2015: what a rollercoaster ride of a year!
Over the past 12 months, I travelled across eighteen countries; seven of them new. I spent time in 62 cities and slept in 35 beds. I took 15 flights and travelled 24,613 miles. I spent $20,417.83.
You could say it’s been the best year of my life; I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have received so many amazing opportunities. I wrote a book! It sold out its first print run in three months! The vast majority of the reviews have been positive! I’m a published author and it still feels incredible. This year, I lived in Spain for several months. I ran my first 5k race. I visited the Baltics, a brand new region of Europe for me. I explored Cornwall and saw for myself that there’s more to England than my London bubble. I stayed in an Italian village with a permanent population of two. I took a ferry to Finland on a whim. I spent several nights floating on a river in the jungles of Cambodia. I ate everything in Taiwan. And Vietnam. And Spain. And Italy.
And at the same time, I can’t deny this year has included some of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. Mental breakdowns. Panic attacks. Self-doubt. Cancelled trips. Bedbugs. Allergic reactions. Letting down friends. Losing my passport. Forgetting to apply for visas. I started the year in one of the darkest periods of my life, but end it at one of my strongest. Those terrible experiences were necessary for me to reassess my life and make the changes I’d been putting off for a while.
This was my 2015!
I rang in the new year in London, playing Cards Against Humanity and drinking wine with friends. We heard Big Ben strike twelve, then promptly fell asleep.
Dave and I spent a full month living in Brixton, the London neighbourhood that had me seriously considering making my the place I grew up a long-term base. It was a vibrant, busy area with tons of character, incredible food, and cosy pubs for devouring roast dinners. I spent my time showing Dave my favourite London haunts, before getting to work on the first draft of my manuscript for How Not to Travel the World.
Mid-way through the month, I packed up my things and flew to Granada, ready to settle down. I had a book to write and this southern Spanish city sounded like the perfect place to do so.
As February rolled around, I found myself slipping into a pit of despair. I’m not sure I even left my apartment once this month. 18 hour work days were the name of the game here, and the less said about those the better.
Handing in the first draft of my manuscript brought billowing waves of relief to my life and I celebrated the milestone with a trip to Ronda. This beautiful cliffside city remains one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever visited and I spent much of my time gawping into the giant chasm that separates the old town from the new.
Back in Granada, I welcomed the arrival of my parents just as I started work on the structural edit of my book. For the first time in many months, though, I chose to prioritise the people I love, closing my laptop and spending a blissful few days getting to know the city I’d called home for three months. We visited the beautiful Alhambra, stuffed our faces with tapas, got tipsy on tinto de verano, and hiked through the hills surrounding the city.
The majority of April was spent working on edits, and towards the end of the month, I waved goodbye to Spain. I don’t doubt I would have fallen deeply in love with Granada if I’d had the time to get to know it, but by the time I left, it held little but bad memories for me. I needed to move on.
My first real travel destination of the year was the Netherlands and I was eager to see it in a different light to my previous visits. So, unlike most tourists, we landed in Amsterdam and left on the first train out of there. Utrecht was our first port of call and I was thrilled to be Dutching it up by staying on a houseboat! Our time was spent drinking wine on the terrace, wandering through the pretty old town, and eating delicious Greek food. And bitterbollen, of course — my favourite!
Our explorations of the Netherlands continued into May. From Utrecht, we travelled south to Leiden to catch the famous tulips on display, and found a bustling university city with a lively bar scene alongside the river. I liked it a lot.
The highlight of the trip, though, would have to be Maastricht. It’s located way down in the south of the country, a few kilometres from the Belgian and German borders and feels so different to the rest of the Netherlands: the architecture, the food, the culture — I felt like I was in a new country! It was in Maastricht that I momentarily lost my mind and signed up for a running tour — this coming from someone who hadn’t walked more than about 30 metres during the first three months of the year and had never been a runner. Somehow, I survived and it was some of the most fun I’ve had all year!
