An interview with Sophia Danielsson-Waters: Around the world in not-80 days

It’s one of those things a lot of people give as a response to the age-old question, ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’ It usually comes just after ‘I’d buy a mansion with tennis courts and its own zoo on my own private island’ and just before ‘I’ve kind of always wanted a parrot’… of course, it’s going around the world.

‘Around the world’ seems like a strange concept – most ‘around the world’ packages tend to be concentrated literally ‘around the world’ from us here in England, rather than the view I’d always held as a child, where you travelled,  like an explorer, from continent to continent, visiting countless landmasses and seeing all there was to see. Nevertheless, the round the world trip tends to be one of the things a lot of people dream of doing at some point in their lives, and I spoke to my friend Sophia Danielsson-Waters who took this coveted trip in her gap year.

Sia with a geyser in New Zealand

‘We were originally planning on going to Argentina for three weeks,’ said Sia, speaking about herself and her boyfriend James, ‘but by April he said it would actually be cheaper to go on a round the world trip!’ This may seem surprising to some, but with savvy travel companies noting the popularity of this trip, companies are clamouring to book people onto their round the world routes. ‘As boring as it sounds, we chose the cheapest route!’ Sia admitted; which is fair enough, considering both herself and James were students, and Sia had taken on a part time job in order to cover her part of the cost. ‘The round the world ticket was from London – San Francisco – Los Angeles – Auckland – Sydney – Hong Kong and home! The perfect loop!’ Indeed, this route covers a great deal of the classic stops on a trip of this type. But how do you decide what to do when you’re faced with half the world? ‘I tried to have an open mind and the only thing I’d booked before we’d gone was a day trip to Alcatraz… my mum would suggest things along the way.’ It was one of her mum’s suggestions that led to Sia and James ascending the Sydney Harbour bridge, which although they ‘definitely couldn’t afford’ the stomach-wrenching £200, was a worthwhile expense, as the experience was ‘an amazing recommendation for Sydney’, and ‘one of the best experiences of my life’.

A view over Sydney, Australia, by night

Sia managed to use the £900 she managed to save from her part-time work to pay for various accommodation, including hotels in San Diego and San Francisco. This, she confessed was in the days before her internet shopping addiction, meaning everything she earned went into funding the trip. Realising the trip wouldn’t be cheap, she made sure to account for the fact that travel, in general, is expensive, and luckily only faced one extra expense along the way – a cheeky little Urban Outfitters sale in San Diego. ‘I was quite sensible really!’ I’d always wondered how people pack to go travelling for months on end, and Sia was able to advise me on this too, telling me she’d packed  a ‘weather-neutral wardrobe’ (as a result of the diverse weather she would no doubt encounter across the continents), no hairdryer (a distressing prospect for a girl addicted to hers) and a first aid kit.

Aside from the Sydney Harbour bridge, I asked what some other highlights were, to inspire anyone else planning a similar trip. ‘Going on a day trip to Mexico. Everyone told us not to do it… but James is stubborn and I’m rubbish at fighting my corner – but it was just as well because it was so different!’ Despite spending their time in Mexico ‘hoping they wouldn’t be massacred’, the Tijuana scenery was enjoyed, though the pair were relieved when the time came to re-enter the US border. Hong Kong, also, is another example of how spontaneity can lead to some of the best experiences when travelling. They decided to abandon Sia’s planned hostel and find a hotel instead, on account of careful budgeting leaving them with more money than expected by their last stop of the holiday. ‘Hong Kong was so DIFFERENT… the smells, the noise, the atmosphere.’ Sia’s honed chopstick skills came in handy in restaurants, where to her amusement, James would often be offered a knife and fork where she was just left to carry on eating à la Hong Kong.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing, as round-the-world travellers should expect. After an inevitable argument with James (understandable, given that their living quarters at the time consisted of a small camper van in New Zealand), a door was slammed… on the camera bought specifically to document the trip. Unfortunately, the contingency plan failed as well, as her dad’s camera then went missing in Hong Kong. ‘I’ve never actually seen photos of Hong Kong which makes me so depressed!’ This goes to show that no matter how much preparation goes into a trip, plans can go awry, backup plans can fail… it’s all part of what is to be expected when travelling.

The trusty camper van which took Sia and James across New Zealand, just outside Wellington

Of course, the pair weren’t always alone. Sia described the idyllic train journey between San Francisco and San Diego, where they met a different couple at each meal on the day-long trip. From a professional Hawaiian snorkeller, who relayed his shark tales to them, to ‘some typical American cowboy couple who you only see in films’, and the couple whose recently-turned 21-year old daughter was celebrating in style with ‘a glass of wine, as she didn’t want to go crazy’, Sia and James met some interesting characters on their travels. However, sometimes, for instance in their camper-van travels around New Zealand, it was mostly the two of them in isolation. ‘I would’ve liked to have met more people, but at the same time I got to know James a lot better.’ This is a valid point – if you do go around the world, there will be times when it will just be you and your companion, should you decide to take one, so you should choose wisely.

The idyllic coastal train journey along America's west coast

I asked Sia if she had any advice for anyone about to embark on a round the world trip themselves. ‘Be careful,’ she warned, ‘when we went to Tijuana we followed everything the concierge said.’ Simple, but important, advice – as appealing as it may seem to go ‘off the beaten track’, it isn’t always viable or safe, and this should be taken into account when travelling to less stable countries. ‘Arrange to do something every day – I was quite exhausted a lot of the time, but we kept saying “This is our only opportunity – sleep can wait”’. Personally, I’d say this was a particularly vital point to remember – why travel all that way if you’re going to pass up on all the opportunities that come your way? It doesn’t matter if it’s not ‘on the agenda’; there is time for schedules when you return home to the daily grind. Instead, get out and make the most of your surroundings. Sia agrees: ‘I wouldn’t recommend a lot of planning before you set off’. Sia’s final piece of advice? ‘BRING AN EXTRA CAMERA – or six!’

Next up, Sia is planning a trip in April, though she’s not yet decided where to (‘… ignoring the fact I’m £600 in debt’). She may be returning to LA, where she stayed with her aunt and uncle for a family reunion in the summer, and plans to hop on a plane heading somewhere else in the US while she’s there. In true Sia style, she ends with, ‘I’ve always wanted to see Louisiana, Tennessee, Chicago, Washington, Texas… so I’ll see the cheapest flight and that’s where I’ll go!’


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Neale Norman says:

    What a fantastically written article, so interesting and informative, and gives a real human perspective onto what could have been a generic gap year story. Very impressive.

    1. Thank you! That’s exactly what I wanted to achieve, so I’m glad it came across!

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