I should be in Panama. Instead, I’m in Nepal. I shouldn’t be shocked at how drastically my plans have changed — it seems to happen every year — but I was certain I’d spend all of 2014 in Latin America.
It’s not like I wasn’t enjoying it — in fact, I was loving every second. My six months of slow travel through Mexico didn’t feel like nearly enough, and I miss it every day — the food, the people, the beaches, the colourful cities and crumbling ruins. While I didn’t fall in love with Belize, I did with Guatemala. But I didn’t see nearly enough of it. I decided to take a quick break from Latin America — just a short break for a couple of months and then I’d return to Guatemala to make my way south for winter.
I didn’t return.
The truth is, my plans for the rest of 2014 were far too ambitious. I gave myself ten months to travel through Cuba, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Antarctica. I reasoned with myself that it would be doable as long as I treated it as a “highlights trip”. I’d skip through each country visiting only the top two or three tourist sites, hopping from The Amazon to The Galapagos to Machu Picchu to the Bolivian Salt Flats to Iguazu Falls. I’d visit the highlights and then decide which countries to return to at a later date to explore in greater depth.
Not only was I going to be travelling too fast, I was also going to be spending a lot of money. My dream three week trip to Antarctica was priced at over $10,000, and tours of “the highlights” would probably add another $5000 on top of that. When you add in visa costs and flights, it was looking likely that I’d be blowing well over $20,000 on the rest of the year. Sure, I could have gotten my accommodation and activities sponsored by companies as I travelled, but I was adamant that I would continue to pay for everything out of my own pocket. How can I show you that travel is an achievable goal if I don’t pay for all of it myself? While I had enough money in my savings to afford my time in Latin America, I knew I’d be panicking afterwards.
I’m great believer in paying attention to signs, and when I received three within the space of a week I had a feeling my plans would need to change.
- I lost several of my regular freelancing gigs
- I was contacted about a huge work project that, if I could pull off, would see me working my ass off for at least a year
- I caught glandular fever
Losing my freelancing gigs halved my income overnight. That $20,000 suddenly felt more terrifying. The big work project would have me working harder than ever before, and for all of my time in Latin America. What would be the point in racing through all these amazing countries if I was too busy to step outside and explore? Catching glandular fever was the biggest sign of all. A virus that causes chronic fatigue, which can last for up to a year? I wouldn’t even have enough energy to see “the highlights”.
It was time to make a decision.
The answer came to me right away, but heading back to Southeast Asia felt like taking the easy way out. I always head back to Southeast Asia. I always spend several months of the year hanging out in Chiang Mai. 2014 was meant to be different. Would I regret heading back to familiarity and the warm embrace of my narrow comfort zone? Would I be disappointed in myself for choosing to eat pho in Saigon instead of trekking through The Amazon?
Southeast Asia made the most sense for what I needed right then. With my income running low, I’d only need to make $700 a month to cover my expenses. With my big work project taking up most of my time, I wouldn’t feel guilty about holing up and working instead of exploring.
Often, I’ll find that as I travel, I’ll make a decision that will just feel right. South America didn’t feel right for me but neither did spending the entire year in Southeast Asia. Here, then, are my revised travel plans for 2014.
Nepal is a country I’ve dreamed of visiting for years, and deciding to come in the low season was such a great decision. It’s mellow and chilled out, and there’s barely any tourists. I love it. Cafes are blissfully quiet, the afternoon thunderstorms make me happy and I don’t feel guilty about staying inside to write. The only downside is the frequent power outages! I’m writing this after 40 hours of a torrential downpour spent without power, A/C or Wi-Fi. It’s almost like I’m being forced to relax for the first time in months.
With two weeks left in Nepal, I’ll be spending time working in Pokhara, trekking in search of rhinos in Chitwan and hiding from pigeons in Kathmandu. I love this country and can’t wait to return in the high season for some hiking goodness.
This will be my fifth visit to Chiang Mai and I’m sure, like always, it’ll only take a few seconds for me to feel at home. All it usually takes is a glimpse of the moat to have me beaming. My month in Chiang Mai is allocated entirely for work. In between long hours sat in front of my laptop I’ll be re-visiting my favourite restaurants and catching up with friends. I can’t wait to get back!
I don’t want to get comfortable for too long in Chiang Mai (or work too hard!), so I’ll be heading to a brand new country in August. I’ll be spending my time in Sri Lanka riding trains, drinking tea, exploring ruins, hiking mountains and sunbathing on beautiful beaches. I’m especially excited that I’ll be there to celebrate Esala Perahera, the biggest festival in Sri Lanka, which honours the tooth of Buddha.
September brings Dave’s birthday and we’re going to be celebrating it in another new country for both of us. After two weeks in Sri Lanka, we’re going to be spending another couple of weeks in India. We won’t be doing any kind of hardcore travel in the country, and are treating it as a quick and (hopefully!) stress-free introduction to India. We’ll be spending the entire time in chilled out Kerala, with a week on the beach and a week cruising the backwaters on a houseboat.
As an aside, India will be my 50th country visited!
It’ll be back to Thailand once more in mid-September for yet another month of working hard in Chiang Mai. Towards the end of my four weeks, I’ll be taking a trip down to Koh Tao to finally learn how to dive. I can’t wait to take a trip to Koh Nang Yuan while I’m there — doesn’t it look stunning?
With our time in Thailand drawing to a close, I’ll be hopping over to Burma for a quick taster of what it has to offer. I’ll only be spending a couple of weeks in the country so I doubt I’ll get far off the tourist trail of Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Yangon, however, after deciding to go to Burma and cancelling at the last minute so many times over the past three years, I’ll be happy just to finally get there!
Taiwan is one of my favourite countries in the world, and I’ve been trying to convince Dave to visit ever since meeting him. This year, I’ll finally be able to show him what makes this country so amazing. We’ll be spending a month in Taiwan, hitting up night markets and themed restaurants in Taipei, scootering around Taroko Gorge and visiting the islands I didn’t get around to seeing last time.
Dave and I both love The Philippines but always seem to find ourselves skipping over it in favour of somewhere more accessible. This year, we’re finally going to return! I’m looking forward to introducing Dave to Boracay and seeing if I still love it second time around. We’re also hoping to visit Malapascua for less touts and madness, and El Nido for some stunning scenery.
I couldn’t be more excited to be spending Christmas with my family in London! I’ll be renting an apartment for a month in (hopefully) East London and spending most of my time in pubs. My main goal for London is to reverse Dave’s disliking of the city and convince him that English food isn’t crap.
And that’s 2014! I think I’ve got a good balance of hardcore work time and fun travel adventures to new countries, and this definitely feels more achievable than my Latin America plans! What do you think? Do you have any suggestions for things to do and eat in any of the places I’m going? Are you going to be in any of the same places at the same time? Let me know in the comments!