The pre-dawn chill swirled around me as I struggled to dress whilst entombed within my sleeping bag. Today was the day.
For six days now, we had climbed and clambered, ascended and descended, skipped and hiked; with every stop, the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest active volcano in the world, was one step closer.
I could hear the rest of my group rustling in their tents, preparing for the final ascent. I didn’t know if anyone was aware that today was my 19th birthday. It was going to be a birthday to remember…
We zig-zagged up the face of the mountain like a column of very cold ants. My blood turned to ice and my teeth chattered as I shoved my hands into my armpits in a vain attempt to keep the stinging, biting pins and needles at bay.
My head throbbed as I gulped down air, struggling to breathe with the altitude. This seemed nuts; I felt way too inexperienced to be clinging to a mountainside on my birthday, tears threatening to spill down my face as I struggled onwards and upwards. I had read that Kilimanjaro was to be approached with care, that the mountain was not easy to climb.
My guide, Kafil, passed me a thermos of hot chocolate and encouraged me to turn around, to see how far I had come.
Clouds stretched below me as far as the eye could see, the snow was alive with luminescence as the first rays of the sun centred across the sky.
Kafil turned to me. “Happy birthday, man”. I looked at him, frozen, knackered, and delighted.
Ascending Kilimanjaro was the first ever solo adventure I attempted. I was just eighteen years old, and I tagged along with an adventurous group put together by a local tour company, they helped me arrange permits and guides with high quality gear.
My mum had dropped the tour company an email informing them it was my birthday, and this had been passed down the line. Once we got back to Base Camp, my guides really pulled all the stops out – I was sung to, in Swahili, by a crowd of nearly thirty people – it was a birthday I will never forget.
These days, I tend to do almost all of my adventures on my own, but if you do fancy climbing Kilimanjaro, well, you are going to need permits and, in some cases, guides. There are some awesome trekking companies out there who can take care of all of this for you especially if you are inexperienced like I was! If Africa sounds like the kind of challenge you want to sink your teeth into; I strongly recommend having a look at the ultimate list of adventure gear you’ll need for a safari… because, let’s be honest, you can’t visit Kili without having a bit of a chill safari afterwards!
Epic Birthday Travel Experiences
Climbing Kilimanjaro was certainly an epic and memorable way to spend a birthday and was well worth the outlay. If you’re looking for a birthday to never forget then feel free to borrow some of our ideas!
Climbing Temples in Bagan, Myanmar
In the last decade, Myanmar has opened up to the world and began permitting tourists. I for one am glad it has as it’s a truly amazing and mythical land of steaming jungles, endless paddy fields and ancient temples.
The temple network of Bagan is a Unesco world heritage site and one of the most awesome places I have ever visited. The best bit of all is that you can camp here and climb the temples. Imagine spending the night and watching the sunrise on another year from atop a temple? Bagan also receives a fraction of the tourists Cambodia’s Angor Wat receives so you may even have the place almost to yourself.
Hiking Petra in Jordan
I’m a sucker for a good hike and Petra is one that you will never ever forget. The ancient city of Petra is considered one of the wonders of the world for good reason. The rock carved buildings are famous but what is less famous are the equally mind-blowing landscapes and views.
Hiking to the monastery can be tough but is perfectly manageable for anybody with even a degree of fitness, some decent shoes and sufficient determination. You can sip tea with Bedouins whilst looking out over biblical deserts. If your birthday falls on one the occasions when Petra opens in the evening then aren’t you the lucky one!
Firing an AK47 in Pakistan
In the remote tribal areas of Pakistan firearms are part of everyday culture used to ward off bears, celebrate weddings and occasionally settle tribal differences… When I visited last year me and my guide headed into the mountains and let off a full round. Firing the world’s most famous weapon certainly made for a birthday treat I shan’t ever forget.
Editor’s note: no bears or tribesmen were hurt in the making of this birthday to never forget – only tin cans!
Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is essentially a peninsula made of black volcanic ash. Visitors usually flock here for the awesome surfing and availability of cheap d***s but there is another unforgettable experience on offer in the central American country’ Volcano Boarding!
In case the name is somehow ambiguous, Volcano Boarding is where you ride a wooden board down the surface of an active volcano! Its fast, it’s fun and it’s unforgettable.
Getting plastered at Oktoberfest
If all this trekking, climbing, shooting and boarding is too much for you well worry not as Munich’s Oktoberfest offers a more traditional epic birthday travel experience!
Ok so this option is only really available to 1/12th of you out there but if you are lucky enough to be Libran then you could spend a worst birthday than joining in the world’s biggest beer festival. Yes it’s crowded and yes accommodation prices spike but there is a reason for this. Bavarians love to make merry and love to meet people making Oktoberfest one of the best celebrations we can imagine.
Spa Day beneath the Northern Lights
Finally, one for the ladies (**SEXISM ALARM SOUNDS** )…
Iceland is utterly stunning. Its unique landscape and geological quirks mean it is blessed with hot springs many of which have been turned into luxury spas perfect for an unforgettable retreat.
Iceland is now readily accessible from Europe with cheap flights from most countries. If you are born between October – March, you may even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. If on the other hand you are born in June then may the sun never set on your birthday. This one is certainly more low key and chilled but is nevertheless an epic birthday travel experience.
Want to read more?
If you liked this article, check out my posts on trekking to Colombia’s legendary Lost City.