16 July 2022

Ten Favourite Travel Memories from an Expiring Passport

I was sad to bid farewell to my old passport this week — not just because it was an EU one (*sob*) but also because the stamps inside remind me of the many great travel experiences I've enjoyed over the past decade. To highlight some of these wonderful memories, I decided to pick out one photo from each year, and boy was that hard! (I cheated because the header image features an 11th photo. Sorry!) And at the end of the post, you can find more details about my experience of renewing my UK passport during these incredibly hectic times.

2013 — Ziplining through the clouds in Monteverde, Costa Rica

My friend and I spent two weeks exploring Costa Rica back in 2013. Ziplining through the cloud forest on a 1km-long zipline in Monteverde was definitely one of the best moments of a trip filled with great beaches, beautiful forests and diverse wildlife. Visiting a coffee farm for the first time came a close second.

2014 — (What's the story) vermillion torii? Kyoto, Japan

My whistlestop tour of Japan took me to Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kyoto, and the latter was probably my favourite part of the trip. I spent an afternoon losing count of all the vibrant red torii gates at the Fushimi Inari shrine near the city and wishing I'd worn a dress that didn't clash!

2015 — Leaping on top of a pyramid at Teotihuacán, Mexico

Of all the countries on this list, Mexico is probably the one I most want to return to. I spent a fortnight there, which only allowed me to scratch the surface, visiting Mexico City, Oaxaca, Mérida and Isla Mujeres. From the capital, I took a day trip to the archaeological complex of Teotihuacán, and was surprised to find that you are allowed to climb the pyramids and I couldn't resist a leap (well, there had to be one in this list somewhere!). From street food in DF to cooking classes and natural wonders in Oaxaca and a perfect beach on Isla Mujeres, this trip had it all!

2016 — Not your average BBQ in Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam

My trip to Vietnam was one of contrasts, from the bustling metropolises of Saigon and Hanoi, to the lovely Hoi An and a three-day cruise with Indochina Junk around Bai Tu Long Bay, Ha Long Bay's quieter cousin. Our crew cooked amazing meals every day, but the BBQ dinner in the UNESCO-listed Thien Canh Son cave on our last night really took the biscuit. It was a really special way to cap off an amazing trip.

2017 — Jumping out of a plane in Queenstown, New Zealand

In 2017, my company granted me a four-week unpaid sabbatical and I took the opportunity to *finally* go to Australia and New Zealand. Being me (and not knowing when I'd get back to that part of the world), I probably packed too much in, but I have zero regrets. I drank all the coffee in Melbourne, snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, learned to surf (sort of) in Byron Bay, and climbed the Harbour Bridge and caught up with dear friends in Sydney. I spent most of my time in New Zealand road tripping around the North Island, searching for the perfect beach and coffee-shop-hopping in Wellington and Auckland, but I also spent a few days in Queenstown, where I went skydiving for the first time. This was the most exhilarating thing I've ever done. I'll hand over to my past self to narrate the experience on YouTube (it's a bit PG-13; sorry, Mum).

2018 — Befriending llamas on the Inca Trail, Peru

I had wanted to do the four-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru for the longest time and if I had to pick just one travel experience from this list, it would probably be this one. That's why I've cheated and included two photos: one (the header image) of the moment I arrived at the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu on sunrise on the last day of the trek, and one where I encountered a friendly ginger llama at the Third Pass (3,680 metres above sea level) on the penultimate day. Well, I was trekking with a company called Llama Path! It required a lot of planning to hike the Inca Trail even in the beforetimes, so I wrote a long post that covers everything you need to know.

2019 — Blending in with the street art in Penang, Malaysia

This was the last big holiday I had before COVID and my ambitious itinerary probably wouldn't survive the realities of travelling in 2022, but I had a great time in Singapore and Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur, the Perhentian Islands, Borneo and George Town. Unsurprisingly, it was hot and humid and pretty overcast for most of my trip, which didn't make for great landscape photography, but I still got some great shots of the orangutans and pygmy elephants in Borneo and of the street art in Georgetown, Penang.

2020 — Manhattan skyline selfie in NYC, USA

There more than a dozen stamps in my passport for New York City, as well as for the other US cities I was able to visit for work over the years, including San Francisco, Portland, Austin, DC and Boston. This was the only foreign trip I was able to take in 2020, a work trip to NYC and Seattle in February 2020, just as COVID was starting to emerge but before the ways in which it would change our lives forever were very well known or understood. As with all my visits to NYC, I did as many of my favourite things as possible, like walking over Brooklyn Bridge and the High Line. It was on the rooftop of the Whitney Museum at the southern end of the High Line where I took this photo, not realising that it would be 27 months before I returned to the city.

2021 — Sun, sea and stunning geological features in Malta

After many, many cancelled trips, I was finally able to leave the UK again in September 2021. I had originally booked a trip to Malta in March 2020 and was able to use my flight and hotel credit for my holiday 18 months later. Yes, I was excited to be travelling anywhere — and especially anywhere as sunny as Malta — but I really fell for the small country. I loved the architecture and food in Valletta, the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon and especially the glorious afternoon I spent swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing at the Blue Hole on the island of Gozo. It was the perfect reintroduction to foreign travel.

2022 — Coffee travels in Kenya and Uganda

Earlier this year, I got the opportunity to go on a work trip to Kenya and Uganda. It was my first time in East Africa and, of course, I immediately started making plans for when I could return to explore more of the countries. I got to do one-day safaris in Nairobi National Park and the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, and also got to visit various coffee farms and washing stations. This photo is taken in the Rwenzori Mountains of western Uganda, just after I got to sample some of the coffee (including a really jazzy naturally processed coffee that ticked all my boxes). I was wearing my Wolves shirt, as my team were in the process of losing to Norwich in the FA Cup, and discovered that the manager of one of the small restaurants we visited in a tiny rural town also supported the same team. Sometimes, the world is smaller than we think.

My expedited UK passport renewal experience
I had been feeling anxious about my rapidly expiring passport for some time, with the standard wait time being at least 10 weeks — some lucky souls have got theirs quicker, but others have had an even longer wait. The prospect of not having a passport for that long while waiting for a new one did not appeal so I resigned myself to paying extra for an expedited process.

I was prepared for it to be expensive, but getting an appointment also took quite a lot of time and faff. There are two expedited options: 'online premium' (£177, submit digital photos, get your passport on the day of the appointment) and fast track" (£142, bring a completed paper form and printed photos to the appointment, get your passport by post one week later). I would have been happy with either option but none of the post offices near me ever seemed to have the application form, so online premium it was. This meant getting some digital passport photos taken.

If you go to the passport website, however, you will probably find that there are no appointments. I recommend following @ukpassportcheck on Twitter, a handy bot that tweets when new appointments are available. During the time I was looking, the online premium slots tended to go up around 8 am. It took me a few days of trying before I was able to secure an appointment at the London passport office in Victoria two weeks later.

I was prepared for the pick-up to be just as stressful — hey, even the queue for the Tesco Expresso just around the corner had about 50 people in it — but it took about 15 minutes in total, most of which was spent queuing. There were a lot of stressed, nervous people in the queue, most of whom went away smiling with their red or yellow envelope containing their new passport after worrying they would miss out on a much-needed imminent holiday. I really hope that the wait times for new passports come down after the summer peak has passed because I know I'm lucky to have the option of paying the fee for the expedited process. 

What with COVID, my house move and the need to get a new passport, I had put most of my travel plans on hold, so I'm hoping now I'll be able to start planning a few more adventures again. I'm always happier when my calendar includes some exciting travels to look forward to.

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