Name: Emma Frampton | Age: 33 | Mission: Hike Slovenia, Cycle Cuba | Loves: Planning | Hates: Unexpected snogs
Email Emma through: firstname.lastname@example.org
Of all the Adventure Queens, Emma is my closest friend. Possibly something to do with us having known one another for rather a long time now, but also because I take great joy in observing how very different we are. Emma is everything I am not: organised, introverted and she has the patience of a saint.
I first met Emma when working at Sky TV in 2012. She was my marketing team desk buddy for a good few months and so we spent our days setting the world to rights (in between bouts of furious work, of course).
Over the years I have watched Em’s light glow ever-brighter. She’s grown in confidence, shed fears and chased her curiosities down many dead-ended rabbit holes. She had never travelled alone until last May, when she decided to bite the adventure bullet by planning a hiking trip to Slovenia and month of cycling around Cuba. With the help of the tribe at Escape the City, Emma is at last doing the things that make her feel the most like her. She affirms that this isn’t something which happens overnight – it relies on finding the location, duration and method of exploration that suits you best, and then taking the leap.
LISTEN TO EMMA’S INTERVIEW (20 minutes)
READ EMMA’S INTERVIEW (20 minute read)
Anna: Today I’m taking a lovely stroll along the Gloucester canal and I’m here with Adventure Queen Emma Frampton, who, among many other exciting things, has spent a month cycling around Cuba. So, Ems, bestie of mine – known you for a while – tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?
Emma: So, I have got a hint a kiwi accent. I was born in London, but bred in New Zealand. I moved back to London about 8 years ago now.
Anna: What were your early memories of New Zealand? Because my experience is that it’s a very outdoorsy place – did you have that kind of experience?
Emma: Yes, it definitely is. We moved out there when I was 6. We were supposed to be there for 3 years with Dad’s work, but then we stayed, and because we didn’t know that originally, we spent 3 years seeing as much of the country as I could. Loads of hiking – my parents are pretty obsessed walkers! New Zealand is an outdoor paradise, which I think you don’t really realise until you leave – you take for granted how much of a playground it really is.
Anna: I know that not only are Kiwis naturally outdoorsy, but you also tend to travel quite a lot. And of all of the friends I have you are probably the one with the biggest travel bug I know. So when did your urge to start travelling really begin?
Emma: I think my parents really influenced it. I grew up travelling quite a lot. Most years we would have an oversees trip – whether it would be coming back to the UK to see family or exploring somewhere new. But my parents’ idea of a holiday was by no means lying on a beach. It was always going off exploring on foot and I think that they instilled a bit of that in me. And so as soon as I could, I was keen to go off exploring myself and I think growing up in New Zealand, as you say, that’s what we do! It’s expected – it’s the ‘rite of passage’ that you do your ‘OE’ – Oversees Experience.
Anna: So, which countries around the world have you travelled to?
Emma: I feel like I have done loads, but there is still a LOAD to do! I’ve covered a pretty decent chunk of Europe and most continents, but the main area I’ve not been to is Africa. That’s definitely on the bucket list….along with so many other countries.
Anna: And these travels, were you always on your own or were you with other people?
Emma: Generally, with other people. And to be honest, I didn’t take my first solo holiday – completely on my own – until last year.
Anna: And that was Slovenia?
Anna: I love this, because I knew you were a bit nervous about travelling by yourself – especially because it was going to be a hiking holiday. How did it go? Slovenia is supposed to be stunning.
Emma: Slovenia is stunning! It reminded me so much of back home, and they are wine-makers, which I hadn’t realised
Anna: In Slovenia?
Anna: I had no idea.
Emma: Yes, they don’t have a huge export market but I was told that literally in one particular place, if you put a pin right through the world that you’d get to New Zealand!
Anna: And what does Slovenian wine taste like?
Emma: Pretty good. One of the wine makers that I spoke to gave me a challenge, that by the end of the two hours that we were chatting I would prefer Slovenian wine and I was confident it wouldn’t happen, but it was a contest!
Anna: Red and whites?
Emma: Yes, I enjoyed them all!
Anna: So what was the plan for Slovenia?
Emma: I went there in May last year. May was a bit of a crazy month, I had lots of running and cycling on both bank holiday weekends and I had 2 weeks in the middle, and I decided that I finally wanted to go away on my own. I’d never done it before – I’d happily gone on a plane by myself before and happily gone site-seeing on my own for a day, but I’d never done a full holiday on my own. I decided that it was about time.
Anna: Had you never been on a holiday on your own before as a conscious decision, or was it just circumstance?
Emma: Probably a bit of both. I think I never really considered it because I’d always seek going with friends. Most of the time, with the places I had wanted to go to, there had always been friends who wanted to go there too. There had never been the need to go on my own.
Anna: So, you’re at the start of this trip you’ve planned to Slovenia – your first solo travel – you were going to go hiking – you had a plan (because I know that you’re a planner! Like me). How are you feeling just before you leave?
