Travel is in our blood and we think it makes us better at understanding our customer’s situations as travel insurers. So we asked the team here at SCTI to share their favourite travel experiences. Here’s what they told us.
Burj Khalifa and Grand Canyon
Last year I had an incredible experience of travelling to a few countries around the world for 6 weeks. A moment that stands out for me, and which made me realise how amazing travelling is, was near the end of my trip to Dubai.
While there I went up the Burj Khalifa to the highest open air viewing platform in the world - 555m high, on the 148th floor of the tower. It was the most surreal feeling I’ve ever had, standing up there in the warm desert air overlooking the city, knowing I was on top of the world. Not only was the night-time view of the Dubai skyline spectacular, but while up there I got a bird’s eye view of the Dubai Fountain show.
This tower is no doubt a great feat of construction and design – something Dubai is no stranger to. However, what struck me the most was both the parallels of similarity and the stark contrasts between being up there on that platform and another place I visited, much earlier on in my trip – the Grand Canyon.
While the Burj Khalifa is a feat of manmade construction amongst a sprawling metropolis, the Grand Canyon is a feat of a more natural kind, formed over millions of years. Photos simply don’t do it justice – the sheer size of the canyon, the colours of the rock, how high you are standing on the edge of the sides looking down. To think that whole canyon was carved by nature itself, with no human input, was astounding.
Being able to see and experience these two wonders made me realise how awesome travelling is, and seeing what the world has to offer. It’s pretty safe to say I’m hooked!
Growing up in New Zealand where we are surrounded by luxuries, the most life-changing experience I ever had was my trip to Cambodia during my second to last year at high school. My school would take a group of students to Cambodia to not only experience the beautiful country and culture, but to also complete volunteer work for those in the community who were not so lucky. We fundraised for months before going, as our main focus of the trip was to build houses to help those whose homes were destroyed due to the floods.
We spent an entire day building 16 houses from bamboo and corrugated iron, lifted up on stilts so the flood water could run underneath the house and not affect those living there. I still remember the grandmother from one family crying when we had completed this house and being so grateful. These houses were nothing but a single room, no plumbing, no electricity, nothing but a floor, walls, roof and window – but the look on her face and the other families we helped made me forever grateful for what I had experienced.
I did this as an exchange student, so specialised travel insurance that covers volunteer work was organised by the school.
Fernie, Canada to Michigan, USA
Why do I love to travel? I love the independence and spontaneity that can come from travelling. The off-the-cuff decision making that can take you to some truly amazing places that you’ never thought you’d get to go to or experience.
One such experience happened in the USA, when my best mate and I decided that we wanted to travel from Fernie, CAN to Michigan, USA to visit some friends at MSU. We made the 3,000km trip by car in a little under 30hrs, driving through some of the night. The trip took us through some of the most picturesque places on Earth as pine forests, rocky mountains, canyons and glacier blue lakes and rivers became the norm for us. But the drive through Montana into North Dakota is something I will remember for ever.
Around 7am on the second morning I was driving through a remote stretch of I94 east bound, when the sun began to rise as I rounded this corner, coming up a steep canyon pass. As we reached the crest of the pass we witnessed the sun breaking a few seconds later over this pine forest and rock canyon plain…it was the most surreal and awe-inspiring experience I have ever had travelling. We pulled over to get out and stretch in the morning sunshine and while sipping on our coffee’s we both agreed that at that point, we really felt like we were intrepid travellers lost in this new and awesome world.
It was great knowing we were covered for rental vehicle excess under the TravelCare policy.
Svalbard, Far North
One of my top travel moments was a trip to the Northernmost town on the planet - Svalbard. It’s an archipelago located between Norway and the North Pole, with otherworldly landscapes that make you feel like you’ve left planet Earth and landed on the moon.
The untouched arctic wilderness is covered by glaciers. It’s also home to one-sixth of the world's polar bear population. Being there felt like being in a David Attenborough documentary. When we visited, temperatures hovered around -15 degrees. We spent our time riding huskies across frozen lakes, stargazing, and learning about the history of the whaling and trapping.
But the moment that stands out for me is the day we departed for a hike up the Sarkofagen Mountain in a snow blizzard. We set off with a tour guide in search of an ice cave hidden beneath a glacier. The weather conditions were so extreme that we almost had to turn back and return to the settlement.
In every direction all you could see was blinding white snow, and it felt like you were on a sheet of white paper - a truly bizarre sensation. The winds were so strong that they physically pushed me to the ground several times. Mother nature at her most extreme. Luckily the blizzard eased off and we were able to continue our hike. We descended 5 meters straight down into an icy hole the size of a person - not an ideal experience for the claustrophobic - then crawled into the underground grotto to explore the many glistening passages. Within the cave you can find 60 million year old plant fossils.
Being under tons of ice and snow was a little disconcerting, especially since the tour guide mentioned there was another snow cave that couldn’t be used anymore as the ice and snow above it had gave way! Sadly we didn’t spot any polar bears, but I’ll never forget the stark remoteness and wild beauty of the island, and how insignificant it felt to be amongst such majestic and powerful landscape.
Flying out of Svalbard over the grand mountain ranges was breathtaking and strangely emotional. How lucky we all are to have this awesome planet to call home!
