Alexx Hayward is a 27-year-old Kiwi who caught the travel bug when she was 19. She’s journeying around the world, visiting a different destination each week for a year, using Skyscanner’s Everywhere Search for inspiration.
We caught up with Alexx during one of her rare quiet moments to ask her about where she finds travel inspiration, her favourite destinations, and her top travel tips.
Hey Alexx! Thanks for taking time out from travelling to chat with us. What made you decide to start travelling?
Hey guys! Thanks for having me. Well, I was living in London in 2017, and had time to see loads of Europe and beyond. When my UK visa expired in June last year I was sizing up what to do – I wasn’t ready to move home yet, and I didn’t want to start a whole new life in another country either, so long-term travel was the obvious answer! I had the idea of using this trip to show other travellers how to make your money go further while you’re travelling, and how to get the best bang for your buck when you choose where to go, where to stay, things to do and places to eat.
52 destinations in 52 weeks is quite a challenge. What gave you the idea?
I wanted to dispel the rumour that you need loads of money and months of leave to have a decent adventure, so I decided to focus on one country each week to show how you can get the ultimate experience in that destination.
It’s unrealistic for the vast majority of people to have a year-long round the world trip, or even to get a month for backpacking through Europe, so my mission is to share my itineraries, must-dos, must-sees and must-eats during my week-long stay in places all over the globe.
We can think of so many destinations we’d love to visit; it must be really hard choosing where to go! How do you choose your next destination?
I leave it up to fate… in the form of Skyscanner’s Everywhere search! I’m really terrible at making decisions, so having a totally empty calendar and a decent-ish lump of savings is legitimately terrifying to me. If I planned this trip myself it would have taken me a year and probably thirty spreadsheets just to prioritise my wanderlist, let alone book the actual trip. To avoid daily breakdowns, and to keep costs low, I decided to plan the entire route using Skyscanner’s Everywhere flight search, which shows you the cheapest place to go from your destination on a specific date (or month!).
As much as I like the idea of taking it week by week, for visa reasons I had to book my flights in advance, so back in April I sat down and planned the first six months of the trip. My trip started after a week of sailing through Croatia, so I put ‘Dubrovnik’ as the origin, ‘Everywhere’ as the destination, and the cheapest flight was to Paris. Then I repeated it 26 times!
Once I’ve been to a country on the trip then it’s off the list, but if I need to extend my time in a place to fit in with a specific tour, event or just to be able to see a bit more, I have tweaked my ‘one week’ rule a couple of times.
We bet you’ve been to loads of amazing countries. How many have you visited and what’s your favourite so far?
I’ve mostly been in Europe with a bit of the Middle East. The major stand out destinations for me have been Switzerland, Ireland and Jordan, but there have been quite a few stops that really exceeded my expectations! Turns out Sofia is one of the best foodie cities on the planet, Zaragoza in Spain is an absolute hidden gem and my week in Israel and the West Bank was exhausting, heartbreaking and eye-opening all at once.
Where are you most excited to go – and where’s next for you?
After a solo New Year’s in Bali, I’ve got a family wedding in NZ in January so I’ve got two weeks of ‘holiday’ at home to mark the half-way point, before the second half of the trip takes me to Australia, all through Asia, over to North America, some of Central America and then swings me back over to Europe. Phew!
Exploring Europe for the past few months has been amazing but I’m so excited to see more of Asia where it’s so different to back home, and then be back in the States, nine years after living there. Some of the places I’m looking forward to the most are the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Japan, Cuba and New York – I’m even treating myself to a solo-moon in the Maldives!
All that travelling sounds exciting, but exhausting! How do you avoid burning out and what advice would you give to other long-term travellers?
In a short answer: yes, but there are things you can do to prevent it.
The number one thing to remember is that travelling for weeks or months is not the same as a long weekend getaway, where you party hard, don’t sleep, explore all day every day and splurge on food, drink, shopping and activities.
It’s really important to try and keep somewhat of a routine during a long-term trip, especially with eating, sleeping, and exercise. I mostly stay at hostels or apartments with full kitchens so I can cook my own food, I have earplugs and an eye mask to make sure I can always get a decent night’s sleep and I walk A LOT (plus lugging around heavy suitcases is my weekly cardio).
I’d also really recommend slowing down and not overestimating your ability to move around, which is ironic coming from me, I know! While a country every week does sound insane, most weeks I actually spend the full seven days in a single city, plenty of time to spend a couple of days exploring, maybe do a day trip or two, and still have some downtime.
Instead of trying to tick off every single bucket list experience in a short time, focus on one area where you can have a base and do day trips, or give yourself a bit of extra time to be able to road trip around at your own pace.
One of the things we love most about long-term travelling is the people you meet and share experiences with. Any tips for making friends on the road?
Hostels are ideal for solo travellers, and they’re the best way to meet new people for sure. I know hostels can conjure up an image in your mind of dingy backpackers, creaky bunk beds and messy shared bathrooms, but I can honestly say that some of the hostels I stay in are much nicer than cheap hotels!
I’m a real hostel snob, so I do as much research as possible to make sure I’m staying somewhere comfortable, clean, and safe with good facilities. I mostly book female-only dorms and preferably 4-bed, never any more than 6 in a room unless there’s no other option. If I’m feeling burnt out and need my own space or if I’m travelling anywhere super cheap, sometimes I’ll opt for a private room at a hostel to get the best of both worlds, and still use the social areas to find potential travel buddies.
