This time last year, I would have told you travel was ruining my life.
Twelve months ago, I had just arrived in Lisbon and I was sick, exhausted, anxious, and depressed. I’d been on eight courses of antibiotics in the past year and managed to develop a stress-induced incurable disease that left me struggling to do the most basic of tasks without being in excruciating pain. I was having panic attacks multiple times a day and had no drive or motivation to do anything but sit in a dark room and cry.
It wasn’t travel that was the sole culprit, but it paid a huge role in my breakdown. It turned out that after five years of impermanence and uncertainty, it was resulting in stress rather than joy. And it was the stress that was destroying my mental and physical health. I realised I needed stability rather than a lack of focus, a lack of community, and a lack of healthy options in my life. I’d been treading water for years, but after one particularly high-stress experience several years ago, my life was suddenly overwhelming and I couldn’t find my way back to calmer seas.
I chose Portugal because I was drowning. I was there and I needed to stop. I didn’t care where. It was a thoughtless decision that I can’t quite believe worked out as well as it has. I love Lisbon and I’m in love with my life here.
I have so many friends in the city, as well as a long list of restaurants and cafes where people know my name and order. A sanctuary to retreat to whenever my anxiety rears its head, which is approximately never these days. I have a healthy routine full of good food choices and exercise and meditation. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and it’s all thanks to having a little bit of several things rather than 100% travel all the time.
When I announced I’d stopped travelling full-time, I said I wasn’t expecting anything to change in terms of how much I moved. And it’s turned out to be true. I’m travelling just as much as I did when I was a full-time traveller, but rather than holing up for a month in different cities around the world, I have a beautiful apartment in Lisbon to return to every few weeks instead.
It’s made all the difference in my life.
When I travel, I look forward to returning to Lisbon, and when I’m in Lisbon, my feet itch for the road. When I’m working hard in Portugal, I crave heading offline, and when I’m travelling and disconnected from work, my brain is overflowing with business ideas.
Yes, I’ve finally found a balance in life and it’s made my travels so freaking amazing.
The first three months of 2017 have easily brought the best trips of my entire life. Easily.
I’m hoping the remaining nine will be just as wonderful.
Here’s what I’ve got planned.
April: Southern Portugal and Denmark
I’m kicking off the month of April with… no travel at all.
After an action-packed March in Namibia, I’m enjoying being back in Portugal with all its glorious spring weather. I’ll be spending much of April writing about my time in Southern Africa while getting back into my gym-going and paleo-eating habits. Not particularly exciting, but self-care is necessary in order for me to keep my brain in check and my happiness levels high.
It won’t be all Lisbon all the time, though, as towards the end of the month, I’ll be heading to Copenhagen for a fun city break with Dave. I’ve been dying to visit this city for years and can’t wait to check out the colourful buildings in Nyhavn, be disappointed by the Little Mermaid statue, palace-hop my way around the city, and hang out in Tivoli Gardens.
May: Northern Portugal and Microstate Madness
I’ll be spending the vast majority of May in Portugal as well, but I still have several exciting getaways planned.
During the first part of the month, I’ll be hitting up San Marino and Liechtenstein, two European microstates that have been high on my list for a while now. There’s something about smaller European countries that draws me in and fills me with love, so I’m excited to explore a couple more. The good thing about visiting these places is that their small size means you can see most of the country in a day or two. The bad thing is that their lack of airports mean they can be really annoying to get to. I’m looking at you, Liechtenstein.
In addition to these quick hops across Europe, I’ll be spending the last week of May exploring more of Northern Portugal while using Porto as my base. My parents are flying out for a week-long trip to Porto and the Douro Valley, and when Dave and I found out about it, we couldn’t resist tagging along to play tour guide.
The last time I was in Porto, it was weeks before my book was published. I was so
terrified excited about its impending launch that my subsequent high levels of anxiety resulted in me being unable to eat more than a couple of mouthfuls of food each day. You can bet I’ll be making up for that this time around, though, and checking out tons of great restaurants while stocking up with port to bring home with me afterwards.
