My Life In Travel: Rugby Union star Martin Johnson

'We used to go to Croyde Bay when I was 10 or 11 – it was sunny all the time'
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First holiday memory?

I have fantastic memories of camping on the coast in Wales. As a child you enjoy those sorts of holidays even if it is wet and the tent gets blown away.

Best holiday?

I like different holidays for different reasons. After the 1995 Rugby World Cup we went to Antigua and I spent most of the time relaxing in a hammock by the beach. I've also enjoyed more active holidays like staying on Windermere Lake in the Canadian Rockies.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

We used to go to Croyde Bay in North Devon a lot when I was about 10 or 11. It was great; we used to camp and go bodyboarding. I remember it being sunny all the time, the beach was superb and there was a nice village, which didn't get too busy.

What have you learnt from your travels?

I've learnt that a lot of hyped-up places in the world can be disappointing and it's often the places you haven't heard of that are the most enjoyable. For example, there are more attractive places in the world than Malibu, whereas Canada is unexpectedly beautiful.

Ideal travelling companion?

My family, because they keep me entertained. My daughter is four-and-a-half and she makes me laugh. She has been to New Zealand five times and does very well on such a long journey.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I like to mix a bit of beach with some culture. I'm not one for planning to do lots of things on holiday, because everyday life is like that and there are days when I want to do nothing.

Greatest travel luxury?

I make sure I have a good supply of books.

Holiday reading?

I've done more travelling in the three years since I've stopped playing competitive rugby than I did when I was a professional player, and when I'm on planes I tend to read books rather than watch films. I enjoy historical books and Bernard Cornwell novels.

Where has seduced you?

The place that really surprised me was the east coast of New Zealand, around the Bay of Plenty. The climate is temperate and milder than the rest of New Zealand and there are huge, long beaches and very few people.

Better to travel or arrive?

I've generally had good experiences travelling. I stayed with some friends at a lodge on the Zambezi River in Zambia for a few days. We took off for home on the Saturday morning from a mud-baked airstrip and were having dinner with friends in the Midlands the same day. It was surreal because earlier that day elephants had been roaming through the hotel and later on I was at home in England.

Worst travel experience?

Instead of flying from London to Paris to get to a game, we travelled via the Channel Tunnel on a coach, which took a very long time. Another bad experience was flying on a charter flight from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg with the England team. The pilot told us we might have to fly back because of fog in Jo'burg and tried to land twice but had to come back up again. I'm not a nervous flyer but I was then.

Worst holiday?

I took my mum on holiday to North Devon a few years ago and we had a total of one hour's sunshine for the whole week. But we made the best of it. I think because we always holidayed in the UK when I was younger, I'm used to making the most of things when the weather's bad.

Worst hotel?

I think that staying in a bad hotel can be character-forming. I stayed at a privately owned hotel in south London, which everyone else thought was terrible, but I thought it was quite good fun to sit back and watch the chaos.

Best hotel?

The Pennyhill Park Hotel in Surrey was the England team's headquarters for a long time, but it felt more like a home from home than a hotel. The Four Seasons in Dublin is a step above most other luxury hotels.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

I loved driving from Los Angeles through the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas in 1996; it was a drive like no other I've done. I also drove through the Rockies from Calgary to Vancouver, which was incredibly picturesque.

Best meal abroad?

I'm a big meat eater, so it would have to be The Butcher Shop & Grill in Sandton Square, Johannesburg. You choose your cut of meat, then they cook it for you – it's delicious.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

I never unpack, which is a habit from being on tour. Another habit from rugby touring is checking the hotel room TV to see if there's an English-language channel.

Dream trip?

I've never been to Latin America so that's somewhere I'd love to visit. Unfortunately I missed out on playing in Argentina so I'd like to see countries like that.

Favourite city?

I like Vancouver a lot because it's such a nice city and is by the sea; I like Sydney for the same reasons. I really enjoyed Rome for the culture and history. The first time I went was when England played there in 2000 and we had a great afternoon walking around the city and seeing all the sights.

Where next?

I'm in Paris for the World Cup, but after that I've promised to take my wife to New York for her birthday.

Martin Johnson is a "Visa Rugby Legend". Visa is a worldwide partner of the Rugby World Cup 2007 (www.visarugby.com)

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