Once in a lifetime experiences come in all shapes and sizes. From life, love and career milestones to bucket lists, chance encounters, and those pinch-me moments.
Some are planned, others just happen. Anyone can plan a holiday to Las Vegas and have an epic time. But you can’t plan on winning 50 Gs at roulette and next thing you know, Samuel L Jackson is there and he’s like yo Lara, I’m about to fly my private jet back to LA, why don’t you come with and we can talk about your movie idea? No, that didn’t happen. But it brings me to my next point: once in a lifetime doesn’t have to mean one in a million.
It’s no coincidence that some of my favourite once in a lifetime experiences happened during my travels after the age of 21. Before then, I was always in the passenger seat. I grew up traveling, but never in control of the itinerary. It was always someone else choosing the destination and making the plans.
Everything changed when I decided to board a plane to Rio instead of Lisbon to spend my birthday/Christmas with my best friend and not my family.
It was a bold move at 21. I was in the middle of my Masters Degree and somehow managed to convince my parents to buy me the ticket. This was the first trip I was in control of. I’d been to Rio a few times before, but never on my own.
Truly ahead of her time, my friend explained that she wanted to give me an experience gift for my birthday instead of buying me something, and suggested we go hang-gliding. Absolutely not. Jump off a cliff in Brazil? Never!
After my initial shock reaction, the idea began to settle and after some back and forth I uncharacteristically turned to my friend and said, let’s do it. So we hopped in a cab and found some dudes down at the beach with hang-gliding gear. After some price negotiation, we got into their car and started driving up an incredibly steep mountain.
At the top, it was a super quick “lesson” of, do you know how to run? Hold my shoulder and let’s run together. Ok, you can run. For some reason, I went first. The dude strapped me into a harness, asked me again to hold onto his shoulder, and said, ok, now we run.
Easy as that, I ran off the side of a cliff with a total stranger and after a sudden drop, was lifted up by the wind, hang-gliding over Rio de fucking Janeiro.
It was the most incredible sensation, I was flying! I wasn’t at all afraid. How could anyone feel fear with so much beauty all around? It was so quiet and peaceful up there. I could see the whole city, the sprawling favelas, the iconic Two Brothers and Pedra da Gavea mountains.
When we landed on the beach my heart wouldn’t stop pounding from the adrenaline. I had never done anything like that before. It was a perfect, spontaneous, once in a lifetime experience. Who was this cliff-jumping person? I felt reborn! And may or may not have gotten a tattoo with a line from a Brazilian poem the very next day.
A few months later, when I was invited to go to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt with some of my Masters colleagues, I was all in.
There was supposed to be a whole group of us going but in the end, we were just three. To our surprise and amusement, we were questioned at every stage of our trip, at check-in and at passport control. What is the purpose of your visit? How do you know each other? Apparently, it’s not every day you see a Norwegian, Colombian and Vietnamese travel together.
We were looking through the activities on offer and decided to book a sunset quad-biking tour in the desert. I’d never ridden a quad bike before and normally this would have filled me with anxiety. But something was different, I was different. You got this.
The rush I felt as I pulled the handle to accelerate my bike over the dunes was so good it made the hairs on my arm stand up. I felt like such a badass riding through the desert like something out of a movie. The sunset was so vibrant it looked like the sky was on fire, and then as sudden as blowing out a candle, everything went dark. We drove the way back through the blackest night I’d ever seen with nothing but broken headlights before us and a universe of stars up above.
Fast forward a few years…
Past my first jet-ski ride in Turkey, a boat trip in Barbados where I went swimming with giant sea turtles, a near-death experience river rafting in Argentina, a helicopter tour over the Na Pali Coast… and I realize that there’s a pattern to this.
Turns out that my most special once in a lifetime travel experiences, absent hanging out with Samuel L Jackson anytime soon, all somehow involve transport. That in order to overcome my childhood feeling of always being a passenger, and never the one to take decisions or steer the course, I quite literally had to take the driver’s seat to regain control. How’s that for some self-psychoanalysis?
JOIN THE LINKUP
This post is part of a monthly travel linkup series where February’s topic is once in a lifetime experiences. If you’d like to take part, you can add your post to the link up widget found on Adventures of a London Kiwi, SilverSpoon London, Follow Your Sunshine and guest host Tanja at The Red Phone Box between the 1st – 7th February 2018.