2017 was the best year of my life.
I explored just as much of the planet as I did when I was nomadic, but my travels were made so much richer through having a base in Lisbon to return to. I was able to truly find a balance thanks to passive income, and managed to spend my travels offline and immersing myself in the destination I was travelling to rather than spending the majority my trips in front of a screen.
In many respects, this year was ridiculous. I had so many life-changing, breathtaking, and incredible experiences that I almost feel embarrassed by how great my 2017 was. I went to Mozambique and named it my best travel experience. I went to Cape Town and named it my new best travel experience. I went to Namibia and named it my new best travel experience. I went to the DRC and named it my new best travel experience.
Like I said: ridiculous.
I spent much of 2017 in a panic because of this, anxious that because things were going so smoothly, that had to mean something terrible was going to happen soon. Surely my life just couldn’t actually be this good? Where were the panic attacks? What happened to my frequent travel disasters? Why wasn’t anything going seriously wrong?
Here’s where I visited this year:
I spent time in a whopping 16 countries in 2017, nine of which were brand new to me.
I was fortunate to hit up several of my major travel oversights, like Japan and South Africa.
And speaking of oversights, I aimed my compass towards Africa this year and managed to check out seven countries on the continent for the very first time, falling in love with each and every one of them.
This year, I also aimed to explore more of the two countries that are most like a home for me, visiting ten new towns in Portugal and seven new spots in the U.K.
I got my adventure travel fix, too, thanks to a solo trip to the DRC: one of the most dangerous countries in the world, but one that immediately captured my heart.
This year wasn’t short of world wonders, as I snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, explored the Roman Colosseum in Italy, was disappointed by the Little Mermaid statue in Denmark, gazed up in awe at Mount Fuji in Japan, swam with whale sharks in Mozambique, hit up the Tropic of Capricorn for the first time in Namibia, and even walked alongside Hadrian’s Wall in the United Kingdom.
When it came to food, I filled my stomach with many incredible dishes. Some of the standout meals included oysters in Namibia, Goma cheese in the DRC, fresh lobster in Maine, pasta in Rome, and pork rib ramen in Japan. And weird food? In Japan, I ate pufferfish jerky. In Namibia, I snacked on warthog fillets, oryx steak, and zebra burgers. And in Portugal, I celebrated a cuttlefish festival by eating — surprise! — an awful lot of cuttlefish.
There’s no doubt about it: 2017 brought the best travels of my life so far and 2018 is going to have to do a hell of a lot of work to make it into my hall of fame.
But that’s enough waffling for now: here’s a rundown of my year of travel!
January: the UK, Portugal, Mozambique, and South Africa
I kicked off 2017 in London — one of the few constants in my life of spontaneity. As always, it was an action-packed trip, spent exploring new areas of the city, catching up with friends and family, planning my upcoming travels, and enjoying my last grasps of serenity before I set my sights on a new region of the world.
In 2017, my focus was to explore as much of Africa as I could, and I was about to set off for my first visit south of the Sahara. I chose Mozambique because few travellers opt to go there, the flights were cheap, and the beaches looked perfect.
Maputo, the capital city, was intimidating, dirty, and loud, but it taught me a valuable lesson about keeping your attitude in check while travelling. As soon as I stopped feeling petrified that I was about to be mugged, I caught a glimpse of the city’s heart.
Tofo was my next stop and while I was there, I stumbled upon a backpacker paradise that had yet to be discovered by many travellers outside of South Africa. I snorkelled with whale sharks, drank my body weight in coconut water, gorged myself on incredible seafood, and fell in love with a gorgeous beach town I could one day see myself returning to for months rather than days.
I travelled north from there and stopped in the town of Vilanculos: the jumping-off point for the gorgeous Bazaruto Archipelago. While I was in town, I experienced the best snorkelling of my life, made tons of friends in one of the coolest hostels I’ve stayed in, and couldn’t stop staring out at the miles of sandbanks.
I left naming Mozambique one of my favourite countries in the world. It felt adventurous yet safe, little-visited yet worth heading to, and full of deserted beaches.
