In 2008, I’d saved up enough money from a summer job for a backpacking trip. It was three weeks before the start of the university term, and I wanted to see how far east I could get in that short time.
I ended up boarding a long-distance bus to Syria. I got to smoke shisha pipes beside the Umayadd mosque of Damascus, had a midday nap under a Roman column in Palmyra and – best of all – booked into the room where Lawrence of Arabia once stayed in the Baron Hotel in Aleppo. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was incredibly blessed to see this beautiful country before the start of a terrible war.
This trip and another journey in Jordan was the basis of my first travel story – published in Lonely Planet magazine – which won me AITO Young Travel Writer of the Year award in 2010. Seeing what has happened to Syria in the years since is incredibly heartbreaking. One day I hope I can visit again.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE MAY 2010 EDITION OF LONELY PLANET MAGAZINE (lonelyplanet.com/magazine)