If hostels aren’t your thing, then the best way to meet other people is to jump on a tour. Most major cities offer free walking tours where you can chat with other visitors, or consider a hiking day trip or a food tour to hang out with like-minded travellers. For longer trips there are loads of tour companies for different travel styles. Try Contiki if you’re under 35, look at G Adventures for small group tours or active tours, check out Travel Talk for cheap adventures through the Middle East and North Africa, or try One Life for South East Asia.
Can you share with us some of your best or most memorable moments so far?
The first week of my trip coincidentally took me to Paris for Bastille Day, France’s national celebration, where they have the most incredible fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower. Watching and listening to the show was like an out-of-body experience – if my first week was that epic, what is the rest of the year going to be like?!
Some other highlights have been paragliding in Interlaken in Switzerland, playing with kittens in front of the famous Treasury in Petra, going to a Halloween Party at Dracula’s Castle in Romania and watching balloons float over Cappadocia in Turkey three mornings in a row.
But highlights don’t exist without some serious lows too. There have been plenty of mishaps with public transport, extreme temperatures which I was unprepared for (I’m looking at you, Belgium heatwave) and exceeded budgets, but the worst one was losing my wallet and ALL of my cards in Switzerland.
It was a horrible 12 hours of wondering how on earth I would pay for food, accommodation and transport in one of the most expensive countries in the world, before a kind bus driver returned it to my hostel the next morning. Crisis averted!
Top tip: NEVER have all your cards in one place, always keep a spare credit card somewhere safe in case of emergency.
How did you decide what to pack for your year-long adventure, and what luggage did you take?
The most important things in my bag are my tripod – aka my best travel buddy (who needs an Instagram boyfriend?) – my silicone earplugs that block out literally all sound, and my super comfy pair of pyjamas that make me feel at home no matter where I am.
I opted for a suitcase for this trip over a backpack, because I’m travelling with about 30kg of stuff (including 12kgs of laptop/camera gear) aaaand I’m weak, so I didn’t want to commit to carrying multiple seasons worth of clothes, tech gear, drone batteries and everything else on my back.
You best believe I researched every single suitcase option before going on the trip, and I settled on the Samsonite Cosmolite ultra-lightweight hard cases. My 75cm suitcase is only 2.6kg and the matching 55cm cabin bag is 1.7kg. They’re both the lightest hard cases I could find and they’ve been absolutely amazing so far.
We love that your instagram account shares tips for travelling more sustainably. What tips do you have for travellers who want to cut down on their environmental footprint?
Sustainable and responsible travel is more important than ever, when we’re dealing with things like climate change, overtourism, and ensuring we’re respecting local cultures and religion.
While my trip involves a lot of flying, I try and offset where I can, minimise my negative impact and then maximise my positive impact.
This means, firstly, offsetting all my flights. The carbon output for my first six months worth of flights was only slightly higher than a single return flight from London to New Zealand, which would have been the other option if I hadn’t done this trip! I use co2nsensus.com to offset every flight I take and Skyscanner has an excellent tool which shows you the more eco-friendly flight options too so you can make an informed choice when you’re booking your adventure.
Then I try and minimise plastic use as much as possible by using my filter water bottle, eco-friendly toiletries like shampoo and conditioner bars from Ethique and always carrying a tote bag to avoid needing plastic bags.
The impact of overtourism is something I’m really passionate about too, and one of the best things about my trip is that the cheapest flight often goes to less touristy places, like Zaragoza instead of Barcelona, Hamburg instead of Berlin and Milan instead of Rome. If I am going somewhere that struggles with tourism numbers, I’ll make an effort to visit a nearby city instead, like spending my Amsterdam week in Rotterdam instead.
And finally, it’s so, so important to remember to treat local communities the same way you would treat people back at home. Respect cultural norms, dress appropriately, always learn please and thank you in the local language so you can be polite, avoid taking photos of children without asking parents or teachers first, don’t litter, and just generally be a good and respectful human.
For solo female travellers thinking about taking their own trip, what are your top tips?
I have so many!
In terms of what to do on the road to stay safe, the most important thing is to do is to just use your common sense.
- Don’t walk alone at night in dark areas.
- Always have a phone with a local SIM card, and carry a portable battery pack (I use a Cygnett one).
- Make sure you know the local emergency number.
- If you’re drinking then always watch your drink and avoid drinking too much if you aren’t with people you can trust.
- Keep important or expensive belongings locked in your hotel or hostel, or in a secure backpack or on your body if you need it during the day.
And, of course, never travel without travel insurance.
If you want to take cool photos while you’re travelling solo, my top suggestion is to get a tripod. You can get cheap and lightweight ones from Amazon, plus there are phone attachments if you don’t have a fancy camera. I use a Manfrotto Compact Action tripod which is about as light as they get for proper cameras without splurging on a carbon fibre one.
And finally, it’s totally normal to be scared. Travelling is a big deal, and when you’re going by yourself with no security blanket, it’s even bigger. Don’t let that fear stop you from doing it because I guarantee it will be one of the best things you’ll ever do in your life.