Updated on March 23rd, 2023
2019 was an epic year for me as it marked the moment I had been on this planet for half a century! Here are the life lessons from my travels in the year I turned 50. It includes my adventures living in Antigua, practicing yoga in Cuba, partying in Ireland, getting up close & personal with the amazing wildlife of the Galapagos & culminating in climbing to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Not a bad way to celebrate!”
Antigua, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Kenya, Tanzania, Ireland, Australia, Ecuador, St Kitts, Dominica, Martinique, Bulgaria, Macedonia & Albania
My last few years have been driven by a desire to use my Life List as a reference & road map. I created it to give me hope & direction after tragically losing my husband, Terry in 2014. Since then it has served me well & helped me to grieve & find a new purpose. 2019 was a big year for me. It marked my 50th year on this planet & also the first time I had made another country my home.
For the first 6 months of the year, I lived in Antigua, West Indies & fell in love with the island. It has 365 beaches, 1 for every day of the year, & if that’s not enough to convince you to go, you can read more of my recommendations in my blog post – Antigua, A Local Perspective.
The latest guise of my Life List has 85 goals & over the last 12 months, I have ticked another 9 off the list & had many new discoveries besides. This year I visited 14 countries, including 7 that were for the first time. Having had an original goal to see 50 by the time I turned 50 & 60 before 60, this took my total to 70 so well & truly smashed those two!
Here is what I have learned along the way in the year I entered a new decade of life.
2019 – Life Lessons from My Travels in the Year I Turned 50
1. No-one does posh like us Brits!!
Number 5 on my list was to explore Buckingham Palace. They allow the general public in for tours around the State Rooms for a few months each summer, so I was excited to book my place. Although not surprised, I was absolutely blown away by the opulence of the decoration & fascinated by the stories told on the audio guide.
My favourite was the Throne Room. Seeing the beautifully worn plush red velvet seats where the Queen & Prince Philip place themselves for official royal business was a real treat.”
Next on my list was Number 6 – Afternoon Tea at the Ritz, London. I went with my friend Marie & loved getting a little dressed up to sample our nations favourite tipple. We added some champagne & were treated to the most amazing selection of sandwiches (crusts off of course!) & painstakingly decorated cakes. It was an iconic event which I loved & ate every morsel!
For more palaces, check out my Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Hampton Court Palace Day Trip
2. Wild animals should remain in the wild. And if they do, they can get a bit overfriendly!
As it was my 50th year, I tried to tick off a number of the really iconic elements, starting with Number 29, a Tour of the Galápagos Islands. The whole experience blew my mind.
If the landscapes were not surreal enough, the animals themselves & their over-friendly nature took my breath away.”
During the 8 days, I spent on a small cruise I was run over by a penguin, spat at by marine iguanas & watched a sealion expertly use a zebra crossing. Then there was being divebombed by a flightless cormorant, snorkelling with Hammerhead Sharks & swimming with more turtles than I ever thought would be possible. Each one gave me as much of a thrill as the first. I cannot imagine anywhere else on earth that you could have as many unique & up-close wildlife experiences & it was definitely a once in a 50-year-old lifetime event!
3. I Can Fly!
My Dad was into gliding & when I was about 9, I had the chance to sample a short flight. I was too young to properly appreciate it & can’t really remember much. However, it had stuck with me & remained on my list (Number 65) to explore why my Dad had such a passion for the sport. As a birthday present, my lovely sister-in-law gave me a lesson & I loved it! I was very lucky with clear blue skies for my flight.
Climbing into the cockpit it all became very real. In a glider, you sit low & it feels like there is nothing between you & the sky.
We took off being towed by a plane & for over an hour chased the thermals like a bird, using them to raise us up to admire the view.”
On occasion, I took over control. Despite having a constant desire to aim too high (there’s probably a lot more to that than I care to ponder on!), I did a reasonable job of flying. I can see where my Dads passion came from. There is nothing like the freedom of the skies!
