30 Lessons from 30 Countries

Where is your favourite country? 

Ten years ago, many things were different. Wifi was sporadic, I was not able to swim, Tony Blair was the Prime Minister of the UK and pumpkin spiced lattes weren’t a thing.

Alex at Machu Picchu

Alex at Machu Picchu


In that time, I have been lucky enough to visit almost 40 new countries and the things I have learnt from these trips couldn’t ever fit into a concise list, however, there are some lessons from these nations that I will never forget. So here goes; 30 things I learnt from 30 different countries before I turned 30.


Is home to some amazing buildings. From the inspiring Guggenheim in Bilbao to the fantastical Gaudi architecture in Barcelona. A photographer’s dream!

  MY HIGHLIGHT – The Gaudi Park


Amongst other things, I learnt my tolerance for real Italian gelato. Turns out, it IS possible to spend €25 in one day on ice-cream and boy did I enjoy the challenge!

          MY HIGHLIGHT – Exploring the iconic capital, Rome.

Guggenheim museum in Bilbao

Guggenheim museum in Bilbao


Besides all of those gorgeous views, Paris also taught me the meaning of true respect and humility whilst wandering the cavernous and mildly terrifying catacombs under the city itself.

   MY HIGHLIGHT – Eating Nutella pancakes for breakfast on the Seine.


My first visit to a predominantly Muslim country gave me wonderful insights into the history of Islam and its awe-inspiring mosques.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Gazing up at the ceiling, walking barefoot in the blue mosque.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul


A Christmas trip to Latvia was a real eye-opener for me. Not only did it have a fantastic food scene and nightlife, but it was also COLDER than I ever expected! That padded jacket certainly came in handy.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Dancing until dawn with the locals in Riga.


My first experience of South East Asia could not have been lovelier. Thailand is known as ‘the land of smiles’ and it does not disappoint. Neither do the green curries with sticky rice

MY HIGHLIGHT – Enjoying Thai hospitality at every corner; including the unforgettable service at The Sukhothai Hotel, Bangkok.

7 – LAOS

The gorgeous setting of Laos even with its bloody history taught me the joy of passing days in a hammock with only a Laos beer dark for company.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Reading days away on the banks of the Mekong river.

Sibuan near Sipadan Island

Sibuan near Sipadan Island


Exploring isolated beaches and being the only westerner in some towns taught me new kinds of confidence, not to mention the Philippines being the setting for my favourite animal encounter of all time.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Swimming inches away from mighty and majestic Whale Sharks.


Even though I learnt new levels of food pleasure in Malaysian food, it was the jaw-dropping scuba diving off Malaysian Borneo that truly blew my mind.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Gliding over pristine coral reefs at Sipadan national park.


There are a million treasures in Indonesia, but the life-changing lesson I got, was that once you’ve offended a remote Indonesian village, you need to leave….quickly.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Learning passable Bahasa to get by, as well as the unbeatable variety of marine life in Indonesian waters.

The Petronas towers of Kuala Lumpur

The Petronas towers of Kuala Lumpur

11 – U.S.A

It goes without saying, that the U.S is big enough to explore for an entire lifetime…but the biggest thing I have learnt, is just how impeccable their sense of customer service is, and how Europe could learn an AWFUL lot from our friends across the pond.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Its cheesy, yes. But seeing those streets in New York for the first time is unforgettable. Plus, New York's 24 hour warm cookie delivery.


A tiny country with so much to offer, Belgium for me, dazzles in its variety and frankly, was the first country I had been to that has a tourism industry based in large part due to one major export -chocolate. What’s not to like?

MY HIGHLIGHT – Wandering aimlessly around the picture-postcard streets of Bruges.


How I got 75,000 Twitter FollowersQuite apart from the fact that it has a great big castle on a hill, the capital of the republic, Prague, taught me all kinds of cultural lessons. From the enchanting snow-strewn Christmas markets, to the lethal national spirit, Fennig. (My goodness, the hangover)

MY HIGHLIGHT – Wrapping up warm against the cold and knocking back hot glasses of mulled glugwein.


The discoveries I made in this tiny central American country were quite unexpected. Not only was the food extremely good, but I was also honoured to meet the warmest, loveliest people one could ever hope to meet.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Watching the sun rise over the jungle temples of Tikal.


So often seen as a package tourism destination only, Mexico surprises on so many levels. Not least the unforgettable ancient sites of Palenque and Teotihuacan.

Teotihuacan in Mexico

Teotihuacan in Mexico

MY HIGHLIGHT – Discovering a new level of excitement in Pacific Mexico Scuba Diving.


After dreaming about the wildlife bonanza that Costa Rica has for a long time, Costa Rica taught me that dreams can indeed come true. The sheer abundance of animal encounters and stunning jungle adventure had me reaching for my camera more times than ever before.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Seeing first hand the incredible variety of creatures on offer; not least the adorable sloth.


Panama represented to me at the time, unhurried adventure and limitless jungle escapades. This was delivered for sure, but it was also a stark lesson in those left behind in Central America…the noticeable difference in wealth and prospects, in stepping from Costa Rica into Panama was incredibly moving.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Seeing with my own eyes one of man’s greatest engineering achievements, the Panama Canal.

