Since meeting eight years ago, Tania Taylor and Adam Carter have pulled off many birthday surprises for one another, with the couple organising experiences such as comedy gigs and trips to cities such as Edinburgh and London. But for Carter's 40th birthday last year, Taylor was keen to up the ante and surprise her partner with the experience at the very top of his bucket list: a trip to Iceland.
It was a sunny Friday in August as James made his way to work thinking about no more than the day ahead and clocking off for the weekend. Little did he know as he made his regular 40-minute drive to work that his weekend would be a little different than planned.
I knew he's always really wanted to visit Iceland and snowmobile on the surface of a glacier," says Taylor, 34, a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist living in Rochdale, Lancashire. "I knew I had to make it happen for his 40th."
Taylor was even more eager to treat Carter and give him his ultimate gift given how much she says he'd supported her and her two children, Chloe, 16, and Callum, 15, over the past eight years.
Throughout our lives, he has always been supportive in every way I could imagine, not just for me but for my children too, who he adopted three years ago,” she says. “I wanted to do something extra special to show him just how much I love him and how much I appreciate all his support."
Taylor also invited their children, plus Carter's parents and his sister and brother-in-law on the trip of a lifetime. And while she confided in Chloe, she didn't let Callum in on the act. "My son wouldn't have been able to help but shout it from the rooftops," she laughs.
Taylor saved up £4,000 over the course of a year for the surprise holiday. "I saved for one thing at a time, such as the apartment, which cost about £1,200. Once that was paid for, I saved up for and booked the flights; says Taylor. "Everything was done in stages and every time I paid something off it felt like a huge milestone.” Taylor was so excited that she would regularly "do a happy dance when pottering around the kitchen” but always ensuring Carter was out of sight.
I wanted to save for something extra special to show how much I love him.
A couple of days before his birthday, Taylor told Carter that the two of them were going to a surprise location for a few nights. "But during the day I explained we had been let down by the babysitter, so I'd had to change our plans and bring our children with us,” she says. However, keeping the surprise all the way to the airport proved tough. "The first hiccup happened when we were waiting for the train and I realised the train before ours was heading to the destination he'd assumed we were going to," she says. "Quick thinking, my daughter suggested I pretend I needed the loo, so we'd miss that train!" When the family were ready to depart at Manchester Piccadilly train station, Taylor surprised Carter and Callum by telling them they were staying on until the next stop - Manchester airport.
I gave him the flight number once we arrived and waited for him and our son to work out where we were heading." She says the look on his face once they worked it out was priceless.
He was so shocked,'' she recalls. "He turned around and gave me a big kiss. They were both so pleased.”
Once again being left wide mouthed after discovering his parents and his sister and brother-in-law were joining them, the group enjoyed a magical and exhilarating time exploring the awe-inspiring island in the middle of the North Atlantic, where the adrenaline kicked in when they toured the winter wonderland by snowmobile.
That trip was incredible; says Taylor. “You could see nothing but more white snow surrounding you that went on for miles and miles in every direction. Right at the end when parking up we took a slow, but sharp turn and ended up falling off, which was quite hilarious. He loved every second of it.”
Taylor says that being self-employed and having no guarantee of income from one week to the next makes saving and budgeting for holidays such as Iceland even more essential.
“Some weeks might be a good week, and other weeks there might be a bug making the rounds and half my clients cancel," she says. "Without saving up, I would never have been able to take the best leap of my life into self-employment."
Jill Waters, retail director at NS&I, says: "Juggling a self-employed income is never easy when it can be variable from month to month. But putting a small amount away on top of your savings for your tax return will build to a nice reward each year. Once you have paid your tax bill you can treat yourself and celebrate another successful year."
Taylor says the couple enjoy ticking off their saving goals. "Every time we have another thousand pounds to go towards the next item on our bucket list it feels incredible. Not just for holidays and making memories, but even for big jobs on the house such as a new roof. Being able to save has really given us the peace of mind I've always wanted. If we hadn't been saving, December would have been horrendous, as both our fridge and dishwasher broke. Thankfully, because of our savings, we weren't panicked - despite it already being such a costly time of year - and we got replacements very quickly."
Looking back at their epic Iceland holiday, Taylor describes the experience as a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
“Although we didn't see the Northern Lights, we had an incredible holiday and made memories that will last forever," she says. "How I managed to secretly organise the holiday of a lifetime was beyond everyone after I accidentally booked one of our activities in Pennsylvania instead of Reykjavik. It all added to the fun and laughter of the trip, though, and I can't wait to save up for more adventures in the future."
*This was originally published in The Guardian.