The final stop on our Netherlands tour was The Hague, which was interesting enough, and I enjoyed going to the Escher museum to blink at confusing staircases, but there was nothing I really fell in love with.
When we arrived back in Amsterdam, the final draft of my book landed in my inbox and I had exactly one week to go through the final-final-final edits. I needed to give it my full attention, so I booked a cheap flight back to London and worked solely on it for one last time.
To celebrate finishing, I booked a spur-of-the-moment trip to Norway and landed in Oslo for my first taste of Scandinavia.
June was another action-packed month of travel! It was also a lesson in managing travel expectations — I fell in hard in love with Oslo, a place I had been fully expecting to be a boring capital city, and was disappointed in Bergen, a city I was certain would be one of my travel highlights. One thing is for certain, though: Norway is a beautiful (and crazy-expensive!) country that is best seen when it isn’t raining. Sadly, the fjord trip I took ended up being all about the grey drizzle.
I flew home shortly afterwards to spend my birthday with my family and participate in my first 5k colour obstacle run! Again, I must have lost my mind. I did disastrously, but had so much fun.
The final half of the month was spent road tripping around one of my favourite new regions of the world: Cornwall! Spectacular beaches you’d never believe were in the U.K., stunning countryside, staying in a shepherd’s hut and a yurt, and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Guys, the food. It was an indulgent trip in the best possible way and I can’t wait to return next year.
July has to be one of my busiest travel months yet! With the euphoria of a book under my belt and out of the way, I was determined to get back my travel roots and backpack solo around the Baltics in the style I used to. Side note! Somebody commented in my recent reader survey that I sometimes seem to look down on backpackers — not true! I travel with a backpack! I am a backpacker! I use backpacker, traveller, and tourist interchangeably as they’re/we’re all the same to me.
First stop: Riga, where I ate incredible Latvian garlic bread, signed up for fun walking tours, fell in love with Black Balsam, had a girl throw up in my dorm room, and took hundreds of photos of the colourful architecture.
Next: Tallinn, one of the prettiest cities I’ve visited; being there was like being in a fairytale. Then somebody threw up in the bed above mine, but it was okay because my bed had bed bugs. Worst hostel experience ever? I think so.
In a fit of madness, rage, and spontaneity, I cancelled the rest of my stay in Tallinn, packed my backpack, and bought a ticket for the next ferry out of Estonia. In Helsinki, I treated myself to a stay in the highest-rated hotel in the city, ate beautiful meals, and spent a traumatising 24 hours power-washing and blow drying every single item in my backpack.
I travelled to Stockholm next, opting to stay in the hipster Hornstull neighbourhood. It reminded me of Shoreditch in London, full of coffee shops, beards, live music, and street food.
Back to the Baltics! I headed to Vilnius next and found a beautiful city of grand architecture and big black clouds. Vilnius was probably the place I knew least about in the Baltics and ended up being one of my favourites, even with all the rain.
Are you tired yet? Next up was my first visit to Poland! In Warsaw, I booked an apartment in the old Jewish Quarter and found it fascinating yet sobering to wander streets that were steeped in tragic history. My time in Warsaw was frustratingly short — I was exhausted from too much travel and Dave’s photos from Porto, where he was currently holed up, convinced me to book a flight to see him.
In Porto, I spent a week immersing myself in beaches, architecture, and delicious food. I took a day trip to the Douro Valley and discovered that port is my favourite drink in the world, and I took a quirky walking tour of the abandoned buildings in the city.
At the end of July, I boarded a bus to Madrid, ready to sit still for six weeks. I had a book to launch and I needed to stop moving.
Madrid was the perfect place to spend six weeks of summer and I quickly fell in love with the laidback lifestyle.
Mid-month, I launched How Not to Travel the World and promptly had a nervous breakdown. It was terrifying to have something I’d poured my heart and soul into now out into the world for anyone to read, yet I was bursting with pride at having achieved something so monumental. It was an odd few days full of celebrations and insecurity.
