Do you prefer to be home or away from it?!

8 min readApr 12, 2024

Despite living just over the lost river Effra, I can never sit still and always have to be somewhere different.

Where was it that you caught the travel bug?

On the TGV down to the Alps, vomiting over a Swiss version of Cruella. I was 18 months…Seriously though, that is my first memory of travelling!

Have you ever lived abroad, taught abroad?

I went to university in Paris up until Masters level, but still couldn’t sit still and during my time there I went to live in Spain about three times, went to Barcelona on an Erasmus study exchange — never having learnt Spanish let alone Catalan. When I finished my degree a couple of years later, I missed the pomp of my graduation ceremony to go to the Costa del Sol to work as a waiter for the summer season. Except for the drug-fuelled manager and the whisky-fuelled cook, no-one had worked for the restaurant — it was like the tower of babel with students from all over Europe.

I randomly went back to Barcelona as part of my Masters, managing at the end of my stay there to even string along ten minutes of Catalan — more listening than speaking. Now I don’t work abroad, but I do organise campaigning abroad — nothing like surprising locals you’re canvassing when you tell them you’re English campaigning in Sweden or France.

Do you prefer hotels to hostels?

Hostels, it’s not just recession chic, it’s like turning up at a friend’s house — you listen to the stories (and the snoring, vomiting, banging, etc) of the people sharing your room, you get a feel of the locals, their tips on where to go, the complementary can of beer or cup of coffee. Only downside to hostels is that they lock up far too early and you have to sleep rough in the presidential gardens like I did in Sofia. I also feel guilty about my recent experiences of hotels — being all four star, and all paid for by campaigning organisations in areas which suffer from poverty (except for in Swaziland when I pulled the short straw and stayed in a hotel which hadn’t yet been fully built). Although hotels are making a comeback, having woken up after a hangover in a four star hotel, discovering a 50 metre breakfast buffet in a hotel in Madrid which started with a tropical fruit bar and ended up with a fry up frenzy.

Solo or group travel?

Group, it’s better sleeping rough with others than on your own. You feel more adventurous in a group — egging each other on to try new things — like staying up all night to eat scorpion in raspberry coulis, because the “insect bar” that sells it only opens in the morning in La Boqueria market in Barcelona — or getting a DJ slot a an underground jazz bar run by the mafia, and finding out all the exchange students…and their Spanish flatmates have got free drinks by saying they were with the DJ. Travelling with locals just opens you up to so much more — it’s like discovering a different city to the one described in the tourist guides — like with volunteers who took us through the Swazi countryside to meet women with HIV who through growing and selling vegetables — really gave them a sense of dignity and pride, but also power to be able to make a living independently. Although solo travel can have its advantages, if you join up to “Useful Vistors” (sorry for the plug).

A lot of your tips come from Barcelona — is that a place you went to for any particular reason?

I lived there twice — the first time on an Erasmus exchange as part of my degree, only having learnt Spanish for a term — and the second time for my Masters, managing to string along 10 minutes of Catalan by the end of my stay there.

What do you love about the city?

Although most of my friends never actually went to the university, despite it being on the main shopping street — Las Ramblas — I would turn up to lessons at 9am sharp after having returned home clubbing only a few hours before. In every nook and crannie of the city, whether it’s an old school pharmacy or a cafe that sells jelly and ice cream, everyone goes out of their way to wow people and ultimately make Barcelona more than just a city. It’s like they all feel a sense of pride and responsibility to want to be part of creating Barcelona’s identity — to reflect the people that live, work and play there — and given how many people come to the city to do all of those things (usually in reverse order) — those people are never the same. It’s like a melting pot of the minds of all the people that come there. From Salsitas, a restaurant which when the clock turns midnight, waiters start taking the chairs around your table if you haven’t finished eating and the clubbers start pouring in, Pipa Club which is officially a pipe-smoking members’ club but actually turns into a messy post-clubbing hangout on weekday nights if there aren’t any doughnuts left down the Lancaster bakery and you’ve returned from the all time favourite discotheque — La Paloma. But it’s never over the top — because the trendiness is so inclusive, it’s less lounge bars with new age music and more comfortable sofas found on a skip in a reconverted old-man’s tapas bar with the barman flicking over the vinyl when he’s taking time-out from making cocktails. So much that you’d almost forget the Mediterranean was only a short walk away. However much you’ve been out all night, working out all day or…lying on the beach, you just want to keep going — there’s always something in the corner of your eye you want to go and check out. I remember writing this about Las Ramblas, but it goes for Barcelona itself. “The best advice when it comes to (this city) is to plunge in, go with the flow and enjoy the constant weird and wonderful activities taking place around you. “

