’t have any regrets… I don’t see the point in them… it’s just the places that I would like to have gone but I don’t regret that as I see those places as countries I will visit one day.
Having children doesn’t necessarily stop travelling but it can change what type of travelling you do. We certainly went on plenty of holidays but I must admit those all-inclusive hotel holidays got very tedious. This year we are going to Spain but have our own apartment and are hiring a car to travel around all the lovely beaches and see what else there is to visit. I am going to plan a holiday in Italy for maybe next year as I would like to show Elsie and Ollie some history and not just the beaches!
I saw a few travellers when I was backpacking myself who had children but it wasn’t very often and they tended to spend quite a lot of time in one place before moving on. If you can afford to have holidays with your children but also have one alone or as a couple then that’s great too. Alan and I have had four lovely breaks away on our own… one to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Spain and of course our honeymoon in Florida.
P: After the trip to Nepal and Thailand I didn’t travel much after that as I wanted to dedicate my time completely to you, and to my work in yoga. Our first responsibility is to our family, and it is better to choose an appropriate time for travel that is suitable for the family, but it may also depend on the reason for the journey.
When you were older and at university I felt like travelling again and had several trips to China, which were amazing experiences. There are only wonderful experiences and no regrets. When I think of the places I have been I remember lovely people, the spontaneous experiences and the smells of food, wood smoke, the earth, forests, sea, or clean mountain air. I remember lovely encounters with stray dogs and donkeys, and ordinary yet special moments, and laughter.
If I hadn't shown an interest in travel would you have pushed me to go explore? Is there anywhere you think I definitely should go, either a place you've been to or haven't? Was there ever a time you didn't want me to go somewhere?
M: I would have suggested it but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Even though I worry (Mum’s worry I’m afraid!) I will always encourage you to travel as much as you can and also Ollie and Elsie…. It’s a fantastic learning curve. The one place that I would love you to see is Egypt but I really would worry as it’s not particularly safe there right now. For me to not want you to go somewhere there would have to be a very good reason and so far I’ve not felt that there has been one. I suppose terrorism is a worry but we have that here in the UK too so I say carry on and live your life for you and just be sensible and trust your instincts.
P: I have always encouraged you to do what you feel from your heart, and yes to travel if you feel drawn to and I am really proud of you and what you have achieved in your travels.
And finally if money was no object, where would you go next?
M: From the age of 10 I was obsessed with Barbados! I would love to go there. Also Canada, Australia, China and all of America… well almost everywhere really! But my one wish is to take Ollie and Elsie to Disney Florida as Ollie can’t remember going there and Elsie has never been. As I adore food I would love to try all traditional dishes in every country around the world… dance with tribes in Africa, gamble in Las Vegas, visit Niagara Falls, go on safari and if money really was not object… to a one hundred percent pure luxury island with the accommodation that goes out into the sea. One thing I would truly love is to have all my family on one big holiday…. But that might have to stay a dream.
P: I am really excited that we take trips together and plan to continue with exciting trips to Uganda and Tanzania, and possibly to Peru one day. Maybe to Nepal together too.
Lots of places to visit!