Though I didn’t think about it at the time, the fact that all this happened on a guided tour limited most of the real danger. It also meant that if something did go wrong, my insurance could cover me.
Wembley Stadium, England
A friend of mine was travelling through Europe later that year, so he jumped online to see if our favourite band, Oasis, was playing in Europe at that time. Turns out they were! So I said, “If you’re keen, then I’ll fly over for it.”
A week later, I’d booked flights and tickets to the gig. Seeing as I was heading that far, I made the trip a 6 week one and organised other things too – e.g. a few other gigs and sporting events.
That concert remains one of my favourite gigs. It was on 12 July 2009 at Wembley Stadium. They actually split up unexpectedly a little over a month later, so was quite good timing. I’d never been to Wembley Stadium before, so that in itself was quite an experience. When onstage, Liam and Noel are masters at what they do. The whole crowd loved every moment, and for a couple of hours it was great to witness exactly what had made them superstars and forget all the other rubbish that goes with the pair.
How it made me feel is a hard one – I know it sounds cliché, but I probably can’t put it in to words. I go to quite a lot of concerts, but there aren’t many I’ve enjoyed as much as this one. I guess it was everything together that culminated in one of the greatest nights – i.e. seeing a band I’d loved for around 13/14 years for the first time, in such a great stadium, with one of my best mates, and hearing so many hits.
Any band who tries their hand at rock and roll should provide a better experience live for their fans than they do on Compact Disc (or whatever other medium you want), and that was certainly the case that night. A most triumphant evening.
A friend and I visited Ometepe Island, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, Nicaragua. The island features two active volcanos, Concepción and Maderas, and as such it's a tourist hotspot in the region.
On arrival, we hopped in a cab to one of the many hostels dotting the island. We used the 40-minute journey as an opportunity to practice our markedly awful Spanish, which the driver embraced as comedic gold.
Enjoying the enthusiastic mispronunciations from two young travellers, he invited us to stop at his friend's house for lunch. We agreed, and soon found ourselves sitting down to an authentic local meal with a larger-than-expected family.
One of the sons greeted us in English and explained that he was learning because he wanted to study at university. The father then said a string of rapid-fire Spanish and the son seemed excited.
The father had invited my friend and I to stay at the family home in exchange for daily English lessons with his son. Seeing as the front yard was the glistening expanse of the largest lake in Central America and the pollo con arroz (chicken and rice) they served was phenomenal, we agreed without hesitation.
So we spent a magic two weeks living with the local family, sharing English lessons with the son and receiving Spanish lessons from them all. The son also ran volcano hikes on the island, taking us on a private tour free of charge.
It was a generosity we'd not seen at home, and showed where an open smile and attitude of respect can take you.
As much as we always want to trust in the good nature of people, we can’t always guarantee safety of our belongings in others homes. As a result, you wouldn’t be covered under the TravelCare policy if something did go wrong. It’s worth keeping this in mind when booking accommodation through sites like Airbnb.
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man is a rugged, exposed island in the middle of the Irish Sea. It is home to one of the most extreme motorbike road races in the world. As a motorcyclist, it has always been my dream to see this race in person and last year, I finally did. The roads on the Isle were narrow and bumpy and surrounded by high stone walls, with equally hostile weather and absolutely no room for error.
It’s one of the only road race tracks in the world where spectators could literally stand right next to the track, without fences or anything to protect them, to watch these bikes scream past.
I’ll never forget the breathtaking feeling of sitting on a hillside, with my feet hanging over the road, watching the fastest riders in the world flying past at breakneck speed.
They were so close I could literally reach out and touch them. They were so fast that I could barely make out the colour of the bike as they went past, let alone work out who was riding. The noise of the engines was so loud I could feel it in my bones.
The whole experience was terrifying, awe-inspiring and incredibly exciting at the same time. More amazing still was meeting these guys in the pits afterwards and realising they were just regular, humble people who eat and sleep just like me. Mind blown.
A few years ago, I took a day trip from Hanoi down to the ‘Perfume Pagoda’.
The site where the pagoda is located is beautiful, with amazing temples, some great hikes, and an impressive grotto on the side of a hill covered in vines and trees… but the real experience is getting to and from that location.
We were rowed, in tiny boats, up a river which was barely flowing. My overwhelming memory is of vivid green everywhere. Green plants in the water, green crops by the riverside, green vegetation thickly covering improbable looking limestone mounds which made it feel almost like another planet.
Looking over the side of the boat, at the barely flowing water, I could see tiny fish darting in and out of the cover provided by the thick vegetation.
On the journey back down the river, I noticed that the tiny lady rowing us was wearing (in spite of the temperature and humidity) a polyester pantsuit, full length evening gloves and high heels. Quite an incongruous outfit for the exertion involved in rowing three heavy foreigners.
All too soon we were back in the relative chaos of Hanoi, once again employing the ‘focus on a spot on the other side of the road, cross at a steady pace, and avoid eye contact’ method of avoiding a million bicycles and mopeds. Whether it’s peace and quiet, or hustle and bustle you are after, Vietnam has it all (and great food too!).
Our love for travel is what makes us passionate about helping our customers out, no matter what situation they might be in. Who knows, we may have even in that predicament ourselves!