It’s always a great conversation starter that I won a European trip of a lifetime, with return business class airfares to any European city, seven nights accommodation and a set of Antler luggage.
The best part was that I also got to take someone to experience it all with. I chose Lee Mottrom, one of my best friends and my next-door neighbour for many years. I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect to take away with me.
From the moment I submitted my photo, harassed everyone on my contacts list to vote, received the call that I had won, decided on the person I would take and finally planned the trip, it truly was the best experience of my life.
Now, having returned, I think back on my Top 10 experiences and the following comes to mind….
1. Business Class; this is the way you want to fly. Priority is the key word. From check in, through customs and security, to boarding, you definitely feel extremely important.
From the business lounges to your own horizontal bed, the in-flight menu (which is always available), to the glass of sparkling wine you are offered when you first take your seat, PLUS all the little extras (trust me, it’s never ending) – it truly was amazing flying with Etihad Airways.
The best feeling was sitting down with my legs up sipping my glass of sparkling and watching the economy patrons walk past. I just knew their thoughts were ‘how is she in business class?’. I just gave a cheeky smile and took a sip.
2. How do you describe to someone one of the greatest experiences of your life? It’s simple; I tell them to go to Oktoberfest.
I was only there for four hours but that’s all it took for me to realise how amazing it was. Being on a Contiki tour, we were passing through so we only had a short period of time in Munich. In this time we also had to find our dirndl outfit (as to me this is a standard requirement of attending Oktoberfest).
The atmosphere was amazing, with massive crowds all singing and dancing on table tops, holding a beer stein in each hand. Everyone is just so happy and high on life it truly was the best four hours.
3. One of the best things about travelling is creating your very own bucket list. The satisfaction when you are able to tick one of those items off your list (no matter how big or small they may be) is truly an amazing feeling. For me, one of my bucket list items was to drink sangria in Santorini and guess what, I drank sangria in Santorini (and in Spain).
You can imagine the feeling I had on both those days; I was truly on top of the world.
4. Everyone has those moments when you fear for your life, but when you look back all you can do is laugh.
I hired a quad bike for a day in Santorini to explore. I was recommended to watch the sunset in Oia as it is spectacular, and that it was. However, after the sun had gone down and I returned to my quad bike to drive back to Perissa, my headlights wouldn’t turn on. I had no choice but to use the ‘flashlight’ on my Samsung phone for guidance.
Cars would come behind me every so often and provide light but eventually would overtake me and I was back to seeing one metre in front of me. To make it worse, Santorini roads are not the best quality. After what should have taken a third of the time, I arrived home safely 90 minutes later.
5. How I saved money. My trip saw me explore Europe over 10 weeks and although I saw and did a lot of things within that time, I also felt like I saw only 1% of the continent. I had to ensure my Euros were going to last the distance, and I had to be mindful of where I was spending money and where I could save money. Did you know that airlines don’t weigh humans? On my low-cost European flights I downsized my check in baggage to 15kg. Well, I wore 18 pieces of clothing consisting of my bra and undies, two pairs of socks, a pair of runners, two pairs of jeans, pair of trackies, pair of shorts, three tops, three t-shirts, two jumpers and a hoodie. Surprisingly I was uncomfortable and cosy all at the same time. I have never stripped so fast when disembarking from the plane.
6. I will never forget the feeling I had when I was walking towards the Eiffel Tower in Paris for the first time. My head was tilting backwards ever so slowly as I got closer to this global icon. I had never seen what all the hype was about, and never was too fazed about visiting Paris before. To my amazement Paris was one of my favourite cities. I was speechless and absolutely blown away when I saw the Eiffel Tower.
My favourite memory is when I cracked my phone screen right in front of it. Three Australian men interrupted me as I was taking a selfie on my selfie stick. They asked if I could take their picture; I was thinking ‘if I take one for them then they can take one for me’. As I leant down, my phone fell face down onto the ground. I finished taking the photos and when I picked up my phone my entire screen had shattered and all I could see was the Eiffel Tower with a thousand cracks through it. It was my greatest souvenir from Paris.
7. Could you imagine if you missed your business flight home from overseas, and then had to buy an economy ticket because you couldn’t afford business class? This is exactly what I thought was going to happen to me when I slept through my alarm by two hours on the day I was flying back to Australia.
Lucky for me I had planned to pack my bags when I woke up so I had set it with plenty of time. But I now had slept through that time and had to chuck everything in to get to the airport fast. With limited funds by this stage of the trip, my only option was to take the subway. I have to thank Antler Luggage for their easy wheeling and lightweight luggage. Thankfully the priority of business class saved me and I boarded the plane just in time.
8. Dining at Asia de Cuba in London was nothing short of five star. From the service, to the ambience and the food, it was truly an amazing and unforgettable experience. Feeling like a celebrity dining in a fancy restaurant, we started the evening with a complimentary beverage in the cocktail bar followed by dinner. We were able to order anything off the menu that we wanted. Lucky for us we were staying onsite in the beautiful suites of St Martin’s Lane Hotel in London so it was only a short walk back.
After the meal, we needed to lay down as we had eaten so much. The suites were divine with floor-to-ceiling windows, and my favourite was the LED colour-changing lights in each suite, not to mention the fruit platter on arrival.
9. ‘Let me get that for you… Welcome Madame Batten to Prince de Galles’. This is how I was greeted at our luxury Paris hotel before I could even reach out to open the door of our cab.
On check in, I was welcomed by the hotel manager before being escorted to the most ridiculously oversized hotel suite I had ever seen. For the last three nights of my trip, I was staying in the most spacious, world-class hotel suite in the heart of Paris. As soon as the porter left I found myself continuously jumping around with a permanent smile on my face. The attention to detail of this hotel was above and beyond; I was seriously living the life of the rich and famous.
10. Have you ever crashed a honeymoon? Well I have, I crashed my uncles honeymoon whilst they were in Santorini.
For a traveller who had been mostly living in hostel accommodation and eating on a budget, crashing this honeymoon was most certainly some of the best days of the trip. We went out for lunch; we dined in nice restaurants, went on the cable car down to the water and rode a donkey back up which was quite an experience and I think that once is enough in a lifetime. All in all I think they enjoyed my company and it saved me a fortune.
I will never be able to thank the sponsors enough for making this trip a reality for me. Winning the Places We’ve Been Competition changed my life and I am truly the luckiest girl in the world. Thank you to Places We Go, Antler Luggage, Etihad Airways, Encore Journeys & Myer.
To the people I met along the way, to the countries & cities I visited, to acting like a true local wherever I was and embracing each city on my European adventure was an unforgettable experience and was the trip of a lifetime I will remember forever.
By Missy Batten