Once upon a time, there was a British guy called Andy.
His father worked as a post office telecommunications engineer who spent much of his career working in Africa. Andy loved hearing tales from such trips, marvelled at the souvenirs his Dad brought back and the entire family even holidayed in Libya in 1976 where Higgs senior was based at the time. This was Higgs junior’s first taste of Africa.
Fast forward to the early summer of 1990 and, disillusioned with working life in England and seeking adventure, walked out of yet another dead-end office job at lunchtime and never looked back.
After hitch-hiking around Europe and he landed in Berlin and ended up working for the British Army as a civilian labourer and experiencing the absolute golden age of Berlin (his words).
With the army leaving Berlin, he spent more time exploring before returning to the UK.
Andy went into a bookstore and began to search for inspiration. It didn’t take long – Lonely Planet’s “Africa on a Shoestring” caught his eye and his imagination; seven days later he had bought a one-way flight to Malaga and so began his first true adventure as he backpacked through 14 countries in North and West Africa, hitch-hiked through the Sahara, experienced a coup first-hand in Sierra Leone and then flew into the civil war in Liberia, was arrested by rebels and questioned by child soldiers, brushed off armed robbery in Ivory Coast and basically had the time of his life.
Africa was in his veins, and it would never leave. He arrived in Ghana and decided it was time to stay put for a while. He started a small business which gave him a residence permit and bought and sold handicrafts from his “office” on Labadi Beach. He ended up having Accra as his home for several years, and whilst he experienced both the highest highs and the lowest lows during that time, life was never boring.
He also met Marianne from Norway who would later become his wife.
Indeed that is the next chapter in this strangest of stories – after realising that he had reached a point with his Ghana business where he would have to go “all-in” in order to make things work, but not wanting to live in the UK and start employing staff and suchlike, he closed up shop.
He decided instead to visit the lovely Marianne in Trondheim with whom he had kept in contact all these years. It was his first time in Norway and he fell in love with the country almost as quickly as he fell in love with Marianne.
Luckily this was reciprocated and he moved to Trondheim the following year. He has been there ever since and has now lived in Norway for more than 25 years – longer than he ever lived in the UK, in fact. You still with us? Don’t worry, we are getting closer to the present day now. Marriage, fatherhood, adapting to another new culture and having a proper job were the new adventures and were more exciting than life in Africa for Andy at the time.
But the continent was always calling, always in his heart, every single day since leaving Africa in the mid-1990s.
His urge to write about his time down there re-emerged, and at the same time people were regularly contacting him for travel tips for England and advice about Africa. He decided that instead of a book, perhaps a website would be the answer. After learning the basics he started a travel blog in 2011. The trickiest part had been to find a name; but inspiration came in the middle of the night – Grown-up Travel Guide.
On the one hand this reflected his own situation as a traveller who craved the adventures of his youth but wanted a better level of comfort – he knew there were many in the same position. On the other, the name was also a private joke, as Andy had lost track of the number of times in his life he had been advised to “grow up”…
He put in a huge amount of work writing and publishing articles alongside his translation day job and family life. There was no financial reward from this for many years but he enjoyed it and reaching a growing, enthusiastic and writing for an international audience was exciting.
Andy began visiting the main travel trade shows in London and Berlin as media, making connections in the industry and gathering information about places he found of particular interest.
Africa was at the top of the list, of course, and after many assignments working with European, American and Asian companies he finally landed the ultimate prize – a collaboration with Imvelo Safari Lodges in Zimbabwe to cover their properties, conservation programmes and social projects.
He would have to get himself to Africa and pay a chunk of the fees involved, but they would host him at their lodges. That was in 2014, almost 10 years since he had last set foot on the most exciting continent on the planet. Even better, this was uncharted territory for him – Southern Africa.
After many trips and cultivating an addiction to safaris and spotting wildlife, a new idea grew. With the main motivation being to get others to understand what they are missing in Africa and to help them experience it all, The Grown-up Travel Company became the logical next step.
With an enviable network of contacts all over Southern and East Africa, the plan was and remains to offer African itineraries out of the ordinary – from small group tours to fully customised independent trips. Any travel agency can sell a holiday in Cape Town and the winelands; but what about a motorbike tour in Malawi, self-driving in Tanzania or breaking new ground in Angola?
But Grown-up Travel Guide is still going strong, as you can see – and is indeed celebrating its 14th year already.
Onward and upwards!