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Inspiring women travellers: Caroline Harris, the travel planner

 

Caroline’s life is bookmarked by travel. Inspired as a child by her auntie’s travel tales, she set off to see the world at the tender age of 21. Later, she took her own children on offbeat holidays, set up a travel planning website, and recently kicked off her fifties with an impressive travel bucket list.

Here she tells us all about her life in travel, finding her perfect travel buddies with Thelma & Louise, and why thorough planning is key to a no-regrets trip.
 

“I grew up in a small village in the countryside on the outskirts of Coventry. My auntie who visited often had travelled the world when she was younger and always presented us with unusual gifts and tales of places she had recently been to. This was my initial inspiration for travel and at 21 I sold my car, bought a round-the-world aeroplane ticket and set off on a year-long adventure through Singapore, Malaysia, the beautiful, remote Indonesian islands, the whole of Australia, and several states in America.
 
This adventure always seemed fresh in my mind as I returned and decided to move to Wales to live in an old farmhouse that my Dad was gradually renovating. I married and have three wonderful children (Ash 21, Luke 17 and Olivia 14). We took the children to ‘out of the ordinary’ holidays to Peru, Cuba, Mexico and Greece, which always involved a few road trips to off-the-beaten-track places for several days to give them a ‘real’ cultural experience. This included magical ruins at Machu Picchu, a newly discovered Mayan pyramid deep in a remote Mexican jungle and finding a mountainside in Southern Cuba covered in life-size dinosaurs created nearly 40 years ago by Guantanamo inmates!
Caroline in Peru
Caroline in Peru

Some years later my marriage unfortunately broke down but my dream of travelling continued, this time without the children.  I am a keen mountain walker, so being surrounded by the Tanat Valley hills in North Wales, I can go straight out my door and walk to the top of a mountain, any time I like; I feel very lucky to live here. I work from home as a graphic designer and develop a travel web site called The Not So Rough Guide. My friend Heather who is also extensively travelled and I, came up with this unique idea because we wanted to pass on how to travel to far-off places, at a more reasonable cost by simply booking things independently. We suggest travel routes for people to follow in great detail, knowing that they will have a perfect time.


Find out more about The Not So Rough Guide


I had always dreamed of going to The Great Wall of China a passion that I’d held from the few photos that my auntie showed me when I was a teenager.

“I spent nearly 18 months researching to the best parts of the ‘Wild Wall’ to go on, particularly avoiding the restored tourist sections”

I spent nearly 18 months researching to the best parts of the ‘Wild Wall’ to go on (particularly avoiding the restored tourist sections), how to find a personal guide, and when to go, amongst many other things.

In 2011, along with my two friends we turned to the Thelma & Louise web site to find three extra girls to pal up with to make this dream happen. We met up several times before going on this trip of a lifetime and everything went brilliantly because we were like-minded and we had a detailed plan for the 15 days. Before we knew it, we were trekking on the wild parts of the wall with William Lindesay our fabulous, semi-famous guide - originally from England, but resident in China for over 20 years.
 

Caroline with her T&L travel buddies. China trip
Caroline with her T&L travel buddies. China trip
Camping on the Great Wall of China
Camping on the Great Wall of China
 
It was great fun meeting the girls on Thelma & Louise; we were all roughly the same age and most of us had similar circumstances, being single! Going to a far-off place can sometimes feel daunting, but because there were six of us, we felt happy and never once felt uneasy. Plus having six of us together enabled us to have William to ourselves as our private guide, so the different treks were ones we wanted to do. I particularly loved camping on the wall at a very remote spot, it was completely exhausting to get to - but well worth it. If I hadn’t have found friends via T&L, we would most likely have had to compromise on the walks we did to accommodate other people, which wouldn’t have been so unique. The other advantage was that we could not only share fun stories, but share twin accommodation, taxis etc, making the overall cost lower.

“Going to a far-off place can sometimes feel daunting, but because there were six of us, we felt happy and never once felt uneasy.”

Sarah, who I met through Thelma & Louise, visits me here in Wales once a year – she also loves mountain walking. Sarah has since re-married and with her new husband and my new partner Matt, we have a good time when we get together.
 
Our intrepid pack of girls speak often and with the help of Facebook keep up to date with new adventures that we take. I’m planning a meet up for all Thelma & Louise members in Shrewsbury in a few months’ time – it’ll be another chance for our ‘six pack’ to reminisce too!
 
More recently, I celebrated my 50th birthday. My greatest wish was to spend the actual day gently meandering around the limestone karsts in Vietnam’s Halong Bay. So I set about planning a three-week trip, with my new partner, finding some other incredible place to visit while we were out in the Far East.  We went zip-wiring and jungle trekking in Laos, wandered around the mystical temples in Angkor Wat in Cambodia, zoomed along (as a passenger) on a vintage Vespa through the streets of Saigon, and took an old Russian hydrofoil along the Mekong River to the southern shores of Vietnam to relax for a few days. Then in Northern Vietnam, travelled on a sleeper train to Sapa. We roamed amongst the lovely Hmong hill tribes taking in the stunning mountain scenery. After sightseeing in the wonderful old quarter of Hanoi, we set out on a three-day cruise on a luxury Vietnamese junk style ship to celebrate my 50th birthday, I have to say it was one of the best days of my life and it didn’t disappoint from the initial dream I’d had!
in Cambodia
in Cambodia
Zip wiring in Laos jungle
Zip wiring in Laos jungle
Sapa mountain summit with Matt
Sapa mountain summit with Matt
My children are growing up fast and, while giving them choices of places to go on holiday, I still take my younger two to nearby places of interest.  I feel that ‘people make places’ so to go off the beaten track in whichever country you visit enables you to meet local friendly people, giving a rich insight into their culture.
 
I am an adventurous person and I’m always keeping my eye out for new unusual place to visit. This year Matt and I are going to Caminito Del Rey, a massive, spectacular gorge in Southern Spain where you can walk the platform half way up the side of the cliff.  After-which we’ll spend a week on a road trip travelling to and hiking in Ronda, passing through the white villages to Seville, taking in the sights in Cordoba and Granada, finishing with a couple of relaxing days at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
 
In a couple of years’ time my plan is to research another South American adventure, starting off in Costa Rica to explore the jungle and spot the wild sloths hanging in the trees, then fly down to Peru. After seeing amazing Machu Picchu again, 20 years after my first visit, I want to take the panoramic mountain railway to La Paz, Bolivia, apparently one of the most spectacular journeys in the world. Then take one of the small dugout canoes onto Lake Titicaca to visit the tribal villages dotted on the shores. It’s a journey that will take three weeks, but booking independently will cost a lot less, letting me experience far more.

“I feel that planning ahead when you are limited for time is essential for a successful trip.”

Otherwise you end up wasting time not realising that a plane flight in Laos only flies twice a week or a certain train goes once a day at 7am or a local slow boat across to an Indonesian Island is a fraction of the price compared to a tourist boat.

I hope other T&L members are inspired by my story and take the plunge to get together on trips with each other – it’s a big world to explore!”