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Intrepid traveller’s worldwide mission

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Phoebe Howlett enjoys the view in Guatape, Colombia
Phoebe Howlett enjoys the view in Guatape, Colombia

A woman who set off on a mission to travel to every country in the world to raise awareness of invisible illnesses has taught children in Panama City and climbed Machu Picchu.

Phoebe Howlett, of Bathley, is seven months into her quest to become only the second woman to visit all 196 countries recognised by the United Nations.

The 25-year-old was inspired to embark on the epic adventure when she was left bedridden by ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, and postural tachycardia syndrome, also known as PoTS.

They are among conditions known as invisible illnesses — chronic conditions or illness that are not obvious to an untrained medical eye.

She wants to use the trip to encourage fellow sufferers.

Phoebe, who is writing an online blog about her travels, also wants to promote gender equality and give talks on the topics to school children around the world.

She has visited Ireland, the US, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay since beginning her travels in May and been to well-known landmarks Machu Picchu in Peru and Chichen Itza in Mexico.

Phoebe Howlett on the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia
Phoebe Howlett on the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia

She sat in a business class at a school in Panama City, Florida, to talk about her adventure and spent time with pupils one-on-one.

Phoebe said travelling alone was liberating, exhausting, exciting and an experience like no other.

“At times, especially if there are problems at home with friends or family, it all feels very lonely,” she said.

“But I learnt that being alone does not mean being lonely, no matter what you think others might be thinking or if there are problems back home.”

Phoebe said she had made many friends on her travels and had only been alone for eight days.

“What I learnt, more importantly, is that travellers, as a general rule, are exceptionally friendly,” she said.

“Whether it is because we have all been the ‘newbie’ in a country and know how it feels, or because we are all equally eager to make friends and find people to explore with, people are super friendly.

“In fact, at times it was so easy to meet people that it was difficult to be alone.

“When I said my goodbyes in Bolivia to head to Paraguay by myself, it was a welcome break to be alone,” she said.

Phoebe said many people who travelled abroad went alone and linked-up with other sole travellers in South America from countries such as England, Ireland, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

She is using her life-savings for the adventure that she expects to last for 4½ years.

Phoebe Howlett on a hammock in San Gil, Colombia
Phoebe Howlett on a hammock in San Gil, Colombia

Phoebe became chronically ill three years ago while working in a high-pressured job in the financial sector in London, coping with personal stress and battling depression.

She was also recovering from dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that she picked up two years earlier during her time studying at a university campus in Malaysia.

She believes those factors combined to create her chronic illnesses, which can leave her feeling exhausted, dizzy and faint.

The adventurer said she had learned much about other cultures and languages as well as herself on her travels.

“I have learned what you look like after days of no mirrors or clean water,” she said.

“I have learned what people are like outside of the tiny micro-bubble you call home within your comfort zone.

“I have learned how far I can go, both mentally and physically, before it is too much.

“My illness has made me so much more resilient and more aware of others when they are suffering.”

Phoebe said she had been touched by the kindness of strangers during her travels.

“Travel brings extreme highs, but with it come extreme lows,” she said.

“I have learned how to bring myself back from those lows so I can appreciate the highs once again.”

'This is my biggest achievement'

Phoebe said she felt like she had a thousand plates spinning as she balanced her commitments between a blog, travelling and communicating with schools to arrange lessons.

“I have spoken to the younger generation as I have travelled,” she said.

“I have kept up with my website and social media while developing a presence on the internet about my challenge.

“For me this is my biggest achievement.”

Phoebe said she had done things she never thought her body would be capable of because of limitations due to the chronic illnesses.

“I have been hospitalised and I have needed an oxygen mask after going too far at times, but I am here and I am only more excited for the next few months,” she said.

“I guess my resilience is an achievement. I know that what I am experiencing is incredible and such a luxury.

“It is a characteristic I probably have as a result of being ill and being told I would never be able to travel.”

Phoebe said she was planning to travel to Costa Rica next, from where she would go by yacht to French Polynesia and explore the countries of the Pacific Ocean.

“I chose that because it is the most environmentally-friendly way to get to those islands,” she said.

“If not I would have to go back and forward from the islands to Australia every trip, which just seemed silly.

“I am very excited about that after months of being in run-down taxis, buses and collectivos, which are like mini-vans.”

- Phoebe’s travel blog can be found at www.thechanceofchoice.com

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