Travel while you’ve got your health.
It was one of the most valuable pieces of advice I have ever been given.
At the time, I was taking a cruise around the Mediterranean, writing a travel piece for the Daily Mail and enjoying the delights of Monaco, Malta, Sicily, Rome, Corfu – amongst others.
Don’t ask me in which order; Geography was never my strong point (in fact, a Geography lesson was one of just three times I was told off throughout my entire school career – for sneezing. Mrs Price went so ballistic, you’d think I’d pulled out a weapon and gunned down half the class. Teachers didn’t mess around in Bridgend).
I had flown just a handful of times on short trips during the preceding ten years; mostly, my travel was confined to the Eurostar, as I was renting an apartment in Paris, where I subsequently lived for six and a half years.
On the cruise, I met two very well-travelled American women from Washington, and it was Lisa, who has since become a close friend, who made the comment about appreciating travel while your body was still able to keep up with your mind’s intentions.
I was, of course, lucky to be travelling with Cunard, on a luxury liner where I ate the best food I have ever tasted – anywhere. The outstanding service in the Princess Grill (the higher end of the price range) put the normally poor service we receive on land in the UK, to shame.
Waking to sunrise in Monaco’s port moved me to tears (as did the prices, but that’s another story). So did the Sicilian coastline.
Rome was an enormous thrill (it was good to return, having visited only once previously for a rugby international, when I missed the entire city, returning to the UK and declaing that there was “nothing there”).
Malta was an unexpected pleasure.
And as for Corfu – I could have disembarked and spent the rest of my life there.
In the three years since the cruise, there has never been a month when I have not been flying off to another destination. I left Paris in 2008 and, for the past two and a half years, have been renting an apartment in Los Angeles.
I had always been someone who made sweeping generalisations about “all Americans” and wanted to dispel the prejudices that had been instilled through having been born and raised on our small island.
Having now travelled around the States and met a lot of Americans, I can confidently say that it is only “most” Americans who are uneducated, rude, uninteresting and uninterested, and hogs at a trough when it comes to bargain breakfasts in Las Vegas (actually, when it comes to that last one, I’m going to stick to the “all Americans” observation).
I have loved the energy in LA: the work ethic that permeates the whole city.
I enjoyed the craziness of Vegas (and saw Mayweather beat Mosley – live sweat, blood, and the thwack of leather on bare flesh: you can’t beat it), even though on my second visit I decided that even a second night was too much.
I burned off calories enjoying walking the hills of San Francisco (almost as much as I enjoyed the walk to the tarmac to leave the place).
A few months back, I was fortunate to be offered another cruise, this time on Crystal, around the Mexican Riviera – the R word being as far removed from its French counterpart as it is possible to be.
The poverty in Mexico broke my heart, but I like to think that I contributed to the local economy with my collection of hats, jewellery, bags and henna tattoos purchased on the beach.
How quickly “Look, piss off! I don’t want any of your tat!” turns into: “Where can I buy an extra couple of cases to take all this stuff home?”
Now, I am returning to Europe. I miss it. Despite my new-found love of travelling, the European in me misses home. Long haul travelling is also exhausting, and when I found myself returning from LA every three weeks on 12 hour flights, I thought that it was probably a sign that home was beckoning.
Last week, I was in six countries in as many days – New Zealand, the US, Wales, England, France and Spain.
My trip to Paris reminded me of the beauty of what I have always called my favourite city on Earth. London reminded me of the past I built up, both personally and professionally, over 28 years of living in the capital.
I am writing this from the apartment I bought in Puerto Banus, just outside Marbella, six years ago, looking out at 180 degree view of the Mediterranean in 27 degree sunshine – at the end of October, for heaven’s sake. On days like this, Spain reminds me that its south coast weather is as good as any I experienced in LA – and without the unhealthy smog.
Although my rugby World Cup trip to New Zealand instilled the country in my mind as a place to which I will never return unless under arrest, I am glad to have gone.
And finally, returning to Wales reminded me of the fact that no matter where you go in the world, your first love is for family and friends.
I have no doubt I will keep travelling – while I’ve got my health.
And there’s also one very important thing I’ve learned that would be the travel advice I would pass on to anyone, just as Lisa passed her wisdom on to me.
Not every holiday has to end with a lease.