12th July – Somewhere above America/London/Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom

While I’m flying on this final flight as well as watching plenty of movies I have plenty of time to reflect on my round the world trip. I’ve been to 21 countries (some more than once) South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Japan, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and USA, 25 plane take offs, a parachute jump, 24 plane landings, a helicopter, a sleeper train, an overlander, a canoe, a mokoro, a raft, a campervan, trains, cars, boats, 4×4’s, undergrounds, cars, bikes, buses (one on the roof), tuk-tuks, and even a camel, I’ve surfed, paddleboarded, and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, seen the big 5 most dangerous animals in Africa, came inches from stepping on a deadly puff adder, fought with a monkey, risked my life in a devil’s pool, white water rafted, hiked, swam with sharks, been wrapped in snakes, eaten caterpillars, kissed a giraffe, held a sea turtle, come face to face with an angry silver back gorilla, broken a phone, a camera, and a rib, been to see the tallest building in the world, the most beautiful building in the world, the Great Wall of China, watched opera at the most famous opera house in the world, played cricket in Goa, golf in LA, yoga’d on rooftops, visited Buddhas actual tooth, dined with a Japanese filmstar, climbed mountains with donkeys, bumped into Ursina and Emily from India in Sri Lanka, Tom and Kat from India in Nepal, and got recognised from India by a lady I didn’t recognise in Sydney, I’ve been snowed on, rained on, suntanned, watched the Affair in Sydney and spotted the star in Santa Monica, seen some of the world’s greatest art, architecture and cities, I’ve eaten magic cookies, I’ve been massaged in Bali, Reiki’d in Oz, palm read by a tour guide in India and given messages about my future from a flight attendant medium on this actual flight. I also turned 40. It’s been epic, amazing, breathtaking and emotional, I’ve met beautiful people and made friends for life especially my wonderful hosts – Jess in London, Vanessa in Dubai, the Heegers in Brunei, Rachel in Bondi, the Graingers in Brookvale, Simon and Kasia in Los Angeles and Joe in Santa Monica. I have had the best time on an adventure that has filled me with memories that will last my lifetime and would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Now to get me home where it all began. We touchdown in Heathrow. Mum and dad don’t have enough room in their car for me as well as all the luggage, luckily the lovely Sarah has come to collect me and as we push our luggage through “nothing to declare” there she is in the arrival hall holding up a Bab’s Cabs sign.

We drive home in the pouring rain that makes visibility almost impossible stopping for coffee in Reading. I’d forgotten just how green the countryside is. Crossing over the Severn bridge we finally arrive in Wales and it isn’t long before we get to Cardiff. Before driving to my house we stop off for a cuddle and a catch up with Gram, it’s so lovely to see her after 11 months and 17 days of travelling the world. The time has flown by and once I’m home it’s like I’ve never been away. Reunited with my brother and Lizzie we all tuck into good old British fish and chips.

Welcome home!

11th July – Santa Monica/LAX airport, Los Angeles, California, USA

Sadly today we leave. I like to think that over the year I have become rather good at packing, having moved a lot I adapted a routine knowing where best to put stuff that I needed to be handy, packing some clothes in my hand luggage should my rucksack get lost, keeping laundry separate from my cleaner clothes, all that goes out of the window for this, my final attempt. I cram, shove and force zips closed with wild abandon.

Simon and Kasia arrive and we load up the car with all of our luggage, then along with Joe drive down to Shutters on the beach for brunch. It’s an emotional morning as Mum, Dad and I say goodbye to our wonderful hosts Simon, Kasia and Joe who drive us in two cars to LAX airport. Tears, hugs and drive off waves.

Being in an airport with company is far more fun than being alone, I’ve gotten used to entertaining myself while waiting to board my next flight. The new terminal here at LAX is so much better than the old one, filled with shops to browse and eateries to munch. We are soon boarding our BA flight, Mum and Dad have slightly better seats than me in world traveller plus, I walk passed them into economy but have wangled an exit seat so plenty of legroom for this journey.

