Flights were an absolute luxury back in the 70s, and I didn't travel outside New Zealand till I was 18. My first trip overseas was to Japan for a month in the 1980s. I spoke very little Japanese, I had just $1000, a rail pass, a youth hostel pass and no real plans. Back in those days, hostels were run by families and the rule was you could only stay for two nights. I remember being with one family in the south, in Kyushu and they'd invite all their family over for these big meals. I'd been there five days and they kept saying, "don't leave, stay longer". It was such a beautiful way to travel and it really opened up my eyes to the world. When I came home, I knew I wanted to work in travel so I could continue to travel .
I went to Africa for the first time in 1995. A friend was going to Zimbabwe and Botswana, and asked if I'd come too. Something about Africa got into my soul and I just keep going back. Back then I was working for a retail travel agent, but Africa become such a passion I decided I wanted to sell Africa only, so I bought into an agency called Africa Travel Centre. Africa totally changed my life.
One amazing experience I had was with my husband; we did a canoe safari down the Zambezi River, sleeping on sand islands in little pop-up dome tents. At night, hippos would come out of the water, and the smell was incredible. They were twice the size of our tents, and they could easily have sat on us, but they'd just munch around, then go back in the water. As we carried on down the river, we'd come to these hippo chicanes. We'd go around massive pods of hippos, dodging them, while our guide yelled: "Back paddle, back paddle! Go to the left!" He had no weapons and we were inexperienced, but we just followed his instructions and paddled around the hippos.
In Botswana, you fly in quite small aircraft and a lot of the runways are just grass in the middle of nowhere. Often there's wildlife on the landing strips , so a safari vehicle will wait beside the runway and drive up and down to scare the zebras and giraffes off. These are tiny planes, four people plus the pilot, and sometimes we'd come in to land, then all of a sudden there's a giraffe standing there and we're taking off again. That's a regular occurrence but people don't believe it till they actually see it.
I was on a walking safari in Hwange in Zimbabwe National Park. There were six of us and an armed guard who told these great stories. When we came across a massive herd of buffalo, he made us all sit down. He told us we needed to get behind the buffalos without them smelling us. At first, we thought he was joking, but we still dropped to our bums. Here's us, sitting on the ground with our legs out in front, bum shuffling around the back of the buffalo and the adrenaline was pumping , because a massive herd could've tramped us to death. But our guide was extremely experienced, he knew which way the wind was blowing, we got around safely and the buffalo were none the wiser.
In May, I went to Uganda for the first time and spent six days with gorillas and chimps. I flew from Auckland to Doha then down to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and from there, south to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. There are only 900 mountain gorillas left in the world. One of the cool things about Uganda, when you buy your gorilla permit, which isn't cheap, a percentage goes back to the local community. Walking through the villages, instead of begging, the kids sell little drawings and it was really encouraging to see the local communities working with tourism to make it more sustainable. That was my 25th trip to Africa, and it was phenomenal.
Sri Lanka is another very special place. It has amazing culture, history, heritage and wildlife. North of Sri Lanka, it's like being in The Jungle Book although slightly different, because they have bears there. Sri Lanka is very Buddhist and we went to the Bodhi tree on one of the most sacred days of the year. We walked into an area where there was a huge temple and hundreds of people dressed in pure white sitting and mediating. A Buddhist priest was chanting and the scenery was amazing. We also went up into the hills to stay at an original tea plantation that had been converted into a hotel. We travelled up in a rickety old train, going through beautiful little villages. Sri Lankans are the kindest people and it was absolutely devastating what happened there. After the attacks, so many livelihoods were devastated, which is why it's important for people to return. If we stop travelling there, it's like the terrorists have won.
• Caryn Young is general manager of Adventure World Travel , NZ.