4. The Power of the Earth Blows My Mind
If Galápagos hadn’t given me enough to marvel at the beauty of nature, then Dominica filled in the gaps. This is named the “Nature Island of the Caribbean” for a reason & I have never visited anywhere quite like it. If you are interested in wild volcanic earth at its most interesting, then this is the place for you. Boiling lakes, hot springs & cold bubbling pools, as well as secluded gorges & more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at. Dominica has it all. When I was there it was outside cruise ship season, meaning hardly any tourists so we were even more lucky to have all this natural beauty to ourselves!
5. I discovered a new favourite country & it’s very close to home
I am never keen on choosing favourites but up until this point if anyone asked me which was my favourite country in the world (& they often do) I have categorically answered Cuba. The landscapes, the beauty of Havana, the attitude of the people, salsa, cigars, rum, the list goes on! This year I found a rival to it in Ireland.
I visited as part of my 50th celebrations for a girl’s weekend & although I’d been to the Emerald Isle a number of times, I’ll be honest & say I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with Ireland.
For me, it was close to home (UK), had a reputation for friendly party-loving locals & the opportunity for an interesting road trip. All prerequisites for my choice!”
In the end, I spent 8 days exploring the Wild Atlantic Way through the peninsulas of Kerry & Cork and was in awe of the beautiful landscapes. I also had the most fun every night watching live music & sampling plenty of Guinness & Murphy’s. I learnt that my pint of choice should change depending on which County I am in. When I ordered Guinness in Cork, I was told “No” with a characteristic wink! Welcome to my new favourite country!
6. France is actually in the Caribbean
In an attempt to further explore the Caribbean, I headed to the island of Martinique. So far, I had fallen in love with the pristine beaches & unique character of each of the islands I had visited. From Cuba, Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, Cayman, Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Turks & Caicos, St Martin & any of The Bahamas, I found that each had a very different vibe. All were linked by a laidback attitude & natural island beauty. Martinique surprised me in that it was just like being back in France!
From the moment I got off the ferry, I found smooth 3 lane highways with speed traps instead of the usual roads peppered with potholes. Small roadside stalls selling fruit were replaced by big hypermarkets stocking delicious cheese, baguettes & croissants.”
Even the font on the road signs looked exactly the same. I found it initially confusing that everything could look so familiar & yet be so far removed. It was a fascinating place to visit & I am keen to go back & explore some more.
7. At 50 your body still has the ability to amaze & surprise you
I made a pact with myself as I struggled to the highest point of the Inca Trail in 2017 that by the time I got to 50, I would tick off Number 48 – Mount Kilimanjaro. The day after my birthday, I headed to Tanzania to do just that. My climbing partner was Brigit who I had met 18 months earlier on a yoga retreat in Cuba. We had therefore only seen each other once before. The most important thing on both our agendas was to get to the Summit & we wanted to give ourselves the best chance possible. We had chosen the Lemosho Route which took 8 days to complete, with success rates around 80-90%.
I suffered from the altitude a little but am proud to report that I made it!
Climbing for 6 1/2 hours through the night to see the sunrise over the “Roof of Africa” is a moment I will savour forever. It left me in awe of my 50-year-old body & what it was able to achieve.”
You can read all about my struggles & triumphs on the mountain in my blog posts.
8. Guardian Angels do exist
I have had 2 instances this year when I have been desperately lost & someone has come along just when I needed them. I like to think of them as Guardian Angels.
In Ecuador, I took on the challenge of hiking 3 days to complete the Quilotoa Loop. My plan was to do the walk alone, but I had been lucky to find some partners for the first 2 days. I was very grateful as the instructions supplied weren’t brilliant. Consultation & a group mentality had helped immensely. Day 3 found me by myself, which I enjoyed up to the point when I reached a crossroads with no signs or idea which direction I needed to head in. For about 10 minutes I walked back & forwards up each way until my instinct each time told me it was wrong.
Then, along came a Cuban guy who I hadn’t seen before (faces get familiar along the route).
We got chatting & tackled the challenge together, using his superior Spanish to ask some local farmers. Unfortunately, this led us to a dry riverbed without a clue, a sign & nobody around to ask. I was pleased that I was not alone.”
Eventually, we found our way out & finally saw a longed-for signpost. He stopped soon after, struggling as the path rose uphill. With the communication of huge thanks & good luck, I left him. He was happy for me to do so, not wanting to slow me down. The clouds came in quickly in the afternoons & I was keen to reach my goal – Lake Quilotoa before it was hidden by them. I made it with 10 minutes to spare. We never saw each other again, but he had appeared exactly when I needed a friendly face. I very much hope he got to enjoy his goal once he had made it there too.