Emma: I was a bit nervous. Looking back I remember that I’d built it up so everybody probably thought I was going for 4 months rather than 2 weeks! But everybody was so supportive – that’s why friends are so amazing! I planned to be away for 2 weeks and I was going to be hiking. It was pre-peak tourist season, but things were definitely open. I’d planned it as much as I could. I had an itinerary and all that jazz. But was also trying to be slightly flexible to an extent – which isn’t really my forte! But I got there and everything completely changed.
Anna: What changed?
Emma: Well I’d booked a hire car and when I got there I had a bit of a freak out because I realised that Slovenia, although fairly small, was still big enough – and there was loads to see. And I wasn’t sure that I’d go back, so I wanted to be sure that I could see as much as I could. By doing loads of hiking I wouldn’t be able to see as much of it as I could have. So I ditched some of my plan and instead of hiking for 10 days I ended up hiking for about 4! But things like the wine tasting and general rambling meant that I ended up stumbling across places that I hadn’t really planned on seeing, and they were stunning.
Anna: So you went from being a planner to finding out that once you were on the trip you could just roll with it?
Emma: Definitely, and that was probably the biggest bonus of being on your own. And one of the luxuries that I hadn’t explored before. When you’re on your own you can change the plan. You’ve only got yourself to answer for and organise – it’s so much easier! Being able to call ahead for accommodation is so much easier when there’s only one of you to squeeze in rather than a group of 5.
Anna: And you can have the wine to yourself!
Emma: Yes, although I had to drive.
Anna: Oh no! That is poor planning.
Emma: I know, but a chauffeur was probably a little too wanky.
Anna: So you came back from Slovenia and it was a bit of a tester trip for going on travels by yourself… And you came up with a new plan? What was this new plan?
Emma: The new plan was a month’s cycling in Cuba in December.
Anna: Ooh, la, la! Why Cuba? Where did that come from?
Emma: On the way to London I travelled via South America with my sister. And although I loved the whole holiday I massively fell in love with Brazil. The people were just on another level. They had such energy and passion and were just so high on life – like I’d never encountered before. I had this romantic notion that Cuba would be the same. I’d wanted to go for a while. I’d started planning a trip with friends a few years ago, but that all fell through and it had always been at the back of my mind. Then a friend tragically passed away last year, and as these things do, it was a really sad reminder that life is just too short some times, and I’m in the fortunate position where I can travel. I can just go, and now is the best time to just go, as Cuba is changing.
Anna: And you didn’t decide to just go and be a ‘normal tourist’ so to speak, you decided that you were going to take it on on two wheels! So why cycling for you?
Emma: Well I, probably over the past year or two, have been exposed to the delightful adventure community. And I think that that was where I started to get a bit of a taster for things and realising that you don’t have explore a country like every other tourist. There are different ways to do it and I was very keen not to be like every other tourist. And I was keen to see what all of this cycling tourist malarkey is all about. I planned to go for a month. Why not try it on bike? If I hated it, it was only a month of my life. And also if I loved it then amazing and I know that I can go for longer than a month next time and still be OK!
Anna: And what was your cycling experience like up to this point?
Emma: I wouldn’t call myself a huge cyclist. I’d been getting back on my bike over the past few years. I’d done some weekend cycles with friends. I did a couple of city-to-city cycles last year which were great fun, but I’m definitely a fair weather cyclist. I hadn’t done more than 3 days on the trot, let alone carrying a load of crap around with me!
Anna: Which I can attest to – we had you round to our house the night before you left and we threw out quite a lot of things!
Emma: Yes, packing lightly is not my forte!
Anna: You actually did incredibly well – we didn’t throw out too much. My favourite thing to throw out though was the makeup! Because I said to you “You’re going to be so happy on that bike that you’re not going to care what you look like. You’re not going to need that makeup”.
Emma: And to be honest I was sweating so much on that bike!
Anna: So did that happen, were you happy on that bike? Did you find your joie to vivre?
Emma: I totally loved it! It surpassed all expectations – the country, the people, but also just how I felt. My incredibly thoughtful sister had sent me off with five cards and there was a little message on the front of each envelope telling me when I could open each card. The first one started on the plane – literally just as we were taking off – it had to be at that point! Two were for the way back. And two were for the middle – and the message on those ones were along the lines of “small person, big world moment”
Anna: Oooo… cryptic.
Emma: I know, very cryptic, but genuinely I didn’t have to open those cards until I got home. And then I opened them out of pure curiosity. I had no moments when I felt really low and miserable and regretting being out there. I had such an amazing time.
Anna: So, for a planner like yourself (this must have been delicious for you) how do you go about planning something like this? I know that you were in two minds about camping in Cuba?
Emma: Yes, I did look into it. But I found that they don’t really do camping in Cuba. Camp sites aren’t massive and their idea of a campsite is rather different from ours. But what’s very big are Casa’s – a bit like a B&B but you’re actually staying in someone’s house. They are taking off at the moment in Cuba and I thought ‘what an amazing way to experience Cuba’. You are literally experiencing their culture with them.
