We’ve caught up with Alexx on one of her rare moments of downtime. She shares where she got her trip inspiration, her favourite destinations, and advice on how to see the world for yourself.
Hey Alexx, what gave you the idea to travel to 52 countries in 52 weeks?
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. 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.
How do you choose where to go next?
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.
So to avoid daily breakdowns, and to keep costs low, I decided to plan the entire route using Skyscanner’s Everywhere flight search. The everywhere search shows you the cheapest place to go from your destination on a specific date (or month!).
For visa reasons, I had to book my flights in advance. Before my trip, I sat down and planned the first six months of the journey. 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 the search 26 times! I’ve tweaked my ‘one week’ rule a bit to accommodate events and tours.
Where have you been and what place has been your favourite so far?
Right now I’m in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, somewhere I never would have considered visiting if I was planning my own trip! This is week #20 out of 52 but it’s actually country #24 as I managed to tack on a couple of day trips to the smaller European countries like Luxembourg and Liechtenstein.
In the past 4.5 months 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.
Wow! Those all sound like exciting places we have to see for ourselves. Where to next?
I’m heading to Dubai and then India for an extended 11 day trip. Then, I am jumping on a tour through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, before heading to Bali for a solo New Years! I’ll be at home for two weeks in New Zealand, 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!
Does travelling so often ever get tiring? We’re having secondhand travel burnout just thinking about all the places you’ve been.
In a short answer: yes, but there are things you can do to prevent burning out.
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 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. This 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. This gives me plenty of time to spend a couple of days exploring, maybe do a day trip or two, and still have some downtime.
I’d advise other travellers to 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.
Great advice, Alexx. What are some travel moments that stand out so far?
My first week of the 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 lowlights 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.
What tips do you have for making friends on the road?
Hostels are ideal for solo travellers, and they’re the best way to meet new people. 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 four-bed, never any more than six 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.
What are you taking with you on this year-long journey?
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) and 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, both the lightest hard cases I could find and they’ve been absolutely amazing so far.
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.
On your Instagram account, you often chat about sustainable travel. What tips do you have for fellow 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. I minimise my negative impact and then maximise my positive impact.
This means firstly offsetting all my flights. The carbon output for the 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 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.
Do you have any tips for solo travellers considering their own big trip?
In terms of what to do on the road to stay safe, the most important thing is to do is to use your common sense. Don’t walk alone at night in dark areas, always have a phone with a local SIM card, carry a portable battery pack, 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, and 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.
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.