The couple – compelled by the challenge of being less reliant on aeroplanes, as well as Tanya’s fear of flying – embarked on an incredible trip by land and sea, travelling through Europe and Asia in order to reach their ultimate destination: the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
“We did most of Europe on buses, and then from Latvia onward we took trains until we got to Qingdao in China, where we took a 17-hour ferry to South Korea,” says Ben, who is originally from Porthcawl. “From South Korea it was a quick three-hour hydrofoil boat to Fukuoka in Japan.”
Since setting off from home in London, they’ve swum in Bosnian waterfalls, travelled five days straight on the famous Trans-Siberian Express, hiked the Great Wall of China, ridden horses in the Mongolian wilderness, and generally seen enough breathtaking sights to last a lifetime.
The pair have been away for three months now, and effectively put their lives in London on hold to make the unforgettable voyage. Tanya, a native Londoner, headed up a design team for a product company; Ben is a gardener who ran a community garden in Clapham Old Town. Using Wales’ participation in the Rugby World Cup as a hook, they pressed pause on life back home.
“I was loving my job, but I had a moment one day when I realised that I had worked from a young age and seen very little of the world,” explains Tanya. “We were about to make a big commitment in buying a house and it made me stop and reassess everything in a big way.”
They timed their trip to perfection, catching Wales’ opening victory against Georgia in Toyota, before moving on to Tokyo where they witnessed Wales’ famous victory against the Wallabies. Of the result at Tokyo Stadium, Ben says: “It was on par with the 2013 win over England, which was an incredibly enjoyable live match – although that one didn’t go down to the wire like this.”
Having married into a Welsh family, Tanya’s experiences of the sport alongside her rugby-mad husband have made her a bona fide fan of Cymru. “The atmosphere in the stadium was amazing. Although we seemed to be outnumbered by the Australian fans, the Welsh spirit shone through!” Like most Welsh rugby fans in Japan that week, the Hawksbees were at the Manic Street Preachers gig in the lead-up to the big game, heightening the sense that Wales had well and truly arrived in Japan.
Despite being away for so long, there has been an element of connection to loved ones back home. Even in Outer Mongolia, Tanya was able to document their travels on her Instagram page. “It was a way to remember the trip visually, as it’s my first time travelling and I wanted to be able to look back over the journey and the timeline from start to finish,” she says. “I also hoped that it may inspire people to do something that maybe they held back from because of anxiety or fear. If I can do it then anyone in the same head space can too.”
There’s still time for one last bit of excitement before they head home: they’ll be cheering on Wales against Fiji in Oita Stadium today.
“Having all of the Welsh rugby fans around has given me a home comfort that I’ve really been missing after three months away from home,” says Tanya, in closing.
The countries the Hawksbees stayed in en route to the Rugby World Cup: France, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Russia, Mongolia, China, South Korea, Japan.