I rounded off the month by flying to Durban to take my first steps in South Africa. It… did not go smoothly. I signed up for a handful of tours, had every single company cancel on me or refuse to admit a solo traveller, and ended up spending my time on the beach instead. On reflection, it wasn’t a terrible way to spend a few days.
Read all about it: What’s it Like to Travel in Mozambique? | How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Mozambique? | Introducing Tofo: My African Beach Paradise | A Perfect Day in the Bazaruto Archipelago | A Solo Travel Fail in Durban
February: South Africa, Swaziland, and the UAE
I travelled to Swaziland next, where I was met by a tiny country that’s underrated as hell. I adored the friendly city of Mbabane, and taking a private game drive in Hlane National Park was a life highlight I’m still thinking about.
Reuniting with Dave in Cape Town was exciting as always, and I immediately named the place one of my favourite cities in the world. I had a full ten days to explore and still left feeling as though I had barely scratched the surface. Hiking Lion’s Head was a highlight, while climbing Table Mountain on the hottest day of the year was a terrible decision. I sunbathed on white sand beaches, and even swam with penguins on Boulders Beach. I found time to check out a concert at Kirstenbosch Gardens, wandered around the colourful Bo Kaap neighbourhood, and had so many romantic picnics that my heart felt as though it might explode with joy.
Towards the end of the month, a travel mishap saw me with an unexpected 24 hours to spend in Dubai, so I made the most of it and decided to layover the hell out of my stay. I took a tour to the desert, visited the souks in Old Dubai, checked out the tallest building in the world, and took in the world’s largest water fountain display.
Read all about it: Stepping Back in Time in Mbabane | Why You Need to Take a Game Drive in Swaziland | Hiking Lion’s Head: A South Africa Highlight | 8 Reasons Why I Fell in Love with Cape Town | In Which I Accidentally Cancel My Flight Out of Cape Town | How to Rock a 24-Hour Layover in Dubai
March: Namibia and Portugal
March was all about Namibia, and it was at this point that I began to feel embarrassed when I realised just how incredible 2017 was turning out to be. Mozambique had been one of my favourite destinations, which had been quickly replaced by Cape Town, which had been quickly being replaced by Namibia. I couldn’t believe I’d had three of the best trips of my life during the first three months of the year!
But back to Namibia. Dave and I tackled the country by car and eased our way over potholes and gravel roads in order to see as much of one of the least populated countries as possible. We covered a lot of ground and each experience had me falling for this gorgeous part of the world.
I slept beside a lake full of hippos on our very first night, spotted rhinos and giraffes on safari in Etosha National Park, found paradise in an isolated Vingerklip, took a seal-watching and oyster-eating catamaran cruise across Walvis Bay, drove across the Tropic of Capricorn, summited one of the tallest sand dunes in one of the oldest deserts in the world, and explored an abandoned ghost town in the middle of the desert.
Every single second I spent in Namibia was wonderful and I firmly believe that if you’re looking for an easy country for a first taste of independent travel in Africa, it’s an excellent option.
Read all about it: What’s it Like to Travel in Namibia? | How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Namibia? | The Perfect First Day in Namibia | Desperately Seeking Elephants in Etosha National Park | Finding Paradise in Vingerklip: Africa’s Monument Valley | Seals, Swakopmund, and the Skeleton Coast | Climbing Big Daddy: An African Travel Highlight
April: The UK and Portugal
I didn’t have more than a few days to recover from road tripping Namibia, because as soon as I arrived back in Lisbon, I was preparing for my next trip to London. My Christmas present to my dad had been tickets to see Paul Weller at the Royal Albert Hall, which ended up as a present for me as well, as I totally invited myself along for the show.
Back in Lisbon a few days later, I was ecstatic to not have any travels planned for the next few weeks so dedicated April to exploring the city in greater depth. Most notably, I spent a substantial amount of time in the Belem neighbourhood, sipping sangria beside the waterfront, catching sunsets from Belem Tower, wandering the UNESCO-designated Jerónimos Monastery, and working in the hipster LX Factory: an abandoned factory now converted into cafes, bars, restaurants, and quirky vintage stores.