While we’re in Porto, Dave and I are also looking to check out some more spots in the region. High on our list are Braga, Coimbra, and as many cute villages as we can get to.
June: Back to Africa!
I’ll kick off the first couple of weeks of June back in Lisbon to celebrate my birthday and sardines.
June is a fun month in Lisbon, as it brings around the Festival of St Anthony, otherwise known as the sardine festival. During the month of June, Portugal gets through a whopping 13 sardines a second and Lisbon goes fish-crazy for the entire month. No matter where you venture in the city, you’ll be engulfed in billowing clouds of smoke as rows of grilled sardines are cooked on the streets outside.
Aside from the fish frenzy, I’ll also be celebrating my birthday in June. Dave is treating me to a meal at Belcanto, Lisbon’s two Michelin star restaurant, and one of the top 100 in the world, for the occasion, and I couldn’t be more excited!
One of my goals for 2017 was to check out more of Africa, and I’ve been smashing that goal and loving every second of it. As someone who’s been fortunate to wander across 70-odd countries, it’s always been kind of embarrassing to me that I haven’t seen much of Africa, so I’m making up for it this year.
When a cheap-as-chips fight showed up on Secret Flying to both Tanzania and Rwanda from London, I immediately jumped all over it. I’ll get to celebrate my birthday belatedly with my family for a couple of days in the U.K., then jet off to Zanzibar for a solo treat in the sun. My plans still need to be finalised, but I’m thinking I’ll spend half of my time beaching it up and the other half safari-ing my way around the Serengeti.
Rwanda is up next, and I might be even more excited about this. It looks like a spectacularly beautiful country and one I can’t wait delve into. A visit to the Kigali Genocide Museum is a must to learn about the country’s tragic past, and the rest of my time will be spent travelling to Lake Kivu for relaxation and Akagera National Park for giraffe-spotting.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to pull off a short stint in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while I’m there, as the area just over the border offers an inexpensive way to trek to wild mountain gorillas (permits are seven hundred and fifty freaking dollars in Rwanda but only $300 in the DRC), and there’s an active volcano you can hike to and sleep at the top of. But the DRC is still a seriously unstable country, and there are Government travel advisories and occasional reports of people being murdered in the area I’ll be visiting. Not tourists, but still. If I decide I won’t feel safe enough, I may venture into Uganda for a few days instead or opt to slow things down for once and remain in Rwanda.
July: A European Summer
Europe has a permanent spot on all of my summer itineraries and this year, I’m going to be focusing on the eastern parts of the continent I’ve yet to visit
First up: Albania! On my itinerary is sunbathing on the beach in Ksamil, exploring the ruins at Butrint, wandering around Berat, and hanging out in cool Tirana. I’ll hit up Lake Ohrid next then travel across to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, and then onwards to Pristina, in Kosovo. From Kosovo, I’ll be boarding a flight to Moldova, which has always fascinated me.I’ll finish off the month with a stint in Belarus, which is the country I’m most excited to visit in Europe! I love those countries that not many people opt to visit.
August: My First Long Walk
After a couple of weeks spent recovering in Lisbon, I’ll be heading back to the U.K. again, but this time I’ll be heading further afield than London.
Ever since Dave walked the Camino de Santiago and fell in love with all things hikey, I’ve been caught up in his passion and pondering putting on my own walking boots and trying it out for myself. The Camino is too daunting for someone who doesn’t even know if she likes walking yet, so I’m starting off small with a week-long wander along the length of Hadrian’s Wall.
Yep, Dave and I will be heading oop north and spending six days trekking from east to west, staying at cute pubs along the way. I don’t know if I’m excited or nervous about the challenge, but I am looking forward to seeing more of my homeland.
With my feet well and truly worn out, I’ll be hanging up my hiking boots and ferrying my way across to Ireland, where Dave and I will be road tripping along the west coast. I’d originally planned to visit Ireland, well, right now actually, but after being slapped in the face by an astronomical tax bill in Portugal, plus having my debit card stolen, plus the not-amazing weather in April, I decided to postpone it until the summer. In addition to checking out the west coast, I’ll be heading to Cork to meet up with one of my good travel friends, and then up to Dublin to try my first pint of Guinness!