My second Guardian Angel discovered me in need after Kilimanjaro. My friend & I spent a well-earned week of recovery on the beaches of Zanzibar (& checked number 50 off my list in the process). We had walked up the beach to explore & find some lunch, followed by a drink on the way home. After the sunset, it was time to head back but we hadn’t factored in the tide. It had made our pathway home hazardous & we were forced to search for a way off the beach & onto the road.
It was easier said than done as we found ourselves picking our way through a dark, deserted hotel complex to a thankfully unlocked gate & onto the road.”
It was pitch black & we hadn’t actually approached our guesthouse from this angle. We knew we still had a distance to go & were hopeful that we would recognise something along the way. Then a man’s voice came from behind us as a guy dressed in full Masai outfit appeared at our side. Initially, I felt this was a threatening situation. However, immediately my concern eased when I realised he was the security guard from our guesthouse on his way to work! That night we felt very grateful to him as he led us straight back to the house. Someone was clearly watching over me again!
Needless to say, both of these incidents came with more educational opportunities, namely that I may be 50 but still have plenty of life lessons to learn!
In addition, I ticked off another few goals from my Life List:
76. Gain 1000 followers on a social media platform.
Thanks to all my lovely followers on Instagram (2,600) & Twitter (1,800) I have achieved this. Click on the links if you would like to join the party ;)! Alternatively, if you prefer I have Facebook, Pinterest & a YouTube channel which may also be of interest to you. All feature regular updates & inspiration if you are planning your adventures for 2020.
78. Ride a jet ski.
Just before I left Antigua it was the perfect time to see the island from a different angle, so we hired a jet ski & went exploring. I loved it!
81. Monumentally celebrate my 50th birthday.
I’m sure you already have the impression this is well & truly completed! Although it technically could last for a year, & I have plenty more activities in the pipeline. I have climbed a mountain, flown a glider, road-tripped around Ireland, visited Galapagos, got to 70 countries & had many fantastic nights out with friends. I am happy to tick this off!
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Omg! so proud xx
can’t wait for your next adventure 🙂
Thank you Jess! Me too! Sue x
Absolutely beautiful. I’m sorry for your loss but so happy you have been finding yourself in your travels.
Thank you Heather. Sue x
This is #goals! I’m working on 50 countries by 50.
Fantastic thanks Lauren! Where are you now? Good luck. Sue x
You have such a beautiful outlook on life that’s very inspiring. Happy Birthday!
Thank you Gabby! Sue x
I just love your journey! I didn’t hike the Quilatoa loop but but visited and it’s just stunning! I especially like your comment about a 50 year old body still has the ability to surprise and amaze! Yes, yes, yes! You are an inspiration!
Thank you Candy & agree re Lake Quilotoa – it is beautiful & for me well worth the effort. Kind words & glad you agree re the 50 year old body… Sue x
Such a wonderful and creative read. I’ve truly loved reading your journey and magical experiences. Our 50s are fabulous years.
Thank you, Marilyn! I’m looking forward to a fantastic decade ahead! Sue x
Very sorry for your loss, Sue. You are indeed such an inspiration for many women in the fifties to find purpose and enjoy life. I guess the number 50 really becomes a turning point for most and moments of introspection. Enjoyed your reading your journey and look forward to reading more.
Thank you so much for your kind words. Hearing things like this means a lot & I appreciate you taking the time to read & reflect on my journey. Stay Safe, Sue x
You are so inspiring! And active. I admire the way you set goals and go after them and see the world!
Thank you! If I’m honest it’s been what has kept me going & continuing to move forward. Sue x
Ah … tea at the Ritz! I remember going there to an afternoon tea dance when I used to live in London. I was dating a guy who loved ballroom dancing, and he wanted to waltz at the Ritz. I enjoyed the afternoon tea, it was a very special occasion, but my two left feet didn’t enjoy the waltzing. We’re no longer together… I wonder why!!! 😉
Hilarious! Fab experience & I love the story. Thank for sharing (& it was probably for the best!;)) Sue x