10th July – Santa Monica/Pasadena/Downtown, Los Angeles, USA

I drive the folks downtown. With Simon and Kasia aboard and everyone with a Starbucks in hand we drive to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl flea market. It is incredibly hot today, the baking sun heats up the Tarmac and we are soon all dehydrating. It doesn’t prevent us from enjoying rummaging amongst the treasures on sale, pointing out the weird and the wonderful. The Rose Bowl gates are open today so after a breakfast burrito we get to stand inside the famous stadium.

With the heat so intense we are soon craving the air conditioning that the car provides driving the short distance to the golf club. We enjoy a beer and lots of water in the clubhouse then Mum, Kasia and I watch the boys tee off before heading into Old Pasadena for an Italian lunch and a bottle of red.

We spend the afternoon shopping. Once we’ve exhausted the old town shops we head to the Americana Mall, a busy and rather glamorous shopping experience that boasts the campest water feature I have ever seen. Fountains dance around an oversized metallic gold Adonis.

The boys catch us up and we all dine together at a lovely Italian restaurant.

After dinner I jump in the car with Simon and Kasia, Joe takes mum and dad home. I’m glad I get to visit the downtown apartment once more before leaving tomorrow. We meet the others at Bodega wine bar in Santa Monica for a nightcap, Moses joins us and the staff make sure we all have a celebratory shot with them before we leave.

9th July – Santa Monica/Venice/Culver City, Los Angeles, California, USA

Coffee at coffee bean with Joe and Cholo has become a morning ritual. The trainee at the service counter is nervous and has trouble understanding my accent accidentally adding super sweet vanilla syrup to my latte, my teeth are on edge. I munch a toasted bagel with whipped cream cheese. Dad jumps in an Uber to Roger Dunn’s and mum and I walk down to 3rd street promenade for a wander. We pop in and out of the shops including Bloomingdales and the Barney’s department store. We walk to Main to meet Simon and Dad for a slice of pizza in the restaurant next to the Doves salon. A couple of Pinot Noirs later and mum and I are in an Uber heading to Venice Beach to take in the sights of muscle beach, the skate park and the bustling beachside market. It’s fun showing mum all the places that I’ve been hanging out on my two and a half months here. We stroll along Venice beach until Simon calls to say he’s finished work.

He collects us and we go cake shopping at the Vanilla Bake shop, famous for their beautifully decorated celebration cakes and cupcakes. We purchase a big chocolate and vanilla cake, it’s tall and iced in white frosting decorated on top with crisscrossed milk chocolate piped icing. I run next door to whole foods to buy a selection of fresh berries to accompany.

A quick shower and change and we’re off for a BBQ at Danny and Aubrey’s. Their home is lovely, warm and inviting. Cagney and Lacey, the affectionate chihuahuas, welcome us and lap up the strokes, hugs and belly tickles lavished upon them by each of us in turn. We join the party with Sonia Dove, her husband and his mum. The wine flows, the laughter increases in volume and the food is cooked. Danny has lovingly prepared homemade chicken and Gorgonzola burgers that are divine. An evening of stories, banter and fun ensues and we leave having had a wonderful night.

8th July – Santa Monica/Anaheim, Los Angeles, California, USA

Yesterday was all about dad and his search for golf clubs that saw us drive to different speciality shops, calling many stores and eventually driving for miles to get the ones he wanted. Today it’s all about Mum.

After coffee at the Coffee Bean with Mum, Dad, Simon, Joe, Cholo and Eric, we drive with Simon to Doves then while he’s in work we make the long drive to Anaheim and Mum’s favourite place in the entire world – Disneyland.

I’m not going to lie, I haven’t been to a Disney park since I was a little kid and I too have a magical day. Dad and I ride on all of the amazing themes rides, racing with Lightening McQueen on the Cars ride, intergalactic fighting on the Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain rollercoaster in the dark and we even manage to talk Mum into joining us on the Twilight Zone’s Tower of Terror. Brilliant.

Dad’s favourite Disney cartoon is surprisingly Frozen and so we go to see the Frozen musical premiere. A technical hitch sees Anna, Kristoff and Sven (the reindeer) suspended indefinitely high above the stage on wires escaping the wolves. The show is halted awhile but is soon back underway – it’s very clever, funny and entertaining.

