Who Am I?

Whilst pulling together my new blog site yesterday I was thinking that if I am expecting you to invest time and read the blogs that I pull together, then you should have the opportunity to learn a little bit more about me….

So…..my name is Sarah, but most of my friends call me Henny, and I currently live in the lovely Old Town area of Swindon in the UK. I have only recently moved here but I am absolutely loving the many parks and walks that I can reach 5-10 minutes from my doorstep. There are also lots of independent locally owned shops, bars and restaurants again within a short walking distance. I will certainly enjoy these a lot more post the dreaded COVID!

One of the key things about me, that isn’t at all hidden is the fact that I love to travel! I strongly believe in the mantra ‘you only get one life, so live it’. To date I have visited 87 countries across 6 continents since I started travelling aged 19. That number was due to rise to 92 in 2020…but things went a little bit off track! I do have eSwatini, Lesotho, Albania, Morocco and the Seychelles already booked in for 2021 though – so hopefully things are getting back on track.

Over the last 15 years I have often travelled with my mum (Sue) who now has an equal love of visiting places all across the globe. There hasn’t yet been a destination she has said no to, although I am still not sure she has forgiven me for going straight from our 11 hour overnight flight into JoBurg to the Sterkfontein Caves. Apparently I should have mentioned the caves required crawling, and perhaps a more relaxing activity would have been better after a night of getting no sleep on a plane! I have visited six continents with Mother Hen to date and we have just started to save for a trip in 2024 to Antarctica for her 70th to hit the seventh continent!

I also travel regularly with one or some of my long suffering friends who are usually surprisingly open to my random destination suggestions. My last trip a week before the Covid lockdowns started around the world was to Chernobyl with 3 friends With the exception of a bruised hip, getting stuck in a TINY Russian era lift for over an hour, and a couple of cracked ribs – we genuinely had an awesome time! Luckily some of my friends also have their own random travel ideas… a weekend in Liechtenstein with some very questionable driving, and a 13 hour journey each way just to spend 2 nights in Andorra spring immediately to mind!

My favourite thing about travelling continues to be the element of surprise experienced when visiting somewhere new. When the views or experiences are way beyond expectations, and just fill me with an indescribable joy. I often find this occurs when visiting less famous destinations around the world. If visiting places that I have ‘seen’ many times before, in guide books or TV, then I of course still enjoy my trip, but do find it is all largely expected so it can often be a little anti-climactic. Controversially, for me the perfect example of this was Macchu Picchu. I heard many stories of how it took people’s breathe away, and I was so excited to visit. However when I did visit I found it to be massively over-capacity; just a conveyor belt of tourists, and as I had seen the famous ‘photo shot’ many times before it wasn’t particularly exciting. Whereas I found the visit to Ollantaytambo a couple of days before, and many other sights in Peru far more interesting, and I loved exploring these quieter and beautiful areas.

Conversely two destinations stick in my mind as literally taking my breath away. The first is Carretera Austral in Chile, providing easy access to the unique marble caves, stunning blue waters, mountains and the beautiful Exploradores Glacier inside the Laguna San Rafael National Park. I did a self-drive tour here a couple of years back, and unlike most trips I do this was almost wholly organised by a friend and her brother, who I travelled with. I pretty much just showed up for the flight. Therefore I didn’t really know what to expect, and I literally spent the week in awe at the natural beauty everywhere. The second place is Ethiopia. The first time I decided to visit it was again a last minute decision to stay a week, just because our flight back from South Africa was stopping there, so again I had done very little research just booked on to a private tour with a friend. Lalibela and the Simien mountains are lush, green and stunning, and completely beyond what I expected. Although it can be argued here that my breath was always going to be taken away due to the altitude! I definitely intend to travel back to Ethiopia again soon to explore some of the other regions. These are of course not the only two stunning destinations I have visited, but they were two of the most unexpected.

In 2015 I decided I wanted to take my love of travel and share my passion with others. It was during this time that I set up African Star Tours. A small company that focusses on selling tours to over 25 countries in Southern, East and West Africa to clients in the UK, USA and Asia. I decided to focus on Africa simply because the continent truly has a piece of my heart, and I just naturally talk about it with such passion and enthusiasm. I am never happier than sat on a safari truck or enjoying a sundowner in beautiful surroundings. Obviously 2020 has been trying for everyone in the travel industry, but the business is still going (just!) and I am determined to keep following my passion, and will continue to invest time into helping my business grow.

I haven’t always worked in the travel industry. Initially I studied for a Bachelors degree in Law at Southampton University followed by a Masters degree in Criminal Law, with intention of being a barrister. However, I decided against this because at the time I felt I really didn’t fit in to this privileged environment. I instead went on to spend 14 years working in criminal intelligence and child protection. It was an extremely rewarding career, where I was lucky to learn from and work with some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable professionals in the UK. Working in law enforcement, particularly child protection, can be extremely challenging at times, but the positives always outweighed the negatives and I made some awesome life long friends during my time here. By the time I left in 2015 I had been through several successful promotions to reach a senior rank, and was fortunate to gain invaluable leadership experience, managing teams of up to 100 people and running multi-million pound budgets. This experience has continued to prove useful to this day as I embark in new directions….