If you had to sum up your travelling style in three words what would you say?

Nooks and crannies

Where is your favourite view?

On the beach on the Lac d’Annecy where I used to go on holiday to see my relatives as a child — whether it’s the summer and you can feel the warm glow of the sun on the lake and the shadow of a sombrero from the doughnut seller, or it’s the winter and you can feel the snowflakes dropping down from the mountains towering around you.

Do you feel like your life has been enhanced through travelling? In what way?

When you discover a new place and take a wander down the streets — you might be shocked by it inequality and its decadence, you might be amazed by it’s beauty and authenticity. At the end of the day, you’re opening up to new experiences without knowing what’s going to happen next, you’re discovering as much about yourself as you are about the locals and immersing yourself in their culture. Those experiences are always different and that’s why I always feel goosebumps when I set foot in a new country.

Describe a weekend day in your hometown.

Can’t help having a peek down the South Bank and Brick Lane — ironically I know there will always be something going on — and there’s no shame in going to places filled with tourists, if they are drawn to areas which are so multicultural, vivacious and authentic, then that can only make us Londoners proud of where we live and invite more people to come and share those experiences.

Can you tell us about your best moment travelling — even if it’s in your hometown?

Going to South Africa — it was a surreal experience, which started off checking into the trendiest hotel I’ve ever seen. It was like the TV programme Hotel Babylon — with lifts themed around shark cages and cable cars — a swimming pool circling the restaurant and a climbing wall outside the hotel, so much for fighting consumerism. Experiencing the emotional distress of a terminal AIDS sufferer, talking to a nurse on the same day as meeting women with HIV working in the fields reskilling as farmers, manage the tensions between the taking part in amazing street interventions on Soweto market to raise awareness about AIDS with a group that promotes abstinence before contraception (although we did also meet TAC whose volunteers compete for who can distribute the most condoms in their communities), being deluded into getting into a casspir as part of a rehearsal for a CSR initiative of a famous fizzy drinks company — basically a truck that used to threaten the corners of every township in the apartheid years — and amazed at witnessing the courage of volunteers walking through a rape crisis centre in the face of the shadow of the state no no longer threatening by its presence but in many ways by its absence, attending the annual youth day, which celebrates the past — the Soweto uprising — as much as the future — err…young people. All of this was summed up when we met Dennis Goldberg — an anti-apartheid activist who stood in the Rivonia trial in 1964. It was strangely wonderful that the barbeque he organised brought together community organisers from local townships and ourselves from the UK, or to put it more simply, getting people from different backgrounds to be able to share stories, laughs and share good food together without feeling the chains of inequality and inferiority. This type of benign event on a winter’s night (our summer!) was what he had dreamt about all these years ago. It’s what kept him going from when he started as a political activist through to the famous Rivonia trial and through the mind crushing years in prison. Although he argued that South Africa wasn’t a rainbow nation yet, but more a nation of diverse cultures, I felt both awkward and inspired throughout the trip at how every time you turn round, someone is there to take your rubbish, fill up your cup of coffee, lend you a hand. It’s that genuine sense of solidarity and fraternity, put simply neighbourliness that we so miss in this country. At the end of the day, it’s about creating the spaces to listen and let people open up and explore their insecurities which may be crystallised through prejudice, such as racism, sexism or ageism.

Most essential item?

A camera




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese