2015: My Year in Review


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!

January travel compilation for 2015
Clockwise from top-left: delicious pulled pork sandwich in Brixton; buying bread at Borough Market in London; the view of the Alhambra from close to our apartment; and Granada’s beautiful cathedral.

January

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.

February travel compilation for 2015
Clockwise from top left: A rare snowy day from my bedroom window in Granada; views of the Albaycin from my apartment; looking down on the Alhambra from my favourite hike in the city; a standard paella lunch.

February

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.

March travel compilation for 2015

March

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.

April travel collage

April

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!

May travel collage

May

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 travel collage

June

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 travel collage

July

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.

August travel collage

August

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!

September 2015 travel collage

September

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.

Collage of my October travels

October

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.

November travel collage

November

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!

December collage of my travels

December

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.

Now it’s your turn! How were your 2016 travels? Which new countries did you visit? Where was your favourite? Let me know in the comments!

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39 Comments

  1. Aisling
    December 10, 2015
    Reply

    Very productive year Lauren! Hope you enjoy some quiet time in Melbourne….before you start entertaining us again in January! :)

    • December 12, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks, Aisling! I’m enjoying slowing down right now :-)

  2. Emma
    December 11, 2015
    Reply

    Goodness, I think you do more in a month than most people do in a year! Highlight of my year was spending my honeymoon in Rome. Can’t wait to see more of Italy! :)

    • December 11, 2015
      Reply

      Ha! It’s true. And this was a relatively slow year of travel for me! Honeymoon in Rome sounds perfect :-)

  3. Michaela
    December 11, 2015
    Reply

    Amazing! I didn’t realise you’d been to Oslo this year. It’s a place I wasn’t sure about, because of it being crazy expensive, and like you, thought it might be boring, but I must give it a try!
    This year I’ve been to Reykjavik, Gdansk, Budapest, Lisbon, Berlin, Copenhagen, Kraków and Ljubljana (mainly because you loved it so much – and now I do too! Second favourite city after Reykjavik!). Berlin was so different to how I expected, and it was a slow love – a kind of longing to go back, Poland was also a big surprise; Kraków was gorgeous and Auschwitz has a lasting effect. Somewhere I would recommend anyone go. Budapest gained a fan in me purely for their baths! Heaven. Gdansk was small, but the cafes and bars were lovely, and Copenhagen I need to give a second chance to; it rained and it poured when we went and made the pretty canals all grey and dull.
    I’d love for you to write a blog on Reykjavik, my favourite city!

  4. K
    December 11, 2015
    Reply

    Awesome Lauren! Thanks for sharing your travels with us :-)

    • December 11, 2015
      Reply

      Of course! Happy you enjoy reading them! :-)

  5. December 11, 2015
    Reply

    Regardless of the ups and downs, it sounds like you had a great year! It’s always good when a year ends in a high because it’s a great way to start the new year! :)

    • December 11, 2015
      Reply

      Yes! I’ll be starting off the next year feeling far more optimistic than I did this one :-)

  6. Kate
    December 10, 2015
    Reply

    Wow – what a year! Although it had its ups and downs, it sounds like it was full of great memories!

    • December 12, 2015
      Reply

      Yep! It was only when I sat down to write this post that I realised just how great this year had been. Hopefully with no book on the horizon for next year, my 2016 will be even better! :-)

  7. December 11, 2015
    Reply

    That is a very impressive year of travel. Great job on the book and the travel blog.

    I added two new countries this year. Bali was amazing and I am planning on visiting Sumatra and Lombok this year. Indonesia has so many great places and I want to visit all of it.

    • December 11, 2015
      Reply

      Indonesia is so underrated — there are so many places I want to visit there. I’d love to take a few months to island hop my way around :-)

  8. December 11, 2015
    Reply

    Definitely an action packed year! Enjoy the Kepler, I did it back at the beginning of November ?

  9. December 11, 2015
    Reply

    Great post Lauren! You have me reconsidering my decision to skip Spain on our trip this year.

