The year-long honeymoon

  • Kath Kay decided to travel the world as a ‘flashpacker’ with her new husband James, three weeks after their wedding
  • They started in Mexico city and visited Panama, New Zealand, Singapore and numerous other countries on the trip
  • The pair avoided a series of natural disasters including Hurricane Paula in Mexico and earthquakes in New Zealand

Three weeks after tying the knot, James and I faced our first marital challenge – a year-long, round-the-world ‘maximoon’, covering over 55,000 miles on 40 types of transport. As my mother succinctly observed, it was the kind of honeymoon that could ruin a good marriage.

We’d been dreaming of The Big Trip for years, and soon our wine-fuelled discussions became a Google map route and saving campaign. Eventually, to a mixed reception of shock and envy we quit perfectly good jobs (in PR and at a university) in a recession. We sold the car, rented our flat and boarded a plane for Mexico City.

Our plan was to backpack to Panama using local transport and staying in hostels. It looked tiny on the map, but Central America is more diverse for its size than anywhere else on the planet.

James and Kath pictured together in Palenque, a Mayan city in Mexico that the couple visited during their year-long honeymoon

James and Kath pictured together in Palenque, a Mayan city in Mexico that the couple visited during their year-long honeymoon

Kath in a tuktuk

Kath hiking through the Franz Josef glacier

The couple spent a year travelling together in 40 types of transport to cover over 55,000 miles across the globe on their epic journey

It was the idyllic start to any honeymoon. We explored the colourful markets of Mexico, then swam with manatees in Belize’s reefs. We scrambled through jungle to find Mayan ruins, went whitewater rafting in Costa Rica and climbed volcanoes in Nicaragua.

But a few things soon became clear. Firstly, we’d packed way too much stuff. Less is most definitely more on this kind of trip. Secondly, hostel dorms weren’t for us. Being in our mid-30s, we found sharing communal bathrooms and creaky bunks with night-owl teens depressing. So we upgraded from backpacker to ‘flashpacker’, and happily paid a bit extra for decent digs, clean sheets and an en-suite.

This drained our budget, so we found ways to economise. Night buses helped save on an evening’s accommodation while making a necessary journey. Sleeping on their non-reclining seats isn’t easy, but we soon got into the swing of it and time flew as we clocked up the miles. Hours waiting in stations left us experts at gin rummy and James became particularly good at knowing when to let me win.

Spending 24/7 together was an education. Thankfully, we never seemed to tire of each other’s company. Perhaps the situation was also helped by the fact that we were doing so many exciting things and we gave each other plenty of space when we needed it, and took time out to read, write or just spend an afternoon on our own for a while. 

To escape the heat of New Delhi, the couple ventured north to the remote region of Ladakh (above), near to the Himalayan mountains

To escape the heat of New Delhi, the couple ventured north to the remote region of Ladakh (above), near to the Himalayan mountains

The road to Ladakh (above) is classed as one of India's most dangerous, crossing some of the world's highest motorable passes

The road to Ladakh (above) is classed as one of India’s most dangerous, crossing some of the world’s highest motorable passes

The couple used the UNESCO Heritage Site list as a way to plan their route

Along the way, they've seen breath-taking sights like the Merhangarh Fort (above)

The couple used the Unesco Heritage Site list as a way to plan their route. Along the way, they’ve seen breath-taking sights like the Merhangarh Fort (right) and met the chaos of a goat-jam (left), both in India

TOP TIPS FOR A MAXIMOON

1. Pack lightly – think layers not bulky items, and invest in a great pair of waterproof sandals

2. We used the UNESCO sites list as a way to plan our route – it gave us a good structure and meant we ended up visiting lots of well known, and some less known, incredible sights

3. Consider buying a one way ticket rather than a whole round-the-world package. It will give you more flexibility

4. Budget for at least 25/30% more than what you think you’ll spend and get a good credit card. You may only be there once and you don’t want to regret not doing things

5. We always tried to book our first night accommodation in a new country – it removed some of the stress immediately and gave us a base to work from. You can always move if you don’t like it 

I learnt everything he’s allergic to (over 30 items) and what he’d choose as his death-row dinner. Meanwhile, James accepted my neurosis about sharing towels, introduced me to the joy of thumb hoops in fleeces, and led me to discover a whole new love of wildlife. 

The latter happened in Costa Rica. With acres of virgin rainforest it’s one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, home to singing frogs, flying monkeys and sloths with Ringo Starr haircuts. Elusive jaguars leave prints in the sand and geckos pad a way into your heart with their sticky little feet. There are even palm trees that walk. It’s the ultimate casting suite for a Pixar animation.

After the magical unfamiliarity of Central America, Australia was full of recognisable icons. We saw the sunrise at Uluru, took surf lessons in Byron Bay and watched New Year fireworks at Sydney Harbour Bridge.

In New Zealand, we embraced a temporary home in the form of a campervan and saw enough to consider applying for residency. We hiked Franz Josef glacier, cruised through the misty fjords of Doubtful Sound and abseiled in Waitomo Caves to find glow worms.

But we had a plane to catch and Asia beckoned with its fast-paced cities, exotic foods and lizards. Yes, lizards. A five-day sailing trip took us in search of Komodo Dragons, huge monitor lizards that are endemic to a remote part of Indonesia. The journey to see them was an adventure in itself.