Gaudi Building in Barcelona

Gaudi Building in Barcelona


There were too many new experiences in Sri Lanka to list here, but the over-riding theme for me, was the wonderful welcoming nature of the people of the country. A genuinely warm and open society is something that, having grown up in the UK, was something quite special to witness.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Being feet away from two amazing creatures in the wild; the rare and enigmatic leopard, and the largest mammal that has ever lived, the Blue Whale.


Unawatuna in Sri Lanka

Unawatuna in Sri Lanka



Apart from attempting to learn a whole different type of Spanish language, Argentina also taught me about my place in the wold…and how small I actually am. The jaw-dropping scenery of Argentinian Patagonia provided many near-spiritual moments.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Being in the shadow of the stunning mountains of Bariloche.

20 – CHILE

This country was a marvel in many ways. From seeing first hand, what a winery looks like (Good lord, how I want to live on a winery) to being witness to some of the largest, driest areas on planet earth. Check out our tour of a winery here).

MY HIGHLIGHT – Waiting in serene silence for dawn to arrive over the Atacama desert.


The stunning variety and mind-boggling scenery in Bolivia was enough to make it one of my favourite countries ever. However, one of the most useful lessons I learnt, was the patience and skill required to survive almost a month of constant gastrointestinal upset…they don’t call it ‘buggy Bolivia’ for nothing.

MY HIGHLIGHT – canoeing down the amazon river amongst snakes and tarantulas.

22 – PERU

With a tourist attraction that regularly makes it to the top of many wishlists, it’s not hard to figure out what the best part of Peru is. The biggest thing I learnt was that no matter how many tourists there are, a place is only as special as you make it; which leads me to my top moment…

MY HIGHLIGHT – Being bowled over by the scale, craftsmanship and30 things I've learned from 30 countries complete wonder of Machu Picchu.



With so many expectations, Ecuador certainly had its work cut out for it. But with a little patience and time, I learnt that it’s not difficult to escape crowds, get off the beaten track and find a little slice of your own heaven.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Being surrounded by fish, rays, turtles and
hammerhead sharks at the Galapagos Marine Park (check out our how to visit the Galapagos on a Budget blog). 


It has a pretty dodgy reputation for some, and was once the crime capital of Latin America. But what I learned while I was there, is that times are changing…Colombia is fast moving into a golden new era of technological advancement and open tourism. The people were some of the friendliest I met on the continent, and being a traveller was easier than I could have ever imagined.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Discovering the gritty and imaginative street art of Bogota.


There are several things to take from Singapore; it may well be the most expensive place in South East Asia, but having spent a good deal of time there, it’s hard to argue with the benefits of this pricey nation. The streets are the cleanest, safest streets I have ever visited, and the cutting edge architecture makes for great photos.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Visiting the only zoo I have ever been to that made me feel happy, and not depressed.


Ok, so it may well be a pretty small ‘country’, but the Vatican wins awards in my mind for the stunning art it has on offer. One doesn’t have to be religious to appreciate the stunning imagery, and I also learnt that every Sunday, the pope (yes, the actual pope) appears for a short speech on his balcony.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Being at the Pope’s Sunday speech with a crowd thousands strong. No matter what your beliefs are, a gathering of people with such fervour is a sight to behold.

The Vatican, Rome

The Vatican, Rome


My initial impressions of Venezuela were formed by travel blogs, travel writing, people on social media networks, and other backpackers. The vast majority of these opinions were that Venezuela is a dangerous place and caution must be used at all costs. Sadly, the lesson I learned was that for now, some of those things are true. From the scary military police, to the random searching of bags at every opportunity, Venezuela was hair-raising even for a fool-hardy traveller like me.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Accidentally knocking over a police riot shield at a border, then being ordered to get on my hands and knees to pick it up. Glamorous stuff.


Despite a buoyant economy that makes the country expensive for foreigners, Iceland holds a ton of intrigue and adventure for most. The overwhelming memory for me, being the surreal landscape and setting. I think it’s fair to say that there is nowhere on earth that looks quite like Iceland does.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Attempting to be a brave foodie, then backing out at the last minute when presented with cured reindeer meat. Rudolph is just too real for me still.

Dive with Rainbow Divers


As a nation with a difficult past, the thing that surprised and educated me most, was the genuine openness and hospitality of the Vietnamese. This, coupled with a really unexpected scuba diving scene. As a diving instructor I’ve been lucky enough to dive all over the world and you don’t often hear much about Vietnam diving. Thailand gets all the press when it comes to dive training yet Nha Trang is a perfect place to learn.

Apart, from the fact the town is fun and has a great beach (check out 6 things to do in Nha Trang), the conditions are perfect to learn to dive. Calm, not too much current, and really well trained instructors if you go with Rainbow Divers. They even have their own PADI Course Director and a bunch of Master Instructors.

If you’re new to diving, or want to push your diving to the next level then check out Rainbow Divers.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Driving through verdant rice paddies to go diving the tranquil reefs off Nha Trang (check out 6 reasons to visit Nha Trang here). 


After missing out on various visits over the years (budget, schedule, weather etc), Cambodia finally revealed itself to me and boy did I get a treat.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I learnt that not only is it a country of real-life photo-shopped green landscapes, but also, of the smiliest, loveliest, and most endearing folk I have met in my years of travel…a real diamond in the rough.

MY HIGHLIGHT – Clambering through the evocative ruins of Angkor Wat.

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