All the places I travelled age 25
Travelling to seven new places during the year I was 25 wasn’t something I set out to do. But as the months of 2023 stacked up, I realised me and my stuffed-to-bursting rucksack had been on more adventures than I’d anticipated.
I’ve never been a fan of scratch-off maps which let you visually track which countries you’ve visited. Aiming to check off as many new places as possible seemed to turn travel into a banal to-do list. This mindset also conjures up the phrase, “I want to do Japan next,” or “I’ve done India.” As if a few days in a country means you’ve explored everything there is to discover, eat, do and see and - look at that - Brazil is done and now it’s on to the next!
But during the year I was 25, I travelled to so many new places that I began to see the scratch-off map’s addictive appeal. I haven’t bought the map myself - yet - so in lieu of scraping a fingernail against a mini replica of each of the new countries I set foot in, I’m recounting each journey here as a potential source of inspiration for those looking to pack in exploring new landscapes.
Vietnam: November 2022
Two weeks in Vietnam wasn’t on my 2022 bucket list. But after starting a new job in August of that year, I was inundated with more vacation days than my formerly freelance self knew what to do with. Vietnam had been on my radar since a half-planned 2020 trip never happened due to the pandemic, so I booked my time off, bought flights in and out of Ho Chi Minh City and began the less-than-easy task of mapping out the long, thin country’s microclimates to ensure my November escape would be as sunny as possible.
The culture shock of my first days in Saigon were accompanied by a rush of adrenaline. I’ve always felt at home in big cities: the never-ending swarm of motorbikes; the overload of signs, shops and buildings; and the people, sounds and smells prompting my head to turn every which way soon became standard. I then travelled through the Mekong Delta region, feeling a little lost among the endlessly flat landscape - but cycling along the river and going on a boat trip were a couple of highlights. The next stop was Phu Quoc island which was hectic with tourists but had some beautiful spots. A few days on Con Son island affirmed that it was one of my favourite places I’ve ever visited: long stretches of sandy beach, incredible hikes through jungle spotting the macaque monkeys that are endemic to the island and a bohemian but unpretentious cafe and restaurant scene made for an idyllic end to the trip. Back in Ho Chi Minh, I ensured there wasn’t a square centimetre of space left in my luggage with some Christmas present shopping, before flying back to Germany’s minus temperatures.
Sustainable travel rating: 2/10. I flew long-haul and short-haul on this trip and felt pretty guilty about it. Look out for the return of the Con Son express ferry which could replace the flight I took to the island.
Eagerness to return: 7/10. I’d probably explore Thailand or Cambodia first if I have a chance to return to the region but I’d love to go back to Saigon and Con Son one day, ideally with friends in tow!
Poznan, Poland: January 2023
I’ll keep this one short and sweet: I travelled to Poland to visit a guy I’d met in a Berlin club who lived there, and in all honesty, I barely left the hotel. But the trip was my first time in the country, so in the interests of thoroughness, let me try and recount some highlights for you.
Poznan has an underground club scene, where carpeted basements offer smoking rooms, table football and passable techno. The crowd seemed unused to tourists and were quick to befriend us; when the electricity cut out mid-dj-set, it added to the haphazard, makeshift atmosphere. The city also won my heart with a restaurant whose menu was made up of only potato-based dishes.
Sustainable travel rating: 8/10. Four hours on a bus and I was there.
Eagerness to return: 6/10. There’s more to Poland I want to discover and its proximity to Berlin means I’ll definitely be back.
Prague, Czech Republic: March 2023
On the 8th of March 2022, as Berliners celebrated the extra vacation day that International Women’s Day afforded them, I was broken up with via a ten-minute conversation on a street corner by a person I would never hear from again. A year later, I wasn’t fully over the abrupt and brutal end of this relationship and felt that the day itself, with its celebratory atmosphere and women’s marches that spread across the city, would trigger me further. I wanted out.
A few days in Prague by myself seemed like a reasonable escape plan. I arrived on International Women’s Day itself, making the most of the bank holiday by visiting the National Gallery and browsing in countless vintage shops. The next day, I worked remotely before heading out to a poetry event I’d found on Facebook; the organisers were quick to welcome me and I stayed out til the early hours with the poets I’d befriended. I recovered the next morning with a hearty vegan brunch at my favourite combination of establishments, the bookshop cafe, before packing in more gallery visits. The final morning, I had a breakfast of pastries so decadent I wasn’t hungry for the rest of the day, then wandered around the National Museum before settling in for the long bus journey home.
Sustainable travel rating: 9/10. I travelled to Prague by train and returned by FlixBus.
Eagerness to return: 5/10. I’d definitely revisit if friends were planning a trip there but the city didn’t reel me in as much as other places have.
Madrid, Spain: March 2023
Full disclosure: I’d been to Spain before this trip but this was my first time in Madrid; I’d wanted to visit the city for a while and as my friend Alexa was spending a few months there, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go.
Alexa was a brilliant host and knowledgeable tour guide: she whisked me and our other visiting friend from a delicious brunch cafe to a rooftop bar to a dangerously cheap margaritas and tacos restaurant. Other highlights included exploring vintage shops, spending hungover days chilling in El Retiro park and visiting the Sorolla museum which exhibits the artist’s work in his exquisitely beautiful house. Coming off the back of a few solo trips, this holiday helped me rediscover the unrivalled joy of travelling with friends. I sometimes let my love of solo travel run away with me and it was great to be reminded of its counterpart - and without the books I pack on solo trips to keep me company, my bag was a lot lighter too.
Sustainable travel rating: 4/10. I researched the possibility of travelling to Madrid from Berlin by train or bus but it didn’t seem feasible for a long weekend visit. I directed my money - and accompanying climate-guilt - towards Ryanair this time.