Towards the end of the month, I set my sights on one of my big goals for 2017: learning Portuguese. By this point, I’d been regularly returning to Lisbon between trips for over a year and was feeling shameful over how little of the language I’d picked up.
I signed up for an intensive course and leapt brainfirst into a classroom for the first time in years. I immediately discovered just how draining it is to learn a language, especially as I’d signed up for private lessons totalling four hours a day — the focus was entirely on me and there was no opportunity to rest or relax. I had a literal headache after every lesson, barely stepped outside unless I was heading out to practice speaking, and passed out every afternoon from exhaustion. It was worth it, though, because by the end of the course, I was officially certified as A1!
May: More of Portugal
May was also spent within the confines of Lisbon, and I used this month to delve into the African communities within the city. Mouraria was my neighbourhood of choice: a multicultural part of the city where you’ll never go hungry. One highlight was taking part in an African street party to benefit the local Afro-Portuguese community centre — we snacked on Cape Verdean and Mozambican food, listened to kickass Angolan bands, and danced the night away in the middle of a cobblestone alleyway beneath dozens of colourful streamers.
May is snail season in Portugal — the time of year where cafes and restaurants excitedly hang signs outside their doors, announcing that the snails are here! It’s not the most appetising of meals, I’ll admit, but it was pretty cool to spend the month cafe-hopping around town, snacking on a plate of snails while downing a cold beer in the sunshine.
At the end of the month, I journeyed north to Porto with Dave. My parents were flying in to see a new part of the country, and I was thrilled to be playing tour guide for them while they were in town. We did everything touristy that was on offer: a tasting tour of a port winery, a river cruise on the Douro, taking in amazing views on rooftop restaurants, checking out Livraria Lello (the bookstore that inspired Harry Potter), wandering around Foz, and day-tripping to the nearby city of Braga.
June: Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
If May is all about the snails in Portugal, then June is focused intently on sardines. The festival of St. Anthony takes place in June and with it, comes a month-long celebration that sees the country devouring six sardines a second. The older neighbourhoods in Lisbon light up their grills, throw down their sardines, and the city fills with smoke, music, and parties for one whole month.
I celebrated my birthday a week into June, and Dave generously treated me to a tasting menu extravaganza at Belcanto, one of the top restaurants in the world. It was easily, and perhaps not surprisingly, the best meal I’ve ever eaten. It was incredible!
With that, my time in Lisbon was over once more, so I set off for yet another flight to Africa. My birthday treat to myself was a stint of solo travel, and I decided the perfect place to do so would be on the beaches of Zanzibar. I spent my week there learning about the island’s history by touring the slave caves, snacking on Zanzibar pizza and other street food eats, skipping along beautiful Nungwi Beach, hanging out with monkeys in Jozani Forest, touring a spice plantation, and learning how to create delicious Tanzanian dishes in a cooking class.
From Tanzania, I flew to Rwanda for my very first visit. I originally planned to spend a full week getting to know the country, but when I discovered it was relatively easy to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo while I was in the area, I couldn’t resist getting my adventure travel on instead. Subsequently, my time in Rwanda was rushed and panicked, while I prepared for my upcoming trip and generally wondered if these would be my last few days on the planet.
Going to the DRC was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to top it. I don’t mean that as a negative, but as an enormous positive: I’ve done one of the coolest things in the world and it feels like such an achievement.
I spent a day in Goma to see a side of the DRC away from Virunga National Park, then travelled into the jungle in search of gorillas. There are just 800 wild mountain gorillas left in the world, and it was an honour and a privilege to be able to spend just one hour observing them. A silverback charged at me, I watched newborn gorillas babies fight, and I got to giggle at the mum that couldn’t stop farting.
And then the culmination of my trip: a climb to the top of Mount Nyiragongo, an active volcano that contains the world’s largest lava lake in its crater. The four hour hike was challenging, and it was freezing at the top, but it was worth every single struggle to camp at its summit for the night, listening to the lava bubble and splash.
July: The United Kingdom
It was time for a change of scene, so July was all about exploring my homeland with a trip back to the UK!
