Traveller’s tales: Caitríona Balfe
The Irish model, actress and Outlander star reveals why she can’t wait to return to Nepal, why India should be on everyone’s bucket list and why Iceland has to be seen to be believed
Where are you right now?
I’m in Marylebone, London.
What do you love and miss most about your home country?
I was born in Dublin but I grew up in the country about two hours’ north of the city, right on the border. When I’m away, I miss my mum’s brown bread. It’s probably the best I’ve ever tasted. I have the recipe, but my mum is one of those annoying people who says, “Oh I just put in a bit of this and a handful of that”, so there are no definitive measurements and it never turns out the same. She has a feel for it.
When was your first trip abroad?
I come from such a big family that we didn’t really go abroad on holidays, so my first solo trip away was when I was 17, which was quite late. I went to Praia da Rocha in Portugal with my first boyfriend. It wasn’t very glamorous! It shows my age, but I think we just went into the travel agent and picked it out from a brochure. It was a bit tragic!
What’s been your favourite travel experience for work?
One that’s really memorable is when I went to India on a photoshoot. We did this whirlwind trip within four or five days that started in Goa, and then we ended up driving at night to a place called Hampi, which is a Unesco site and is absolutely stunning. We did everything from staying in a really western place in Goa to a very budget place in Hampi, and then ended up in a luxurious resort along the coast for the last couple of nights. It was amazing. I saw so many different levels of India all in one trip. It was such an assault on the senses – visually, the smells, the taste, the noise. It’s just so different from travelling in Europe or the US, where there’s a similar feel to everything. The colours that you see and the people you meet are amazing – and the food is also amazing. It’s such a special place. I love India so much.
Have you ever accepted a job because of where it’s being shot?
I’m still waiting for the job that asks me to shoot in Hawaii! But, no, I don’t think I’ve ever accepted a job because of it. That said, one of my first jobs as an actor was in Chile and we were there for a month, which was such a bonus. When the producers and I were talking about the job, I knew I was going to say yes anyway, but when they said it was shooting in Chile and we’d be there for a month, I just thought, “Oh my god, yes. Put me on that plane!”
Travelling is the best education you’ll ever get
Because we were there for just over a month, I wasn’t working all the time. One trip the cast and crew took was when everybody had a really bad hangover. I’d arranged that we’d all go on a Sunday morning to these natural springs up in the Andes on the Argentinian/Chile border. I thought it was a 40-minute drive but it ended up being a two hours and 40-minute drive! They were all cursing me until we got to the actual location, which was incredible. Water was streaming down in this natural spring, so the first few pools it would collect in were scorching hot and then it’d trickle down into another pool and then another, and by the time it got to the bottom it was really cold, and it had all this silica – or mineral mud – in it. You had to cover yourself in the mud and then go and sit in all the different pools. All the people with hangovers were very happy by the end of it.
Caitríona Balfe with Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari
Ma in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast
With Outlander co-stars Sam Heughan and Sophie Skelton
Which destination has surprised you the most?
Australia. I only went there for the first time four years ago for a couple of weeks and, for some reason, I had a different impression of what it was going to be. I went to Sydney and Byron Bay, and Sydney was such a surprise. In my head, I thought it was going to be very built-up but with long beaches – a bit like Miami Beach (which I also love). Instead, it was full of all these beautiful little coves and was so much greener than I expected. It felt very special and had so many different neighbourhoods. I ended up loving it and was annoyed with myself that I hadn’t been there earlier.
Have you ever experienced a moment of true inspiration on a trip?
Years and years ago I was in Nepal and we were staying up in Dhulikhel, in the low mountains (even though it feels very high!). We’d been there for a few days and it had always been cloudy. The people at the hotel we were staying at started banging on our door one morning at 5am saying, “You have to come! You have to come!” It was sunrise. The clouds had cleared where we were and for the first time we saw the Himalayas properly. I was the most awestruck I think I’ve ever been. You already feel like you’re on the top of a mountain and then you have to crane your neck to look up for the most majestic, snow peaked mountains you’ve ever seen. It was incredible to watch as the sun rose. It was definitely a spiritual moment, and will stay with me forever.
Where can’t you wait to get back to?
It would be a toss-up between Nepal and Cuba. I was in Cuba for a job years ago and I’d love to go back because it was gorgeous. I think anywhere that has somehow escaped this homogenisation that’s happened to a lot of the world makes it an amazing place to go. It has a unique feel to it. When I was there, I stayed in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. It’s very regal but there’s also something so romantic about it. It’s got this gorgeous pool with palm trees and lights at night. Incredible Cuban music plays in the evenings and it really transports you to a different time.
What’s your favourite meal and where does it taste the best?
I think it’s really hard to beat Momofuku in New York. I’ll occasionally have a craving for its ramen. When I lived in New York I would go there by myself, have my little spot and enjoy my bowl of ramen. It was really good.
What’s your most memorable hotel stay?
There have been a lot… Four or five years ago I went on safari in South Africa. We were shooting Outlander there for a couple of months in Cape Town and my husband and I went to the Kariega Reserve in the Eastern Cape. We stayed in these luxurious tents. When we woke up in the morning we could see giraffes and elephants crossing the plains in front of us. It was really incredible and one of the most special trips I’ve taken. Safari is probably the most humbling and amazing thing you can do. There’s a very strange feeling you get when you are among all these animals in their natural habitat. We went on a night safari as well and the sky in South Africa is one of the most incredible I’ve ever seen. The stars were amazing. It’s the most mind-blowing thing; you feel like you’re in a planetarium. It was a really, really special trip. I really want to go back.
What do you like to do on a flight?
It depends. There are times when I just want to read, and being on a plane is a great space for blocking everything out and reading. I would often start a book when I took off in LA (for example) and by the time I’d touched down in London I was getting to the last page. That’s the most amazing thing – especially if you’ve got ten pages left and you’re thinking, “I hope we have to taxi for quite a while”, so you’re speed reading and on tenterhooks because it’s exciting towards the end. That’s happened quite a few times before.
Safari is probably the most humbling and amazing thing you can do
Also, movies. There’s something that happens to you when you’re up in the air. There’s an emotional level you reach when you watch films on a plane that you never reach anywhere else. You end up sobbing over the most ridiculous movies. I remember watching New York Minute, the Olsen twins movie, and I was bawling my eyes out. It’s really not that emotional or deep, but it got me! There’s something that happens to you when you’re up in the sky. I don’t know what it is.
What one place should everyone visit in their lifetime?
I’m reluctant to say this because it’s already getting so popular, but Iceland. It’s so gorgeous. Seeing the northern lights is something everybody should do. I saw them in Iceland and it was really, really special. Even though you know the scientific reason for it, it still feels like magic. It makes you understand why there’s all this mythology in Iceland and some people believe in fairies. Of course you would, when you see these lights dancing in the sky several times a year.
What do you like most about travelling?
The experience of different cultures and having that different perspective. It’s invaluable. Travelling is the best education you’ll ever get. You learn so much about the commonality of people but also the differences. It’s the commonality that binds us together but the differences that make us all special.
Belfast is showing in UK cinemas from 21 January and around the world throughout 2022
As told to: Ally Wybrew
The British Airways sale is now
Discover the world this year
Travelling with Pride this June
Members of the LGBTQ+ community share some inspirational journeys
More from Travel stories
Three heart-warming stories of reconnection from around the world, from meeting newborns to wedding anniversaries
More from Travel stories
“I like things that are slightly creepy”
Thor and Doctor Who star Karen Gillan talks eclectic tastes and life in LA versus New York
More from Entertainment