When I was 17, I was accepted to participate in the Tall Ship Millennium Challenge out of Southampton, England; a youth program to celebrate the new millennium. I had never really travelled too far and jumped at the chance to do something adventurous. Little did I know this trip would be the start of a major theme in my life. I got off the plane in London knowing I would never be quite the same again. I spent a week working on the ship at sea, meeting sailors from many different nations, and left with a sense that there was more of the world to experience.
Two years later, I took a gap year from school to work as an au pair in Den Haag, Netherlands. I chose the Netherlands for its culture and its train connections to the rest of Europe. On weekends and breaks, I travelled as much as I could. Those trips were not fancy; I stayed in youth hostels, took slow trains because they were cheap, and ate whatever I could carry in my pack. But, at 19, I was living a dream: skiing in the Alps, spending Easter in Paris, and partying in Berlin. The more I got to see Europe that year, and the more people I met from all over the world, the more I knew I had to see it all.
I set a goal to visit all seven continents by the age of 40.
I sometimes joke that when I’m not on vacation, I’m planning the next one. The people that understand me know it’s not a joke—more of a mild addiction. I love to explore, eat different foods, dance on the sand (or anywhere), and chat with locals. Though I have been to touristy places, I find it most interesting to visit obscure locations a little off-the-beaten-track and filled with more locals than tourists. The food’s always better and you truly learn when you immerse yourself somewhere different from home.
By 39, I had made it to six of the seven continents and experienced many wondrous things—from chatting around a campfire in Masai Mara, Kenya, dancing in the Paris subway with my niece, and getting lost in souqs in Qatar, to snorkelling in Fiji, eating the most amazing Indonesian food, and being stopped in my tracks at the sight of Iguazu Falls from the Argentinian side. These are just a few memories I will cherish for the rest of my life, and experiences that have helped shape who I am today.
Earlier this year, after spending two weeks in South America with my family, I was left alone in an Airbnb in Ushuaia, Argentina, staring out at the ship that was about to become my home for 12 days: the MV Expedition. Years of planning, anticipation, and the reality of a decades-long goal were coming to fruition. I was excited and incredibly nervous. I was finally headed to my final continent: vast and remote Antarctica.
In many ways, I was lucky that my journey to Antarctica far exceeded any expectations. We had relatively calm seas both ways through Drake Passage—notorious for some of the roughest seas in the world. I seized the opportunity to camp on the ice, kayak among the towering icebergs, and plunge into the Antarctic Ocean. I had the rare privilege to step onto historical Snow Hill and walk on sea ice with Emperor Penguins. The wildlife of land, air, and sea was abundant and spectacular. I cannot put into words what it’s like to constantly be in awe of an ever-changing landscape. It’s so much more than ocean, ice, and snow. I also lucked out with an amazing crew and shipmates—most of us single travellers accomplishing the same goal—and my time on the ship was just as incredible as my time on the ice.
Embarking on a journey across all seven continents is a dream that took 20 years to accomplish. Returning home from Antarctica, I felt fortunate to have carried out such a dream, and inspired to keep exploring. This goal took me to every corner of this extremely diverse and awe-inspiring planet. Each continent has a unique blend of cultures, traditions, landscapes, and eye-opening history.
Every time I feel the plane’s wheels leave the runway, I still get a bit nervous. But it’s a feeling that I hope never goes away—the anticipation of what there is to experience at the other end. Although I have already explored much of the world, I know I’ve hardly scratched the surface. I can’t wait to see where I head next.