Holidays that changed my life

Mary Novakovich

Travel writer

Returning home from a holiday and back to the grind of daily life can prove to be a tough transition. But for these three adventurous women, one trip of a lifetime was all it took to change everything. Travel writer Mary Novakovich finds out which holiday tipped the scale – and what these intrepid women did next.

Jennifer Barclay on Tilos Island Greece

Author, editor and travel enthusiast Jennifer Barclay spent many years visiting Greece, but one trip to the tiny island of Tilos inspired her to pack her bags and start fresh on the Aegean Sea – for good!

“Greece has been a part of my life from an early age. I spent family holidays there when I was young, studied the language in school and even spent a year teaching in Greece post-university. Although I’d built my career in Canada, France and the UK, I felt something was missing and wondered if I might find ‘it’ in Greece. I booked a two-week holiday to Tilos and spent another two weeks working remotely on the island in hopes I’d discover that missing element in my life.

I loved this unspoilt island, from the ruins-dotted mountains to the colourful, wild beaches, the warm people and the Greek sun. A month alone on Tilos changed my life.

Simple things like swimming in the sea, lying in the sun and listening to the waves gave me a newfound, positive energy. I think having the hills, the sea and wild nature all on my doorstep made me realise I wanted to live here permanently. It was so easy to shut my computer and go out to explore and enjoy Tilos.

Most people have to wait until retirement before they can move to a place they love, but I was free to go for it much earlier than that. And having known friends who were unfortunately never able to realise their retirement dreams, I knew I was doing the right thing at the right time. Life is too short not to reach for happiness.”

Jennifer Barclay is the author of Falling in Honey and An Octopus in my Ouzo, and manages a blog. Having lived full-time on Tilos for five years, she now divides her time between Tilos and North Karpathos.

Former British government press officer Emma Heywood and her husband went on holiday to Montenegro in 2008, ultimately inspiring her to make a once-daydream her new reality.

“When we arrived to the Lake Skadar area in Montenegro, we immediately knew it was ‘the place’ for us. Its wild beauty reminded us of the epic vistas we’d seen backpacking across Africa and Asia in our twenties. There were no tourists. I will never forget my first glimpse of the lake’s vast and mirrored waters as we drove our hired car along the narrow, winding road from Ulcinj to Virpazar. It was just us and the lake and the breath-taking views.

Within an hour of arriving to our accommodation, we were clinking glasses of rajika (brandy) with the owner, ‘Dr. Dean’, and a gathering of his unique friends who included a Russian ex-general and a retired spy, of all people!

What was meant to be a short getaway to Montenegro, turned into a week-long trip. It gave us a refreshingly different experience in Europe, capped off with staggering natural beauty – all snow-capped mountains and emerald waters.

It was this holiday that sparked a drastic change in our lives. Up until Montenegro, escape was only a daydream. But now we wanted to set up an adventure travel business at this little known, gigantic lake in the Balkans – a momentous change from our previous lifestyles.

We vowed to return. Four months later, we did, and our dear friend Dean told us he found the perfect place to start our new business dream. He took us to an old stone farmhouse, which eventually became Villa Miela, our activity holiday base. Our first guests arrived in 2011 and we’ve never looked back since.”

Emma and Ben Heywood run Undiscovered Montenegro, an adventure travel company based in Lake Skadar offering hiking, kayaking, yoga and wine-tasting holidays.

Gemma Hunt snowboarding French Alps

For keen snowboarder Gemma Hunt, a holiday in the French Alps set off a life-changing chain of events. From legal executive in Leeds to budding entrepreneur amongst the snowy mountains, she found a new ‘normal’ on the slopes.

“I took my first French Alps chalet holiday in March 2009. Unfortunately – or should I say fortunately? – the experience wasn’t great, fostering lots of complaints from guests. However, it was this poor experience that planted the seed and sparked musings of how I would have done things differently had I run the chalet myself.

Thus, the idea to start a ski chalet company was born. I was 28 with a background in law, no experience in the travel industry, no catering experience and never worked a ski season before – how hard could it be? Although I had originally followed the path of the 9-5 world, I yearned for something new. I thought this could be a great alternative to travelling and seemed relatively low risk. If it all went wrong, at least I got the chance to spend six months snowboarding in the Alps.

Two months after returning from my life-changing chalet holiday, I found a suitable chalet to open in France. I launched the chalet website in July 2009 and took my first booking just a month later. And by December 2009, Green Mountain Chalets opened its doors to skiing and snowboarding lovers everywhere.

I had the pleasure of five winters’ skiing, lots of cake baking and met so many fantastic people through my company. I saw myself through plenty of drama over the years, and it certainly wasn’t a glamorous life at the start. For two years, I slept in a wine cellar next to the kitchen with a curtain for a door!

While the chalet business came to an end two years ago, my French adventure continues. I recently launched a new online boutique, My Mountain Boutique, selling mountain-inspired interiors. I live in a tiny French village with cows for neighbours – a real contrast to my previous Leeds lifestyle. It has been an absolute journey in every sense, and I can’t wait to see where it leads me to next.”

Inspired to find your very own life-changing holiday? Start here to search your dream destination and get to booking. Your new adventure awaits.

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