After a health scare a decade or so ago knocked my life off course, I was left numb and detached. That is, until I took a chance on a solo adventure through some of America’s most awe-inspiring landscapes – and found an unexpected source of healing.
In my mid-twenties I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It was serious, the doctor had explained to me in no uncertain terms. It had spread to lymph nodes in my lungs and around my heart, and required an immediate and aggressive course of chemotherapy. My life as I’d known it ended that morning, and the year that followed was a colourless limbo of fear and loneliness. Even after eventually getting the all-clear, the months of intensive chemo, surgeries and blood tests had left me hollowed out, exhausted and unable to properly enjoy the good things I had going on. And there were plenty.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
I’d started a dream job as a writer at a big-name travel magazine, moved into a nice flat, and was in the exciting early days of a new relationship. But it was as if I was standing on the outside, looking in on my own life. I could see it, hear it, but couldn’t feel it. Couldn’t taste it. It was a numbness I didn’t know how to shake off. It was around this time that I had the opportunity to travel to the US to write a piece for the magazine on what’s known as the Grand Circle – a road trip through Utah, Arizona and Nevada that hits six national parks as well as Monument Valley.
It was an opportunity I’d have been out of my mind to turn down, despite the niggling concerns. For starters, I’d never been abroad on my own before, and here I was going away for 10 days, driving over 1,000 miles through some of the most remote parts of America. Add to that the fact I hadn’t driven in over three years, and never on the right-hand side. Oh, and I’d need to be taking notes as I went so I could actually write something when I got back.
In the end, I was on a flight to Las Vegas before I really had time to get worked up about it. I was in the city for two nights before hitting the road, so had time to tick off some of the big-ticket sights: the Strip; the Elvis impersonator at the shotgun wedding chapel; Caesars Palace casino. Las Vegas is a surreal place to spend time in, and even more so when there’s no one else with you to act as a counterweight of normality. But it was refreshing to be free to wander in a new place, and distracting enough that I didn’t have time for too much introspection.
Oddly enough, the opposite was true when it was finally time to hit the road. Driving through the deserts of Nevada, Arizona and Utah, the roads are long, straight and largely traffic-free. The sense of space and distance was unlike anything I could have imagined – to be able to drive for hours without passing a town or notable landmark was both thrilling and slightly unnerving. I had more time to myself than I’d ever had before in my life, but rather than feeling claustrophobic it was liberating. I would set the radio to a local station (usually country music was the only available option), and let my mind go wherever it wanted while cruising from one mind-blowingly beautiful place to the next.
In the national parks themselves I would take self-guided hikes, being careful not to stray too far from the beaten paths. It was winter after all, and generally speaking there were few other visitors. In Arches National Park however, I did bump into some other travellers. They were a group of friends and family from Florida, doing the same route as me but in reverse. After chatting about why I was out there, and realising we were all staying close by in the nearest town of Moab, they invited me to join them at a local brewpub later that evening.
After having spent the last five days on my own, I’d become accustomed to doing things at my own pace. But I had to admit, it was nice to have plans, and a bunch of friendly faces to share stories with. They gave me some great tips about what was coming up on my next leg of the route, and I did the same for them. We had a laugh about the weirdness of Las Vegas, and how they were going to go looking for Area 51. At the end of the night, we didn’t exchange details, but joked we might see each other back in Vegas at the end of our trips.
Unsurprisingly, we didn’t bump into each other again, although I kept an eye out. I thought about them a few times as I continued on my way. Meeting them had made me realise that, while solo travel was something I’d discovered I liked, the fondest, most vivid memories come from the encounters you have with other people. I was thankful to have had this experience to myself, but I could imagine doing something similar with a small group of strangers – the collective excitement of discovering somewhere new together is a bonding experience.
Mainly though, I was thinking about life back home. Having the time and space away had given me the perspective to really appreciate what I had – supportive family and friends, an exciting career and a relationship I cared deeply about. I felt that slowly, day by day, the fogginess I’d been feeling for months was clearing, my sense of self returning. This trip was something I’d dreamed about as a teenager, and here I was really doing it – and in the process reconnecting with the version of me I thought I’d left behind that morning in the doctor’s office.
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meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
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Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.