Anna: Is it easy to find spots in Casa’s?
Emma: Easy! Especially when there’s just one of you.
Anna: Now, I know you went on your own, but you managed to meet a fair number of people along the way? Tell me about some of these cool cats that you met?
Emma: I did, I was really lucky.!I met some amazing travellers as well as some crazy locals.
Anna: Didn’t one try to snog you?
Emma: Erm, yes. One fully mouth raped me – I’m not going to lie! (Sorry Mum I haven’t told you about this!) I just wanted to stop for lunch and I asked for directions, and I got a tongue sandwich for lunch instead… interesting character. There are so many cheeky Cubans! And being a white, blonde female I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb, so I got quite a few marriage proposals. But they couldn’t understand 1. Why I was cycling? and 2. Why I was on my own? In their eyes by this time I should be married. What was I doing?
Anna: Did you explain that you were married to your bicycle by that point?!
Emma: If only I had been able to explain that in my pigeon Spanish!
Anna: How was that? How much Spanish do you need to know to be able to travel around Cuba?
Emma: As long as you have a little phrase book you’ll be fine. I had such good intentions – obviously becoming fluent in 3 months before I left – so I did a Spanish course, but I was crap! I felt like I’d gone back to school. So I rocked up there with just sign language and a phrase book.
Anna: What route did you take? And what places did you see, because surely you can’t see everything in a month?
Emma: No, and again being a bit ambitious and trying to see as much as I could, I was trying to cover ¾ of the island in a month. So I had 2 different itineraries running – one that was dubbed ‘uber-ambitious’ and the second one that was a bit more realistic. And I ended up going for the latter. I’m glad that I did.
I ended up flying out of Havana and doing the North West – going out to Vinales. That was gorgeous but a bit touristy, so I explored a bit beyond that. Then coming back to Havana and doing what’s called the ‘Central Loop’ which is quite standard and quite a few cycle tourists are on that route, so I did bump into a couple on the way. And from there I headed up towards Matanzas, and then back to Havana. So being a bit more realistic actually meant that I saw a bit more of Cuba. I wasn’t there to smash out the kms – most days I did 80-90kms a day. Some days I’d only do 30kms if I wanted to stop in the next town. Some days it was 130kms, but I wasn’t there just to sash out the kms, I wanted to soak up Cuba.
Anna: So, all in all, was it a successful trip?
Emma: Yes, it was amazing! It surpassed all expectations. And success is that I want to explore more countries by bike – I now get why people love cycle touring!
Anna: Victory! Now, since you’ve come back from that , you’ve actually been going through a bit of a ‘transition’ (without trying to sound too hippy about it) from the realisation of ‘I want to do something slightly different with my life’ and to move it in a new direction.
And the people that have helped you do that was Escape the City. You’ve been on one of their Tribe programmes – tell us about that.
Emma: So, yes, I’ve just finished the Escape Tribe and it’s basically a 14 week course for anybody who wants to find more meaningful work. You do it with 14 other people and people are there for different reasons. Some people are stuck in a job and absolutely hate it and can’t see which to go, and others who don’t hate what they do but feel that there’s more to life, there’s more that they can be doing and I was probably in that camp.
It was amazing and I think that most people think that when you want to go through some sort of transition that you have this light-bulb moment and it’s an overnight process, but that’s not what happens. And I think that that was one thing that the Tribe really reiterated. There were so many things that we learnt along the way about going back to your childhood and following your curiosities. So reconnecting with what you were passionate about and not having that A to B mentality that we grow up in in the Western World, and sometimes it might lead to something and sometimes it won’t but that’s OK.
Anna: And how important was it as part of that process to be surrounded by like-minded people? Did you find that you were actually like minded even though your backgrounds were so different?
Emma: Hugely. That is probably the biggest thing that Escape the City offers. Lots of the content you can read in books, but the huge difference is that not only are you given the chance to work through exercises, but you’re given a huge bunch of people who hold you accountable – they are also massively supportive. You’re all going through your own journey but you’re all there ultimately for the same reason – you all want to be doing something different from what you are doing now. And they ‘get’ that.
Anna: Just before we finish, I always ask this question, if there are people who are reading/ listening to this and they have that adventure itch, inkling, urge – what would be your advice to them to address their fears?
Emma: I would say do what feels right for you. I know that the first time I started to going to these adventure talks I was listening to people who had done these incredible, epic adventures that were months long but that wasn’t quite right for me. I could only get a month off work. But actually for me a month was a great way of testing out whether I enjoyed the cycle touring thing. So if you have an inkling that you want to go and do something then do whatever feels right – it can be 2 weeks or 2 months – just go and do it!
Anna: Amazing. Emma Frampton you are a true Adventure Queen and I can’t wait to hear what you get up to next! Massive high five!