The first time I flew in an aeroplane, I was 14. It seems unbelievable, now; that I lived the whole first 14 years of my life without ever leaving the ground. Now, I have taken flights in Asia and North America, Europe and Africa. I have flown on huge state-of-the-art jets and rickety Asian domestic planes. I have flown into the most dangerous airport in the world, nestled amongst the Himalayas. Even now, flying thrills me. I still love the light headed, stomach-swooping surge of takeoff; I still love having the sky all around me, and more than anything I still love the feeling of that first step onto the undiscovered earth of a new country.
When I was little, our family holidays were much closer to home. It started with my Uncle’s house in Bamburgh, English seaside summers filled with ice cream and cricket and sea salty skin; fish and chips in newspaper and penny arcades.
Then it was France; the four of us crammed into a car packed with ridiculously oversized suitcases, body boards, mountain bikes, sandwiches and love. We road tripped from Yorkshire to Dover, waving goodbye to the chalky white cliffs from the back of a ferry bound for Calais; and arrived a day later at a sleepy French campsite full of blue and yellow tents pitched amongst the pine trees. We ate endless baguettes and cheese and played huge games of colour war with kids who spoke a rainbow of languages, our skin turning a gradual golden brown as the summer went on.
The first time our family went outside of Europe was a First Choice all-inclusive holiday to the Dominican Republic. It was a summer of firsts; that first strange realisation that home was half a world away instead of just across the channel, my first stay in a resort with crisp white linen and scented bath products and an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was a beginning, intangible at the time; the first time the whole world opened up and I knew what it was to fly through the clouds and land in a place that was nothing like home.
I remember the unfamiliar pull of jet lag; and the sticky Caribbean heat of that first night, the path through the resort lit with twinkling lights that danced before my tired eyes like fire flies. Everything was different and unfamiliar; the smell of cooking spices drifting from the restaurant, the warmth of the sea breeze blowing through our balcony, the lush green leaves and fragrant pink flowers growing in the gardens.
Because we travelled all-inclusive, there was no stress. No food shopping to be done, no tents to put up, no need for my Mum to spend hours cooking (she, particularly, was in heaven). Our time was entirely ours. We took Spanish language lessons every morning on the beach. We went out on a catamaran and lay on its huge nets, watching the sun dip below the ocean and feeling its cooling spray on our sun burned backs. We visited local houses, clapboard painted pink with chickens running around our feet, and ate curried goat and rice. We ventured down to the beach after dark and fingered the illicit treasures sold at gypsy markets set up on the sand.
My memories of those summers are curled and faded like a vintage postcard, warm with slanting end-of-the-day sunshine and tasting of the ocean. But those family holidays were the foundations of my wandering heart, the beginnings of my impulse to roam.
From walking the jagged beauty of the Northumberland coast, to sleeping in a tent beneath a starry Normandy sky; sampling endless plates of tapas at a local hole-in-the-wall in Cyprus, or swimming with sharks in the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean; those experiences were how I learned the joy of movement, and how to explore. How to talk to people with whom you share no language, to eat food that you’ve never tasted before and to search for the new and unfamiliar. To look at holidays as not simply a time to relax and lie in the sun, but as an opportunity for adventure. To love travel, and to love it in all its forms; from backpacking solo through India to exploring cities in Europe to lying in a hammock in an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. And to understand always that the journey, and those you share it with, are every bit as important as the destination.
This post was written on behalf of First Choice, although all opinions and childhood memories are my own.