It began with a sense of foreboding – tales of rough seas and shipwrecks – but it passed in a hedonistic blur as we island-hopped, snorkelled with stingrays and slept on deck under the stars. Reaching the island of Komodo was almost an anticlimax, until we saw a dragon in the flesh. Sure enough, the world’s largest lizard lives up to its reputation. 

Kath scootering in Singapore

San Cristobal market, Mexico

Around the world, many experiences exceeded expectations. In Singapore (left), the couple kick-scootered through shopping malls and dined on fabulous chilli crab while in Mexico (right) they were greeted with the incredible produce of the local market

After the magical unfamiliarity of Central America, Australia was full of recognisable icons for the couple. They saw the sunrise at Uluru, took surf lessons in Byron Bay and watched New Year fireworks at Sydney Harbour Bridge

After the magical unfamiliarity of Central America, Australia was full of recognisable icons for the couple. They saw the sunrise at Uluru, took surf lessons in Byron Bay and watched New Year fireworks at Sydney Harbour Bridge

A commercial street in Singapore

The year-long journey was approximately £30,000 for the couple but some of the experiences they enjoyed were wedding gifts

The year-long journey was approximately £30,000 for the couple but some of the experiences they enjoyed were wedding gifts 

THE MAXIMOON ROUTE 

The couple flew from London to Mexico City. They travelled overland to Panama through Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Then flew Panama to Bogota to LA. From LA they flew to Sydney and then travelled around Australia by bus. They flew from Melbourne to Tasmania (and back). Flew Sydney to Auckland and toured New Zealand by campervan.

They flew from Christchurch to Bali and island hopped through Indonesia to Komodo. They then flew from Bali to Singapore and got a bus to Malaysia. From Kuala Lumpur they flew to Borneo and then to Bangkok and toured Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos overland.

From Bangkok they flew to Delhi, then various internal flights through India to explore Ladakh, Varanasi, Rajasthan and Goa before finally flying from Delhi back to London. 

Around the world, many experiences exceeded expectations. Singapore is not the police state I feared, but a well ordered metropolis where we kick-scootered through shopping malls and dined on fabulous chilli crab. Watching the monks collect alms at dawn in Luang Prabang in Laos was a privilege, and we visited more Unesco sites in Vietnam than anywhere else. 

On the flip side, our patience was tested when we had money stolen from our room, missed flights because of delayed trains and fell foul of a few scams.

Such as getting a tuk tuk to some tourist sites in Bangkok and the driver telling us they’re closed but he can take us to this amazing carpet shop instead. We also took a short boat trip in Vietnam in Hue – just us and the female owner of the boat. She wouldn’t take us back until we’d paid double the price we agreed!

But we felt lucky in other ways.

We narrowly avoided a series of natural disasters for one. Hurricane Paula swept past our bamboo beach hut in Mexico and then in Christchurch we were woken by tremors, just weeks before the devastating quake which left 185 dead. In Tasmania, floods stranded us in the coastal town of St Helens, where we slept on blue exercise mats in the town hall. Then in March, we were evacuated from the Borneo coast following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan.

Our final frontier was India. A complete assault on the senses, New Delhi intoxicated us with its chaos of colour, noise and energy. To escape its summer heat we headed to Ladakh, a high-altitude desert in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. 

The road there is classed as one of India’s most dangerous, crossing some of the world’s highest motorable passes. We bumped along bone-shakingly narrow tracks etched out of scree-sloped mountains. At one point, heavy rain and black mud sent our jeep skidding sideways towards a three-hundred metre drop. We stopped just in time. 

The overland track in Tasmania

Cradle Mountain in Tasmania

The trip had plenty of ups and downs. The couple had money stolen from their room, they missed their flights and fell foul of scams

Kath checking in at Heathrow

A campervan in New Zealand

During their trip, the newlyweds narrowly avoided a series of natural disasters. Hurricane Paula swept past their bamboo beach hut in Mexico and then in Christchurch they were woken by tremors, just weeks before the devastating quake which left 185 dead

Despite all the testing times, the couple loved their extraordinary experience and hope to travel again with their son Harvey in tow

Despite all the testing times, the couple loved their extraordinary experience and hope to travel again with their son Harvey in tow

EXPERIENCES AS WEDDING GIFTS

It was approximately £30,000 for the couple’s trip but people bought them  ‘experiences’ as wedding gifts.

This meant a lot of the big ticket type stuff had actually already been paid for.  They made videos doing each activity (e.g. white water rafting, luge riding, wine tasting) and sent it to whoever bought it for them as a thank you.

White knuckles aside, this Himalayan land featured some of the most dramatic scenery I’ve ever seen, spread out in a patchwork of spectacularly rugged mountains, canyons and turquoise lakes.

The people we met around the world were as extraordinary as the places we visited. We dined with a former Maharaja who’d converted his ancestral home into a hotel. We got drunk with a retired Canadian cycling solo from Alaska to Ecuador; we sailed with a dot-com millionaire, and trekked with an inspirational couple travelling with their three kids. 

But what was surprising about the world was how small and how large it can feel at the same time. One day we’d be sleeping out in tents at the world’s highest navigable pass, with no way really of contacting anyone back home, and the next we’d be sharing breakfast with people we’d just met but who happened to go to the same school as me back in Leicester.

As our plane touched down at Heathrow we both faced the ultimate honeymoon hangover. Rather than satiate our wanderlust; The Big Trip had fuelled it. And for that, I’m assured, there is only one cure. But next time we’ll have more passengers on board as our son Harvey will join the ride. Just don’t tell my mother.







Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

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