Ashleigh Elyssa takes Europe, A PostGrad Gift To Herself!
Ashleigh Elyssa is a marketing executive and one of my closest friends. I'm honoured that she's sharing her post-grad travel story with me. Ashleigh took Europe, a moment that ushered her into the new era of life and career.
Ashleigh, a Jamaican native, had spent the last year working on her Masters at Birmingham City University. She was a child the last time she visited the UK and didn't want to head back to Jamaica without experiencing more of what Europe had to offer. So closer to the end of her time at school, she started taking days tours within the UK - which she realized was only scratching the surface of the vast sights the country, and continent, had to offer.
Avid travellers know prioritizing and precise budgeting is the only way to bring travel dreams to life. Ashleigh was ready to build some fond memories, but admits she's not a big planner. Her ad hoc travel style has found her mostly going with the flow, often with planning left up to friends and family. "A lot of the time it comes out of opportunities, a lot of the time it comes out of other people making plans and I go along with them. One goal that I have set for myself is to go somewhere new at least once a year," she told me.
In 2015, she joined her father and sister on a trip to China; had her first Cropover experience in Barbados in 2016; and leaned towards a hassle free Eurotour in 2017, visiting 7 countries in 9 days.
Ashleigh decided to embark on the Contiki European Magic tour when, in a stroke of luck, her friend Jody from Miami let her know they were planning a Euro tour as well - they combined forces to experience the journey together.
For Ashleigh, a tour was safer and more organized given the short period of time than attempting to map the route to desired countries on her own. She liked the ease of paying for travel, built in experiences, and additional recommended activities without the worry of how they'd get to each destination. Another bonus is skipping lines at certain sights.
On a tour of 30 people, the friends quickly found a core group of new friends from Australia who they parred with during all activities. The new squad was high energy and fun that helped the usually reserved friends come out of their shells and added to the overall experience.
A tour skeptic myself, I was definitely interested to know if she would do it again. Ashleigh assured me, "I would do the tour with this company again. I would love to do it with a bigger group of my own friends. It can be more expensive but worth having things pre-scheduled for you and always knowing transportation is taken care of. Just a hassle free way to travel, without tonnes of research".
"It's really really hard to say which was my favourite stop. One thing I really appreciated about this tour experience was that every city was different. I loved something different about each. Amsterdam was this wild party city, it was such a different eye opening and crazy experience! Things that are inhibited on our side of the world [Jamaica] were so free and open there, from smoking to whatever your mind can imagine. In Paris the cultural and historic sites Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower. And Austria is so underrated but so gorgeous. You can't even take in the amount of natural beauty a country like that has. Germany was the one country I could actually see myself living in, it's so modern, I just loved it. I can't tell you that I didn't like any of the stops, I just loved them all. It was such a well rounded tour, I just enjoyed it!"
The Contiki tour includes 13 meals, so I had to ask about the culinary part of Ashleigh's adventure. When we worked together, I went on my first food tour with her, so I knew she'd make the best of new cultural culinary delights. "I'm a foodie so I enjoyed sampling all the traditional versions of the foods these countries are known for. Desserts were a must! It was a great balance of travelled and food. I must admit that some days we just had McDonald's depending on what the day turned out to be. A big contrast to the hundreds we'd spend at top restaurants like Moulin Rouge".
Travel is always a growth opportunity. Ashleigh told me her biggest takeaway was to keep going. "The world is so big! Sometimes we get so consumed by the space we are in physically and mentally. There is just so much more to experience, as much as I can afford to, I want to see more of the world. To live your fullest life, it's not gonna be necessarily where you live. There is so much you can take in and be present in that's outside the grasp of our digital world. You kinda just need to go out there and experience it. I know it sounds cliché but I just want to go out and see different place and people and food for as long as I'm alive!"
So what's next for Ashleigh? A fun girls trip to LA for her friend's 30th birthday in March. Since she's been to the city before, I'm excited to hear what new stamp Ashleigh will be adding to her passport in 2018.
Follow Ashleigh's adventures on Instagram!