    My wife and I and our three kids started our round the world trip this year and we have visited Ireland, England, France, Switzerland and we are currently in Italy.

    I have been reading through your posts on Southeast Asia as we are planning on going there at the beginning of the year.

    I am now looking forward to Cambodia and Indonesia. I really enjoyed reading your book this year and I feel like it has helped me in all of our preparations.

    Anyways, keep up the great work!

    • December 12, 2015
      Reply

      Thank you so much for all of the compliments, Brandon! Hope you all have a life-changing trip and let me know if I can help out with anything at all! :-)

  10. December 11, 2015
    Reply

    Hey Lauren! Sounds like quite a year you’ve had! When you were in Bergen, did you get a chance to hike some of the fjord trails? I’m planning on hiking to Trolltunga, Preikestolen, and Kjeragbolten when I backpack Europe next summer. They’re really long hikes (up to 10 hours there and back) but it looks really beautiful and I love hiking haha.

    • December 12, 2015
      Reply

      I didn’t! It was so cold, grey, and rainy while we were there that hiking didn’t sound like an enjoyable option. It will definitely be something I do when I return, though! Trolltunga looks amazing! :-)

  11. December 12, 2015
    Reply

    Happy almost 2016, Lauren! Hope you have a great time in Australia and New Zealand, and I can’t wait to see where the next year takes you — hopefully it will include a stop in Memphis! :) xx

    • December 12, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks, Veena! You too! :-) It’s looking like it will include a stop in Memphis!

  12. December 12, 2015
    Reply

    I love your yearly roundup posts:-) It always amazes me how much travel you manage to squeeze into one year! Even more so this year since you wrote your book!

    So cool you have been to Utrecht! I live there and it’s the coolest city in the Netherlands (yes, I am totally biased, but on the other hand, I have lived in Groningen and Amsterdam so I can compare;-). One tiny thing, those delicious snacks you love are called bitterbAllen;-) But yes,,, they are pretty addictive. If you’re ever in the Netherlands again, let me know, I can show you some of the beaten path places if you like.

    Have a great time in Australia and New Zealand after that, sooooo jealous, most beautiful country in the world;-) Happy travels!

  13. December 12, 2015
    Reply

    Wow! Sounds like such a beautiful and action packed year!
    I cannot wait to get the chance to read your book!
    All of the food you ate looked so delicious, and I’m beyond jealous that you’ll be in New Zealand soon, my favourite country :)

    • December 12, 2015
      Reply

      It’s one of my favourite countries, too! :-)

  14. December 12, 2015
    Reply

    How was my 2015? Absolutely fantastic! I quit my job, Experienced one of the warmest summers in Victoria BC, and two weeks ago started my round the world trip. Couldn’t be better thanks!

    • December 13, 2015
      Reply

      Hooray! So happy to hear that :-)

  15. December 14, 2015
    Reply

    What an amazing year! I love all the details about Spain.
    In 2016, I am so excited to finally be visiting India and Nepal.

    • December 18, 2015
      Reply

      Amazing! I love Nepal, and India is so high on my list right now!

  16. December 16, 2015
    Reply

    So glad you are ending your year on a high after such a rollercoaster! Even through the bad times you’ve got lots of good memories to look back on this year. :)

    2015 is the year I finally got out of a big commitment and started travelling long-term! Originally I was going to visit Thailand on the way to Australia and then work in Oz for a few months… your blog among a couple of others inspired me to visit SE Asia for 3 months instead!! Broke up the flight to Australia (from the UK) quite nicely, I think. ;) We hit up Hong Kong, Vietnam (my favourite country EVER), Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and all I want to do is go back and see more! In the meantime I’m settled in Brisbane for a few months working. :)

    Highlights? Volunteering with elephants in Chiang Mai, visiting Halong Bay, our whole week of falling in love with Hanoi, snorkelling on Koh Tao, taking a tour with a monk and meditating with him in Siem Reap, and Songkran in Bangkok!

    Have a great 2016, can’t wait to read all about your new adventures! :)

  17. December 17, 2015
    Reply

    Amazing year, Lauren, and I’ve enjoyed coming along for the ride with you! Looking forward to seeing what 2016 brings for us all :-)

    My 2015 was very up and down, but my favourite destination was Skyros in Greece. Very much off the beaten track and I’m thankful for that fact. Beautiful island.

  18. December 25, 2015
    Reply

    Funny to think we have basically swapped destinations. I’m spending the end of December in your hometown of London and your spending the start of December in my hometown of Melbourne! All of your brunch posts have been absolutely killing me.

    Can’t wait to hear what is in store for next year!

    • December 27, 2015
      Reply

      Next stop: Bora Bora on a budget!

  19. Clare
    December 29, 2015
    Reply

    Ljubljana is my favourite city too. It’s so pretty & Lake Bled > Lake Bohinj. Tied with Interlaken for beauty. One day I’ll leave my European bubble. Have a great new year :)

    • December 29, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks, Clare! You, too :-)

  20. January 3, 2016
    Reply

    Your Europe photos look absolutely stunning! It’s absolutely my favorite continent. Happy to see you’re back your favorite Asia countries again though!!! My 2015 in traveling is mostly Asia: Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, Indonesia; with a little Qatar & Greece. Japan in particular is awesome. I’ve always thought I wouldn’t be THAT into Asia because I’ve been living here all my life, but Japan is just so gorgeous and culturally “different”.

  21. Pondy tourism
    January 21, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing the wonderful last year travel experience. And all the very best opening for this year. I hope before end of this year, you will make a visit to “Incredible India”

    • January 29, 2016
      Reply

      I hope so, too! But it might be best to hold off until 2017 to visit India — I’m not sure it’s a destination I want to visit when I’m so tired and burnt out.

  22. Karina Rivero
    February 16, 2016
    Reply

    Hi Lauren, I loved your post!
    I am planning to start travelling in one month. I have 13,000 Dollars to do so! I am thinking maybe 6 months since my longer trip have been 1 month in thailand.

    I am kind of lost and dont know how to start, where to go? How much to have planned and how much just live the moment. I am inspired by “Eat, Pray, Love” so this time I am thinking maybe spent some weeks in each place/country.

    I have visited 25 countries and my goal is to visit at least 5 in this new journey to get to 30 countries being 30 years old.

    Usa 1
    Belice
    Canada
    España
    Alemania 5
    Italia
    Hungría
    Inglaterra
    Holanda
    Portugal 10
    Vaticano
    Francia
    Belgica
    Argentina
    Chile 15
    Australia
    Nueva zelanda
    Thailandia
    Malasia
    Singapore 20
    Laos
    Panama
    Ecuador
    Mexico
    Peru 25

    I have friends in:
    Chile, germany, france, indonesia, vietnam, Australia, US, Canada, greace, china, Korea, Peru, Ecuador and Panama.

    So I was thinking to crash with my friends to save on hotels but it is really all over the world.

    I want to visit:
    China, Japan, Brasil, India, Bora bora, Greace, take a cruise for the first time, Africa any country

    How do you recommend to tour? I am not sure of the order. If any ideas come to your mind please let me know. Thanks so much! PS: I will go by myself

    • February 18, 2016
      Reply

      In terms of how much to have planned, I recommend as little as possible! When I first started travelling, I had my first six weeks booked solid, and I regretted it. I was making friends but unable to travel with them; I was visiting places I didn’t like but not being able to leave; and I was hearing about amazing sounding places and not being able to visit them. I recommend booking your first few nights in a place and then leaving the rest up to chance.

      As for how to decide where to go first, where do you most want to visit? I know that’s not very helpful, but your list of places is spread out all over the world, so I can’t see a logistical reason to go with one place over another. If it was me, I’d go with Bora Bora – Japan – China – India – Greece – Africa – Brazil, and fit in a cruise somewhere in the middle, depending on where you want to do that.

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