Thanks to one of Simon’s work colleagues, Jamie (who has an annual Disney pass), we find the only hidden bar in Disney that sells alcohol. As an added bonus children are not allowed – result! We order drinks and chat with some local youngsters who also have Disney passes and kindly offer us their reserved tickets to the night show. The water show is amazing. Cartoons are projected onto the water sprays that fill the night sky as we are told the story of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. Very impressed.

Next stop is the firework show over the magic castle accompanied by the famous songs that we all know and love. After dinner on Main Street we watch the night parade, which comes to a stop and we find ourselves trapped on Main Street. Another technical hitch? Cinderella is escorted off of her float, I think that perhaps Prince Charming has been a little too charming and old Cinders has a pumpkin in the oven! The last thing wide eyed kiddies want to see is vomit down a princesses gown so probs for the best that the parade continues without her.

We drive home completely Disneyfied and don’t get to bed until the early hours.

7th July – Santa Monica/Torrance/Marina del Rey, Los Angeles, California, USA

I walk to Lincoln to intercept Simon’s drive to work, travelling with him for the last little bit in order to buy some coffees from Dogtown and drive the car back to Joe’s. Cholo is devastated as he had been promised a trip for coffee on my return, his favourite thing in the world to do – his head almost twists completely off whenever the word coffee is mentioned, but I arrive with hot beverages for everyone so the coffee outing is postponed.

Mum, Dad and I head out on a golf club scavenger hunt to locate specific wedges that my dad wants. This turns into quite the challenge with a golf shop visit and seven phone calls. By some stroke of luck a store calls back saying that they have the set so we set off to Crenshaw Boulevard to collect them. It’s quite a journey. The staff are super nice, while my dad checks the clubs my mum browses the golf paraphernalia and I send photos to Adam. This store has one of the biggest Scotty Cameron club collections according to the staff and I know my little bro is a huge fan.

We lunch at Marina del Rey on a patio overlooking the luxury yachts and huge boats.

To counter act the golf club shopping Mum and I feel compelled to drag dad around the clothes shops at the Beverly Center. I drop off the folks and go to pick up Simon from work we drive to Bay Cities to collect some sarnies for our beach picnic.

We walk to the beach for the first Twilight Concert on the Santa Monica Pier. Tonight Mayer Hawthorne is playing live. We grab some wine which we disguise, decanting it into a plastic sports drinking bottle – in a no booze to be drunk on the beach kinda way – well classy us!

6th July – Santa Monica/Malibu, Los Angeles, California, USA

We walk to Swingers for American breakfasts and coffee. We are filled with confident anticipation on route to the Wales v Portugal Euro 2016 semifinal game that we have opted to watch at Ye Old King’s Head. Armed with pints of Guinness and good seats we watch, proud and patriotic, along with our adopted Welsh supporters Joe (American) and Kasia (Polish). Mum has even brought along a Welsh flag. Sadly we lose but even by my novice spectating experience we put in a valiant effort.

After the game we go for a coffee at Dogtown with Simon, who couldn’t come and watch the game with us because he had work. Reluctantly I agree to go to Roger Dunn’s Golf Shop. After trying on some hats and using the bathroom, I sit outside on the steps in the sunshine and wait for the golfers to finish trialling clubs. Next stop 3rd street promenade for mass sunglass trying on.

A drive up the PCH brings us to Gladstones oceanfront restaurant where we sit looking out over the beach watching a seal play with/eat the seagulls while we drink wine and munch on a platter of seafood.

We quickly change back at home and head out for dinner at Tar and Roses. We sit out in the heated garden, it takes us a while to notice that we are actually sitting outside. The restaurant is very cool, low lit and our waitress has the most gentle voice and kind demeanour. We have a lovely evening sampling many fine dishes including wood roasted peach with speck and burrata, honey ginger glazed sweet potatoes and mouthwatering slow cooked ribs. Full and happy we say goodnight to Simon and Kasia and head home.