Dave and I flew out to Ljubljana, my favourite European city, to get me away from Goodreads and Amazon. We met up with my parents who were road tripping around the region for their summer holiday and I made it my mission to show them why Ljubljana is so special. There were no other people in the world I’d rather have spent my big launch week with, and this wonderful trip was filled with wine, pizza, and many happy tears.
My trip to Slovenia was sandwiched between two stints in Italy, both of which showed me I’d been hugely missing out by passing over it for the past four years. Verona was beautiful, but the highlight had to be our stay in Lake Como. We met up with a couple of Dave’s Italian friends, who he had met on a bus in Laos seven-odd years ago. After their travels, they’d opened a restaurant in the tiny village of Piazzaga, overlooking Lake Como. And when I say tiny, I mean tiny. It’s only accessible by a horrifying jeep journey over a rocky path that barely fits all four wheels or a 45 minute walk uphill by foot. It has a permanent population of two.
And I can’t even begin to describe how good the meals were there. Everything was so fresh and sourced from about a few metre radius. The pasta! The tomatoes! The meat! Oh my godddddd!
My time in Madrid drew to a close at the start of September and it was time for me to face some harsh truths. The stress of writing a 90,000-word book in three months had destroyed my mental health and I had been ignoring it for months. I’d hoped I could jump straight from finishing it to travelling how I used to — I run a travel blog after all — this is my career! But it had been making me unwell.
September was when I pushed the reset button and took a month for myself. I turned off my laptop and I stopped using social media. I ate healthily, I worked out, I read books, and I cultivated new interests. Stopping was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and I hope to hit to continue hitting that reset button every few years in the future.
I hit the ground running in October, fully refreshed and ready to start travelling again. After reuniting with Dave in Madrid after he had finished walking the Camino, we made our way to Southeast Asia for the winter.
These days, I’m starting to notice that much of my travels are based around where my friends are, so after hearing that some of my buddies were going to be in Bangkok for a couple of weeks, we booked an apartment in their neighbourhood and spent the next ten days stuffing our face with Thai food.
I missed Dave’s birthday while he was on the Camino, so threw a belated celebration in Cambodia for him instead. Those action-packed 10 days were all about travelling in luxury in one of our favourite countries. We slept in a floating resort on the Tatai river, re-visited Kampot to snack on our favourite Kampot peppers and eat mashed potatoes, returned to our beloved Otres Beach, and hit up Siem Reap to visit the Angkor temples that aren’t on the tourist trail.
We rounded off the month in Vietnam with my first visit to Hanoi. Dave’s parents flew out to visit us for this part of our trip, and we had so much fun showing them around the chaotic north and laidback Hoi An.
I ended my time in Vietnam with a whirlwind visit to Saigon, a place I’m fortunate to have spent several months living in in the past. This time, I wasn’t so lucky and instead, we had an action-packed two days showing Dave’s parents our favourite restaurants and smoothie haunts.
Next stop: Taipei! This city is one of my favourites in the world — one of the first I fell in love with on this trip, and the first city in Asia I ever visited. I loved having an entire month to spend here and our quality of life was so high! Basing ourselves in the Xinye district, we ate our way around the neighbourhood and found ourselves in a fantastic area for digital nomads. We even found a coffee shop that was giving away 3 cent cheesecake for every drink you bought!
As December rolled around, I flew to Melbourne for three weeks of coffee shop hopping and Vegemite eating. Last time I visited Melbourne, I spent the majority of my time living in the suburbs, but this time around, I’m hanging out in hipster Fitzroy.
And because I’m writing this post a little before the end of December, I can tell you I’ll be spending the next couple of weeks catching up on work, catching up with friends, and wandering blissfully around one of Dave’s former homes.
I’ll be rounding off the year in beautiful New Zealand, and hiking the Kepler track, one the country’s Great Walks, and doing my best to start 2016 on a high rather than a broken ankle.