“Hello this is STA Travel, we’re calling to let you know you’ve won a round the world trip!” Sound like one of those weird, jagerbomb induced, dreams? It was a rather amazing reality for Luke Still.
Luke entered a Facebook competition run by online fashion retailer ASOS, in partnership with STA Travel, at the end of last year, and in March he headed off with his lucky +1 on a whirlwind ‘Urban Tour’.
His round the world trip took him from London to Shanghai, China then across to Tokyo, Japan, over to Los Angeles and New York in the good old US of A, and then back to London town all in a rather epic — and slightly exhausting — 2 weeks. Phew!
Once Luke was back — and well rested — we caught up with him to find out what he loved, what he loathed (don’t mention rice milk) and what memories he will be revisiting for years to come.
STA Travel meets lucky Luke Still
How did you hear about the competition?
I first saw the competition on Facebook – it popped up on my news feed from ASOS. I thought the prize sounded a little too good to be true, but it only took one click to enter, so I thought I may as well!
Have you ever won anything before?
I won a couple of things when I was younger – but we’re talking Power Rangers videos. I’ve never won anything like this before.
How did you feel when you won?
Honestly, when I saw an email saying I’d won a round the world trip, at first I dismissed it and almost sent it to my spam folder. I’m glad I looked more closely! I think everybody in my office was more excited than I was at first — I was waiting for more proof that it was real before I started to celebrate!
Had you ever thought about going to any of these cities before?
Everybody always talks about going to these far-off countries, and I’d always thought it’d be nice to visit somewhere in the Far East, but I’d never made any serious plans to venture out that way. I’d already visited New York and Los Angeles before, so with those I knew what I had to look forward to.
Who did you take with you and how did you make that decision?
I took my best friend Rachel with me. We enjoy the same sorts of things, so I knew we’d be able to make plans without arguing – and we’d be able to stand each other for the whole trip!
Did you have any preconceptions about the cities you visited? When you arrived were these proved true/better/wrong/worse?
I think with China I was of the opinion that it’d be stuck somewhere in the last century – I was completely wrong. Shanghai is such a modern and diverse city.
Similarly I was half expecting Tokyo to be twenty years ahead of us. There weren’t any robots walking the streets, but with the kinds of technology in use, it felt like a little glimpse at what we had to look forward to. There were plenty of 3D TVs around that didn’t need you to wear glasses to see properly – it was a bit disorientating!
What were your first feelings when you arrived?
Other than exhaustion after the 12 hour flight, I think it was still a little disbelief. I think it didn’t sink in until my phone connected to a mobile network and I couldn’t even read what it was – it was all in Chinese characters. Even after that flight, we were quite keen to get out and explore straight away.
Do you have any amazing memories/funny stories?
In both New York and Los Angeles we saw locals have screaming arguments with each other on the subway – and everybody else just sits around doing nothing as if it’s a daily occurrence. It was bizarre.
Other than that, I think the view from the top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre – the highest observation deck in the world at 104 floors high – is something I’m not going to forget in a while, and getting to visit the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo – the Sensoji Temple – was pretty special too.
What was the best/worst food/drink you had there?
The best was definitely in Tokyo – we went to a little restaurant where the chef tied aprons on us before preparing the entire meal in front of us. Barbecued beef, pork, vegetables and rice – we were stuffed.
I think the worst would have to be Rachel’s experience with a drink in Shanghai. She bought what looked like a can of chocolate milk and it turned out to be fizzy fermented rice milk. It went straight in the bin!
Did you meet any memorable people on the trip?
We felt a little like local celebrities in Shanghai when one of the locals wanted to have their picture taken with us, just because we were English!
What was the highlight of the whole trip? Something you’ll remember forever?
Visiting a traditional Japanese garden was something we won’t forget in a long time – we got to participate in a traditional tea ceremony, which was a little intimidating in how strictly it’s done. We had to drink the tea in no more than four sips, only drink from a particular side of the teacup, and then tell the tea master how much we enjoyed it, even if we didn’t.
Do you have any insider tips to give others planning a trip to any of these cities?
Fill up your iPhone with travel apps! I think we could easily have got quite lost if I hadn’t loaded up on maps and travel guides on my phone before we left! And on the tube in Shanghai and Tokyo pay attention to the locals. It’s nothing like London, they actually queue for the trains. There’s no mad rush to squeeze on – even when it’s busy, it’s much calmer than the London underground.
Do you think the trip has given you the travelling bug?
I think so – I’m not quite sure where’s next but the city-hopping was a lot of fun. We got to take in a lot of different cultures in a short amount of time, which was pretty exhilarating. Having said that, the trip was exhausting – I think we might need to book a beach holiday to recover!
Any plans for more travels in the next year? If so, where?
We’d like to visit more of the USA. I’m thinking Las Vegas and San Francisco might be next on the agenda. I’m considering Australia too, I’ll have to see if I can fit them all into one trip!
Would you like to go back to any of these places/recommend them?
I’d go back to Tokyo in a heartbeat. It was breathtaking – it’s so vast. There’s so much we could have seen and done, it’s a shame we were only there for a few days.
What were the best/worst/most emotional moments of the trip?
I don’t think I could choose a best moment. It was a whirlwind of a trip, but it was all pretty incredible. The worst moment was leaving New York after a sunny day in Central Park and having to come home!
Do you have one photo that would sum up the whole trip for you?
I’ve a photo which shows an incredible view over Manhattan as the sun was about to set – taken from the bathtub in our hotel!