Sarah James is NUPSA’s Student Communications Officer. You can read more about her here, or contact her at


Travel is a great teacher.

Getting lost in a foreign country brings out our best and worst qualities. In terms of best, I now know there is no distance I won’t walk in order to find a McDonalds at midnight (or Burger King if pickings are slim*). But I am also starkly aware of how little patience I have, and will whinge the whole way to said McDonalds.

The particular lesson I wanted to share, though, is one I learnt during the most authentic of travel experiences. Dare I say, a rite of passage.

A Contiki tour.

Turns out, Contiki tours and university have more in common than just questionable amounts of alcohol.

It’s all about managing your expectations and setting your own goals. While you should always strive to do your best, you don’t want to force unrealistic expectations upon yourself. Focus on doing you and celebrating the small achievements.

Like most young travellers, the expectations I had for my European gallivant were tremendous. This was my first overseas trip, and I was determined for it to be perfect, nay, life-changing! I would come back a different woman. A cultured woman. My Instagram following would quadruple in size and I would never have to work again.

Between lazing on overly pricey beaches in the south of France and cruising through the Adriatic, it’s easy to forget things don’t always go to plan. Namely, getting sick. I had packed a small pharmacy’s worth of medications just in case of a worst-case scenario (Panadol, Mylanta, Gastro-stop, bandaids, cold and flu medication, De-gas, etc.), but didn’t think I would actually need them.

Until Mykonos.

Let me set the scene for you. I was on Day 20/33 of my tour. I had come down with the infamous Contiki cough, but my spirits were high (in both senses of the word ‘spirits’**). It was around 5:30am, and we were about to embark on a four-hour boat ride back to the mainland. Despite this early morning departure, we weren’t going to let that get in the way of a great night out at Paradise Beach. So I wasn’t exactly surprised when I woke up feeling worse for wear.

But this was worse than a hangover. It was something different. And about halfway through that cursed four-hour boat ride, I realised the full extent of it.

I had a very blessed childhood in that I somehow managed to avoid contracting gastro each time the bug swept through the school. Now, my run of luck was over. I blamed it on the gyros from the night before. So naïve. Nothing could ever be the gyros’ fault.

Throughout the journey, my fellow travellers started to get struck down. Contagion had set in. By the time we disembarked in Preveza, it looked like the The Walking Dead had decided to film a spin-off series in Greece.

There was, however, an upside to falling ill first. By the time we boarded our coach for a casual FIVE HOURS, the worst of it was over. Others weren’t so fortunate. I quarantined myself to the first row of the bus with my Bose headphones, which did a truly great job of blocking out the sound of fifteen people vomiting behind me.

At the end of this horror story, I sent my mum a message I never thought I would.

“So happy! I didn’t spew on the coach!”

This may not seem like much of an achievement. But for me, this was a massive deal. My willpower had overcome my stomach and I was bloody stoked. When I told my Contiki roommate I was writing this article, she proudly declared, “I didn’t get gastro on my second Contiki!” A great accomplishment.

What I’m trying to say is, next time you’re writing that thesis and don’t quite get as much done as you wanted, try and focus on what you have achieved. Sometimes you just have to relish the small wins and not get caught up in the negativity.

Even if those wins are as minor as not vomiting.


*Note: I think it’s worth pointing out that Amsterdam Burger King offers mozzarella sticks. @HungryJacks you need to up your game.

** Editor’s note: While there are more than two applications of the word ‘spirits’, Ms James (to my knowledge) was not menaced by ghosts during her travels. But if she was menaced by ghosts, I shall certainly encourage her to write of the experience in our next newsletter.

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