It had been back in May that a conversation with Dave about the downsides of life in Lisbon had evolved into us seriously discussing changing things up and moving country in order to be closer to family. The longer we discussed it, the more it made sense, and the more we considered leaving. The UK is the only country where both Dave and I have family, so we put together an itinerary that would take us to every city where we had friends, then hit the road to see if anywhere felt liveable.
We checked out Bristol and immediately fell in love with its artsy, creative vibe, outdoorsy activities, and liberal attitude. Manchester and Leeds offered excellent music venues, accessible hikes, and a great food scene, Newcastle had a beautiful waterfront that was steeped in history, Carlisle was a, um, good place to rest after quitting a hiking challenge, and Edinburgh was too beautiful for words.
Speaking of quitting a hike, I attempted to walk from the east to the west coast of the UK via Hadrian’s Wall, but sadly had to give up on the fourth day. I’d been walking too far on hard surfaces over the first few days and that, coupled with uncomfortable hiking shoes, left me missing a toenail and unable to walk. It was a disappointment, but only has me more determined to tackle the walk in 2018.
Read all about it: How Not to Walk Hadrian’s Wall
When it comes to boring months, August had it all.
For a long time, I’ve wanted to share my expertise on travelling with anxiety in an in-depth course, so I spent the month putting together 60,000 words on everything you could possibly need to travel the world with an anxiety disorder. August, then, was a time for working and a time for little sleep.
I also wanted to experiment with waking early for an entire month this year, as I know I work best when it’s early and I suspected I’d get a lot done. I did. It was a great experiment that has me promising that when I take on my next big work project, I’ll likely do it in exactly the same way as I did this: taking a month to wake early, working solidly for four weeks, then shipping my product before my next big trip.
September: Portugal, Denmark, and the United States
With my course well and truly launched, I switched off my laptop and treated Dave to a trip to Coimbra for his birthday. This Central Portuguese city is full of history and hills, and we spent our time wandering over far too many of the latter. This was a trip for rest and relaxation: we read books in a nearby park, ate at the same delicious restaurant over and over, marvelled over the impressive university building, and drank far too much port than was appropriate.
It was time for our next big international trip! The first stop was Copenhagen, which had long been on my European travel wishlist. Unfortunately, it rained for the entire time we were in town, but I didn’t let that spoil my experience. Rather than sulking inside, we threw my plans out the window and decided to hygge it up by cafe-hopping from one cosy candle-filled spot to the next in the hipster Vesterbro neighbourhood.
From Denmark, we hit up the west coast of the United States and travelled to my three favourite cities. Los Angeles was all about the tacos, people watching and beach lounging. Seattle was a time for catching up with friends, eating Thai food, and pondering over whether I could live there one day. And Portland was all about the food. Unfortunately, my paleo diet meant I couldn’t enjoy many of my other favourite restaurants in Portland, so it was a bit of a weird experience. I still loved Tasty and Sons, though, which is easily my favourite restaurant on the planet — their brunches are out. of. this. world.
October: Portugal and the United Kingdom
We were in the U.S. to see the fall colours, so flew over to New England to begin a huge road trip around the region. Boston was our first stop and we crammed so much into our four days in town. From wandering the Freedom Trail to touring Fenway Park; eating my first lobstah roll to ogling the gorgeous houses in Somerville and Cambridge — I even managed to cram in a Roger Waters gig while I was there, which was amazing, as always.
Next up was Maine, which I quickly fell head over heels in love with, whether I was eating ramen in Portland, hiking in Acadia National Park, or simply cruising along one of the cutest coastlines I’ve ever set eyes on. New Hampshire came afterwards, where we spent two days there hiking in the White Mountains and discovering that the state is underrated as hell. Burlington, Vermont brought me to my first comedy show and displayed the fall colours I’d been dreaming of; New Haven, Connecticut was a fun city full of great food, and had me ready to move into an apartment right then; and Newport, Rhode Island, was damp, drizzly, and too grey to explore.