September: My Annual Visit to the U.S.!
After a couple of weeks most likely spent staring at my tattered feet in Lisbon, I’ll be heading out for my annual visit to the U.S.! And as much as travelling there while Donald Trump is president makes me want to suffocate on my vomit, I love this country and always enjoy my time there.
It’s worth mentioning that hopefully I won’t be required to submit my social media passwords and cellphone, as is currently being reported, in order to visit. If that’s the case, I may cancel the trip and remain in Portugal instead.
Will you be shocked to hear my U.S. plans involve me heading to the Pacific Northwest?
When Dave and I found out his parents were going to be spending some time in Seattle and Portland this year, we couldn’t help but invite ourselves along for the ride. My previous visits to the PNW have always been chilled out stays, full of friends and food and not much else, so I’m looking forward to hitting up all of my favourite restaurants.
Next up: Boston! A friend of mine scored tickets to a couple of Roger Waters shows in Boston and as a die hard Pink Floyd fan, I immediately snapped them up. I’ll also be spending a week getting my history on in the city, which I’m super-excited about, as Boston has always felt like one of my big U.S. oversights.
To round off our time in the country, Dave and I will be renting a car and heading north on a New England road trip to check out the fall colours. This has been on my bucket list for forever, and I can’t wait to photograph the beautiful leaves while shovelling clam chowder into my mouth. We’ll be most likely be heading to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine on this trip.
October: South America Dreaming
It’ll be back to Portugal for the first half of the month — are you sensing a pattern here? — but this time we’ll be meeting back up with Dave’s parents and bringing his brothers along for a Dean family getaway. At the moment, it’s looking like renting a villa in the Algarve may be on the cards for us, and as I’ve only visited the Algarve in the height of high season, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like in some of the less busy months.
And then, South America! Just like Africa, South America has been a huge oversight of mine and I’m desperate to see some of the continent. I’m keeping an eye out for cheap flights right now and hoping to score some to Brazil! Especially as by October, my Portuguese should have improved. I’m desperate to spend time in Rio, trek through the Amazon, and marvel at Iguaçu Falls.
November: An Asian Jaunt to the Other Side of the World
I can never stay away from Asia for too long, so November feels like the perfect time to hop my way across the continent before heading down to Australia at the end of the year.
This trip will also be my opportunity to check out some of my Asian oversights, specifically India and Japan.
After a quick visit to London to see if my family is sick of seeing me by now, I’ll be heading out to Rajasthan for my first taste of India. I guess this is my time to dip my toes in the water and see if I’d want to commit to a multi-month trip in the future. Rajasthan looks amazing, though, and I’m convinced I’ll have a wonderful time there. After all, I can never be sad when a trip to the desert is on the agenda.
Then, Japan! How have I not visited Japan before now? Because it’s crazy-expensive, of course. But as long as things continue to go well with this site, I should be able to afford a two-week stint in the country. November definitely isn’t the best time of year to visit, but I’m convinced it’ll result in a kickass experience nonetheless. Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto: they’re all on my list for my first taste of the country!
December: Christmas in Australia
Last year was Christmas in London, so that means it’s time for Christmas with Dave’s family in Melbourne.
After finally getting around to reading Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country last month, I’ve developed an obsession with all things Outback and am in the process of convincing Dave we should fly to Perth and drive all the way to Uluru together. Even if the road trip idea doesn’t come together, we’ll definitely be hitting up some of the places I haven’t yet seen in Australia before finishing up in Melbourne. Maybe the Great Barrier Reef before it disappears forever?
If this year is anything like my previous Oceania visits, we’ll most likely head down to New Zealand afterwards for even more family time before I hop on a plane to bounce around some more of the South Pacific islands!
And that’s my 2017! I think I’ve got the perfect mix of half-travel/half-living-at-home, half-solo travel/half-couples travel, and I’m thoroughly excited about every single place I’m planning to visit. Have any recommendations for any of the spots mentioned in the post? Let me know in the comments below! :-)