Eagerness to return: 7/10. I loved Madrid! It was just warming up as we arrived but I’d love to go back to the city when 30 degree days roll around - and to try out my newly improved Spanish on unsuspecting waiters: “Una otra cerveza, por favor?”
Vienna, Austria: April 2023
I’ve lived in a different country to my family for over three years now, and while I always return to my home town at Christmas to see them, we also sometimes meet somewhere in Europe to catch up while exploring a new place. This was the inspiration for our Vienna holiday: a city none of us had visited, packed full of museums, culture and charm that me, my dad and my sister could enjoy.
We spent five days in Vienna and packed a whole lot in. Each day started with brunch at our AirBnb or a nearby cafe before beginning our chockablock itinerary of museums. I saw so much Klimt on this trip that I declined invitations to see an exhibition of his work in Berlin a few months later, citing Klimt-overload as my official diagnosis. But viewing countless works from the artist in his home country was incredible; the abundance of gold in both the architecture and paintings at the Secession gallery made it my overall favourite. Other highlights included devouring intricately layered cream cakes, spending evenings in a cosy bar with board games and homemade Flammkuchen and watching an unforgettable play at the Volkstheater which involved so much blood, guts and gore that several audience members walked out, while me and my dad became hysterical at the play’s absurdity. Early evenings in the AirBnb playing cards and drinking tea with the two people I love the most made the holiday complete.
Sustainable travel rating: 10/10. Trains all the way, baby. The journey took 8 hours on the way there and 11 hours on the way back, travelling overnight.
Eagerness to return: 5/10. It was great to catch up with my family but the vibe of the city didn’t instantly draw me in. I’d go back if there was a particular reason though!
Roskilde, Denmark: June 2023
My summer plan was simply to enjoy Berlin and travel to a couple of nearby festivals. But when researching which bass-thrumming field to pitch my tent in, I discovered a festival lineup so perfect for me, it could have been based off my Spotify playlists. That Roskilde was in Denmark wasn’t a problem, but its €350 ticket price made my eyes water. Luckily, the festival has a well-established volunteer programme, and I signed up to work at Zahida, a food truck selling Pakistani food, in exchange for free entrance.
When I checked Roskilde’s weather forecast a few days before I left, I realised I’d had way too high expectations of Denmark’s climate. After a brief drama queen breakdown in which I mourned the cute festival outfits I’d been planning, I reasoned that a bit of rain was no excuse to not have the time of my life and stuffed fleeces and emergency, just-purchased wellies into my luggage. Consequently, sunny moments were spent instantly rushing to one of the festival’s many lakes, before escaping to my tent for a cosy nap as the heavens opened. It was midsummer and it felt like the sky barely got dark: I spent the evenings befriending strangers, wandering from stage to stage and following my ears towards the best makeshift techno I could find. Between staying up until long past dawn and working at the food truck, I was utterly exhausted, but this festival was a highlight of my year. Watching Aitch, Loyle Carner and the festival’s daily rap battles inspired me to write bars, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that Roskilde changed my life.
Sustainable travel rating: 8/10. I took the train there and got the bus back. The FlixBus took the ferry route, adding to our carbon footprint, but hey, at least I wasn’t flying.
Eagerness to return: 8/10. I spent a groggy morning in Copenhagen train station, too weighed down by my camping stuff to truly explore the city despite a long layover. I’ll definitely be back one day to visit Denmark’s capital and I’ll be eagerly checking Roskilde’s lineup next year too.
Greece: September 2023
If you hadn’t already noticed, many of my travel plans are driven by my desire to immerse myself in the hottest climate I can find. I’m a bit extreme in my pursuit of hot weather - I blame my parents for taking me to chilly Scotland every summer of my childhood - but now I can plan holidays myself, chasing heat is my number one priority. With this in mind, I booked three weeks in Greece across late September and early October to prolong the summer season a little longer.
I began the trip in Crete, exploring beaches, ancient ruins and museums in equal measure. From there, I travelled to Antiparos, which charmed me completely with its tiny white-washed town and barely-populated beaches. The next stop was Naxos, where I was rewarded with breath-taking views after hiking to the highest point in the Cyclades; the hike also encompassed a stop at Zeus’ cave, where the Greek god was supposedly born. From there, I made my way to Donoussa on the most perilous, sea-sickness-inducing ferry I’ve ever come across - but made it safely and settled in for a couple more days at the island’s (nudist, hippy-filled) beach. I rounded up the trip with a five day stop in Athens (I have been once before, but everywhere else in Greece was new to me, I swear!). After two weeks spent mostly by myself on fairly uninhabited islands, it took a few hours to get over the culture shock of being surrounded by people - not to mention actually having to make conversation with those in my hostel. But I soon settled in and was reminded of the joy of spontaneous, few-day friendships: I explored Athens by myself during the day, fuelled by recommendations from fellow travellers, before catching up together at night and enjoying conversation with people from all over the world.
Sustainable travel rating: 3/10. I flew in and out of Greece and island-hopped by ferry - not the most climate-friendly way to travel, but a necessary mode of transport for exploring this part of the world.
Eagerness to return: 9/10. Greece has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen in my life. I definitely want to go back and show my friends and family the places I discovered.
There you have it - seven new places in one year, including a whole lot of solo travel, buses, trains and a fair bit of climate guilt thrown in too. I’ve just turned 26 and while there’s one big trip on the cards in the coming months (watch this space!), the rest of the year is open to possibilities. Reflecting on my recent journeys has set the wanderlust in motion and I’m sure my long-suffering rucksack will be getting its next use very, very soon.