Onwards! Next up, the Azores, which was one of my favourite discoveries of the year! If you’re looking for an incredible holiday destination in Europe that won’t be full of drunk, obnoxious Brits, go to the Azores! We based ourselves in Sao Miguel for five days and spent that time exploring the island by scooter, spotting more lagoons than we could count, having some of the best meals of our lives (including a stew that was cooked inside a volcano!), hiking to waterfalls, and so. much. more.
There was no time for me to rest after this trip because after the Azores, I was on a flight to London for one final family session before I set off on a six-month adventure. I caught a couple of gigs with my parents, took a chocolate- and cocktail-making class, and celebrated Fake Christmas with a festive day full of presents, turkey, and port.
November: Portugal, Italy, and Japan
It was back to Lisbon in November, but this time to start saying my goodbyes. Sadly, after 18 months spent basing myself in this incredible city, I made the difficult decision to leave and try my nomadic hat back on for size. It was due to a lot of reasons, from wanting to be closer to family to desiring being somewhere where we understand the culture, and I have a feeling this change will be good for me.
For the first half of November, then, I took myself offline and threw myself inside every tourist attraction in Lisbon, from a cereal-themed cafe to a tile museum; a doll hospital to the sexiest WC in the world; the oceanarium to a decadent brunch at the Four Seasons. On top of that, I revisited all of my favourite restaurants, checked out a fistful of new ones, and gathered enough information for me to write a ridiculously detailed guide to visiting as a tourist. You can expect that coming your way in early 2018.
The first stop on my newly-nomadic travels was Rome. I chose Italy as my starting point purely because a cheap flight to Japan left from there, but decided to make the most of that opportunity by planning a multi-day layover. While I was in town, I ventured into Vatican City for the first time, took a tour of the colosseum, spent a full afternoon wandering the Roman Forum, and fell hard for the gorgeous Italian architecture.
Feeling as though I was leaving Rome much too soon, I hopped on a flight and travelled to Japan for my very first visit. In Tokyo, I fell in love with the Harajuku neighbourhood, ate the best ramen of my life, checked out a hedgehog cafe, and, um, mostly continued to eat an inordinate amount of ramen.
December: Japan and Australia
My Japan travels continued into December while I mostly froze from being exposed to snow for the first time in something like a decade. Let’s just say I spent most of my time in the country wearing every single item of clothing I’d packed.
Still, I managed to check out some incredible sights and left craving a return in spring or autumn. I saw Mount Fuji from afar, travelled to Shibu Onsen for a whole lot of snow monkey loving, hit up Takayama for a taste of Japanese tradition, trained it over to Kanazawa for as much sushi-eating as I could handle, checked out Kyoto for temple-hopping and bamboo forest-wandering, fell in love with Nara and its deer, took time out for reflection and remembrance in Hiroshima, and ate absolutely everything in Osaka.
From Japan, I flew south for winter, and turned up in Cairns to a 30-degree temperature change.
We were in town to explore the Great Barrier Reef before it’s gone for good, so made our first port of call the skies. We splurged on an hour-long scenic flight over the reef and Port Douglas, which was breathtakingly beautiful, then set out on the water for a two-day liveaboard that brought the best snorkelling of my life. I couldn’t believe how much there was to see. And on the outer reef, at least, the damage to the reef was invisible to my inexperienced eyes.
I rounded off 2017 with a bang in Melbourne, my favourite Australian city. I’m spending the first half of my month in town hanging with Dave’s family, so it’s been a delightfully lowkey experience, filled with gorgeous meals, Christmas cheer, lots of cats and children, and a surprising lack of sunshine.
2018: Here I Come!
After such an incredible year, I’m itching to discover what 2018 has in store for me! At the moment, I’ve only planned out the first four months of the year, which I’ll be spending in Oceania and Asia, and then I have no idea what the rest of the year will hold.
Will I finally make it to South America? Will I check out India after cancelling multiple trips there? Will I manage to visit my remaining countries in Europe? Will West Africa be on my agenda? It’s incredibly exciting to have very little idea which countries I’ll be fortunate to explore over the next 12 months, and I can’t wait to start booking flights.
Thanks so much for following along on my adventures this year, guys — I appreciate it more than you can ever know, and hope I can bring you even more entertainment over the following 12 months :-)