“Congratulations, you have just won a luxury cruise for two to Antarctica!” said the promoter of a competition I had recently entered. This actually happened to me a few months ago. As I write, I am in transit at Auckland Airport, heading to Buenos Aires in Argentina to begin this exciting adventure of a lifetime. I won this pinch-me-amazing holiday in a 25 words-or-less competition, valued at more than $40,000, including Premium Economy airfares plus pre- and post-cruise accommodation and private transfers, beating 20,000 other entrants. Unbelievable, but true.
It started me thinking about the way people choose where to go on their next adventure. Like most people, I have a bucket list, but I’ve also been to places I didn’t expect to visit and didn’t even know should be on my list. I expect Antarctica will be one of those.
My point is all about not planning too much and embracing travel opportunities that come your way. Like most keen travellers, I have studied a map or watched a TV documentary then headed off to a travel agent to book a trip to a destination that has caught my eye. But more often than not, I have been an ‘accidental traveller’.
During my teens, on a whim I joined a sporting tour to New Zealand. It’s easy to travel when someone else organises it and all you have to do is pay your money and turn up. Next, after the rite-of-passage Eurail tour of Europe, and 12 months living and working in the United Kingdom, I decided I wanted a job that included travel.
I was devastated when I failed to land a job as a Qantas flight attendant, measuring 1 centimetre below the minimum height requirement. However, two years later I landed a job as a product designer, involving frequent travel to Hong Kong and Taiwan to liaise with manufacturers. It was during this phase of business travel that I really saw the potential in travelling ‘accidentally’.
My best opportunities came when I started working at a private girl’s school that had a very international outlook. At a staff meeting one day, a teacher announced that she would be leading a service tour to Nepal during the following school holidays and staff were invited to participate. After the meeting, I made a bee-line for the teacher and declared, “I’m in!” My 13-year-old daughter was a student at the school at the time, and I paid the deposit for the two of us the following day.
That trip to Nepal totally changed how I perceived travel. Led by a charity the school supported, we visited schools in and around Kathmandu, to mentor teachers and donate resources. We worked with child domestic slaves (yes, despite being illegal, the practice still exists) supporting them to receive a basic education. Hiking from Lukla to Namche Bazaar in the Himalaya region, I will never forget my first glimpse of Mount Everest as we alighted from a particularly scary suspension bridge, dodging a team of donkeys that were not stopping for anyone. I felt like I had been dropped into a postcard.
Prior to that trip, I had never given a moment’s thought to the idea of travelling to Nepal. I am so glad I went. I was hooked.
Over the next 10 years I joined more school tours: art and design tours, eyeballing the world’s best artworks in Europe and New York; a cultural tour of China; a classical history tour of the ancient ruins of Greece and Italy; a music tour of incredible performances in UK, Germany and Austria; and my favourite, an eye-popping, colour-and-music-filled three-week tour of Cuba with visual arts, music and dance students. I never would have thought of putting together these experiences under my own steam.
Emboldened by the school tours, I applied for and won a work-related scholarship, that involved running an art competition for primary school students, personally delivering the winning entries to the International Museum of Children’s Art in Oslo, Norway.
Never one to waste an opportunity, I researched other travel possibilities in the region, and added a solo tour through Scandinavia, Finland, Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany. Now I was really on a roll. The experience of writing a successful submission for the scholarship led me to the idea of entering writing competitions to win travel prizes.
What did I write for that competition to win a trip of a lifetime? Due to terms and conditions, I am unable to tell you, but I can tell you that I wrote just eight words (that’s $5,000 a word — more than I charge, declared my lawyer husband).
My entry took me little more than 5 minutes to create and about five more to enter the details. My win gave me the opportunity to go to yet another amazing place I never planned to visit.