By Alice Morrison - Whereabouts Ambassador 

“Why on earth do you want to do that? What is wrong with lying on a beach?” was a question I was often asked as I would tell co-workers what I was doing on my holidays. They thought I was crazed as I passed up a luxurious two weeks in a gorgeous resort in favour of a tent and 60km a day on a bike in some far flung place.


But the truth is those active breaks from office life revitalized me and actually kept me sane. For most people, everyday life is busy and complicated. There are lots of things to juggle: work, kids, commuting, a social life, exercise, family, friends… the list is endless. There are also distractions everywhere. Post smart phone, you don’t need to spend a single second doing nothing, you never have to be bored. There is always another video to watch or post to comment on.


Active holidays give you a break from all that. They strip life back down to simple. You have very clear tasks to perform and goals to achieve. Even though your body gets tired, your mind gets to rest and you can feel the stress lifting.


Take something big like climbing Kilimanjaro. I did this a few years back when I wanted to do something really fantastic in my two week break. I was reasonably fit but not hugely so and work was hard going. I knew I needed to leave everything behind.


Flying from rainy Manchester into Africa was like flying into a different planet. There was colour and warmth and the air felt full of promise. I was in a group of twelve from all over the world and we had a guide and a full complement of porters.


The first thing I learned was how to walk very, very slowly. This was counter intuitive at first but by day three when the high altitude had really kicked in, I understood why. Our guide wanted us to get used to walking at a snail’s pace even at low levels so that we would suffer less from altitude sickness.


The first couple of days were gentle but long. Walking through the thick undergrowth and forests at the base of the mountain. We were told to look out for elephant, and I did, but with no luck.


Then the challenge increased. It was my first time trekking at high altitude and I found it hard sometimes to catch my breath and also to keep my head clear. Lots of water and the very slow pace helped.


No distractions, just green all around and a blue sky above. A whole week outside in nature, seeing new things and travelling at a pace that allows you to really appreciate the world we live in.  All I had to do was take care of myself physically, enjoy getting to know everyone in the group, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was bliss after a busy office.


We were woken in the morning with a cup of tea and a bowl of hot water to wash in outside the tent.  Hot lunches and dinners were prepared and served in our mess tent. All we had to carry were our daypacks and the porters took everything else ahead. So, in many ways it WAS a five star luxury break!


Every day has its challenges, but the really hard day on Kilimanjaro is summit day. We set off at midnight. The temperature was well below zero and for me it was a relief to get out of the tent and start to warm up. The head torches snaked ahead in a long line as we zig zagged up the slope. I won’t lie, it was tough. One of my group was a multi-marathon runner and extremely fit, but he kept throwing up about every twenty paces as the air got relentlessly thinner.


I discovered that my body’s altitude comfort limit is about 5000 metres, everything after that makes me feel sick. The summit lies at 5895. For every one of those last 895 metres,  my head pounded, I felt like vomiting and every breath was as if I were sucking in poison. But our group had made a pact not to give up and we weren’t going to.


My life shrank to just one thought. “Keep going, keep going, keep going.” I felt one hundred per cent focused and one hundred per cent alive.


At last, we reached Uhuru Peak. Goal attained! Mountain conquered! There is no feeling quite like it. Our group got out the flags and took the pictures. We hugged each other overwhelmed by the experience, one of those experiences of a lifetime.


So, that is why I would always pick an active holiday. Kilimanjaro was my gateway into this unique way of travelling for me but the same could be equally true for a cycling trip along the Danube or a walking tour in the Black Forrest. You live your life absolutely to the full. You push yourself hard and are rewarded. You see things that you would never spot from a car. You make friends that last a lifetime. You leave everything completely behind you and, most importantly, when you get back, you have renewed energy to take on those daily battles and win.