Outside of travel I really enjoy going to the theatre. I lived in London for 15 years, so was a regular visitor to both the West End theatres and smaller theatres. I will literally go and see anything once as I honestly believe you never know what you will like until you give it a go. I’ve seen a wide range of great shows over the years from Les Mis and Hamilton to much smaller productions such as the fabulous Eugenius (seriously it’s amazing) and even lesser known productions like Bromance the Dudesical!! I have genuinely missed going to the theatre in 2020, and whilst I downloaded Broadway HD and watched some shows online to get my theatre fix, it just isn’t the same.

I also very much enjoy everything nature has to offer. I enjoy being outside, in beautiful surroundings, and even enjoy the odd camping trip each year, as nothing beats sitting around a campfire under the stars on a clear night. Whilst not an avid or determined mountain climber I do enjoy walks in the countryside, and exploring the local surroundings of anywhere I visit. I also really enjoy getting to see wildlife in its natural habitat. Whether on land or at sea, I find it fascinating learning about the natural world, and can sit for hours and hours just watching animals go about their day.

Apart from my family, who are obviously extremely important to me, the most important thing in my life are my wonderful friends. I love nothing more than spending an evening at a random restaurant or pub, drinking a vino or 4 and putting the world to rights with these diverse and fabulous people. I am fortunate in that I have several different groups of close friends. Some that have known me since school, some since my university days, some from my previous work, and some that I have met in more recent years either travelling or via other friends. I had the most wonderful 40th Birthday last year when for, I think the first time ever, all my different groups of friends and family came together to help me celebrate at ‘Henfest’ which was a festival style party with local bands, camping, great food, games and lots and lots of fun!

Most of my closest friends are similar to me – and by that I mean single and fiercely independent, with great jobs and a genuine love for life. Most importantly they are, for the most part, easy going and just fun to be with! If there is a need for wine (or gin), a random city break or an odd new show in town I can pretty much guarantee I won’t have far to look for someone to join me! Nights with friends are good for the soul as we are just always laughing; usually at some random shenanigans someone has recently got up to, that didn’t turn out as expected! I am desperately looking forward to 2021 when meeting up can once again be the norm!

So talking of the future, what is next on the horizon?

I already have a number of tours tentatively planned (spreadsheets!) to some more ‘off the beaten track’ destinations, and my plan is to hopefully get to these in 2022/3. I have designed an 8 day trip to Sierra Leone that includes trying to see the elusive pygmy hippos, 12 days to Ghana then Sao Tome and Principe to learn about the important history of the region, and to relax on the quaint luxurious beaches. Angola to see Epupa Falls and I also really want to explore Georgia and Armenia as they just look beautiful – if not a little awkward to get to from the UK! Ideally I would love to find 5 or 6 other like-minded people who are interested in these destinations, as it would be great to pull together bespoke small group trips to them, especially as it means I could then design tours based on the group needs instead of just having to do a standard tour! That’s the dream! If that sounds good to you then obviously give me a shout!

Just for those thinking what else does she have in mind there are a few things always on my lifetime bucket list:

  • Sleep under the night sky in a Star Bed somewhere in Africa
  • Visit Margate!! (Don’t ask)
  • Live in Cape Town for a bit
  • See a pangolin in the wild
  • Have dinner on ‘Restaurant in the Sky’ the big crane that lifts you up!
  • See an Okapi in the wild
  • Motorhome trip around NC500 Scotland
  • Sleep in a roof-top tent (probably in Namibia!)
  • Do a Multi-Night train trip through the Rockies
  • Zipline across Penrhyn Quarry

Any volunteers to join me in any of these….. 🙂

All that is left to say is that I hope you enjoy the new blogs that I will be pulling together. I still have many destinations and experiences to write about – I just need to keep myself motivated because despite all I have written about me in this blog and being a typically enthusiastic person, one thing you probably should know is that I have also made procrastination an art form! I write lists for Britain (love a list) getting it done is another thing…..unless it involves travel or trying something new, that’s when my spontaneity and enthusiasm come into its own! Every year I create a to-do list for the year that usually includes new destinations to visit, new restaurants to try, and theatre shows to watch… It’s about time I started on my 2021 list….

Oh – before you go – just one last random fact about me…. I can’t help but sing the title to this Blog as it reminds me of Les Mis…….anyone else?

Sunset at Hokitika Beach – New Zealand
The stunning Outer Hebrides
Beautiful Chile
Checking the radiation levels in Chernobyl – Safety First!
Stunning Blue Waters of Huka Falls in New Zealand
My happy place!

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