Yep, it’s that time of year again where all the travel bloggers in all the lands start reminiscing on the year that was.
This year, I travelled very differently to the way I have done in the past. Basically, there wasn’t a whole lot of travelling solo! I spent this year in travel with friends and my (likely) life partner, and though I will always love solo travelling, I must admit, it was a nice change of pace.
In 2017, I was so focused on accomplishing my goal of visiting all seven continents in one year, that in hindsight, I really did unwittingly isolate myself from others whilst in my Darwin home. Even though I accomplished a lot in that year, I was rarely pushed out of my comfort zone and as a result, my personal growth was pretty minimal.
Travelling long term with a romantic partner was such a foreign experience to me. It was hard at first, but by the end of our trip it was hard to imagine anything different. I also feel like it did push me in ways that I hadn’t been pushed before, and I do feel like I am finishing 2018 as better person than I was when it started.
Anyway, lets move on from the mushy and get into the good stuff!
Welcome to the Travelling The World Solo year in pictures, the 2018 edition.
I started this year in travel by hopping over to Bali for a weekend getaway with some mates from work in January. From a travel perspective, it was nothing groundbreaking. It was maybe my sixth time in Bali (I am genuinely losing count) and though sometimes I do go there to explore, other times it is just a wonderful place to retreat to in order to relax and recharge.
This trip was certainly the latter!
By the time my 25th birthday rolled around in May, Dan and I had been dating for about four months and had been living together for two of those months. Whilst living together was easy, the week we spent in Vietnam was a little more tricky. It was the most time we had ever spent with each other without a break, and we had a pretty major fight right at the start! I think we were just learning each others habits and rhythms in a more in depth way; and even though such a short trip wasn’t the easiest of my life, it really did prepare me to go on a much longer trip together, and when we set off for Africa, I had no doubts that we would be okay.
As it turned out, travelling together on a much longer trip was almost as easy as breathing! I honestly think that we needed to have a slight rough patch to get the hang of each others travel styles, and since then, it has been pretty fricking wonderful.
Ring Road, Iceland
In August, I set off for Iceland to meet up with one of my closest friends. It was my fourth trip to Iceland, and even though I have returned many times, it was the first time I had the opportunity to do the quintessential Iceland adventure.
Self driving the Ring Road.
The almost two weeks that we spent in Iceland were some of the best that I’d ever had in the country. Despite the tourist numbers now being absolutely mental (and not in the good way) we still managed to find some hidden gems and have an amazing trip together.
Cape Town & Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa
From Iceland, I flew via Paris to meet up with Dan in Cape Town. We spent a week together in the Mother City, which remains one of my favourite places in the world. However, it was so cold that there was ice on the top of Table Mountain and I gotta be honest, I think Cape Town is a lot prettier in the summer months than it is in the winter.
We also went on a truly magical safari in the Madikwe Game Reserve in the northern part of the country. It was our first safari experience, and it exceeded every single one of my expectations.
From South Africa, we picked up a car and drove from Cape Town into Namibia. We then spent the next two weeks driving around what would become one of my favourite countries in the world. The landscapes were diverse and constantly changing, the roads were a lot of fun for Dan to traverse (I did the navigating) and our 4×4 was so much fun to explore with.
Victoria Falls, Zambia & Zimbabwe
We then flew into Livingstone to explore the majestic Victoria Falls. Our visit fell at the end of September which is in the dry season. Visiting a famous waterfall in the dry may sound counterproductive, but it was actually intentional. Visiting in this dry season allows you to take a dip in the Devil’s Pool, which is a naturally formed infinity pool on the Zambian side. This had been on my bucket list for many years, and I was so happy to finally be able to do it.
From Zambia, we headed to the idyllic island of Benguerra in Mozambique. However, we were hit with a rather unfortunate storm system, which prevented us from fully enjoying our time on the island. Bad weather ended up being a recurring theme on this trip, and this was our first taste of it.
Selous Game Reserve & Zanzibar, Tanzania
From Mozambique, we moved to Tanzania, and I have quite mixed feelings about our time there. The government has recently brought in more funding to provide free healthcare for at risk populations in Tanzania (the young, the elderly and the pregnant), which considering how high the maternal mortality rate is in Tanzania compared with other similarly developed nations, is seriously needed. However, in order to provide such care, money is needed, and it doesn’t just appear out of nowhere! Game parks and reserves have been hit with higher taxes in order to facilitate such a change in spending, leading to a much more expensive safari product than in other East African countries.
Naturally, tourism numbers have dropped; and it really shows.
We didn’t get bothered or hassled anywhere in Africa, except in Tanzania.
Our safari in Selous was undeniably fantastic, but our time in Dar Es Salaam was horrible and Zanzibar was a complete disappointment. People rave about the beaches of Zanzibar, but the pollution is disgusting and the drop in tourism means that you can’t walk more than two steps without someone trying to sell you anything from a taxi to cocaine. I have never been offered so many drugs in my life!
I had heard such good things about Zanzibar, and I don’t know if it is just that things have gone downhill in recent times or if I am simply seeing it from the perspective of someone who has travelled an absolute buttload and in the process, seen some truly magnificent beaches, leaving me with unrealistically high expectations.
Oh, and we got bedbugs.
From Tanzania we ventured to Comoros, and even though it was far less developed than any other country we visited on the trip, it had a charm that could not be denied. Learning to scuba dive was a real highlight, and making friends with our scuba instructor Katt was really wonderful. Making friends when you travel is far from uncommon, but making friends that you really intend to keep in contact with and would be willing go a long way to see is quite special.
After close to six weeks of endless summer heat, escaping to Europe in the autumn was a welcome change of pace. This was my fifth time in Scotland and there is a reason why I keep going back; it is just so magical.
This year, I also fell down the Outlander rabbit hole, and as silly as it sounds, watching that TV show and recognising places that I’d already been really reignited my desire to return to Scotland.
We spent around ten days road tripping from Edinburgh to Aberdeen to Inverness to Skye and back to Edinburgh via Glencoe, and it was honestly nothing short of glorious.
From Scotland, we travelled to the Faroe Islands, where we would encounter even more truly terrible weather. However, the magic of the Faroes is that is still extremely beautiful even through torrential rain. Luckily, we did get one short window of reprieve in order to do the hike around Lake Sørvágsvatn, which was even more beautiful than I had hoped.
We travelled from the Faroes to Copenhagen, from which we scored a cheap flight to Bergen. As it turned out, the flight would be the only thing that was cheap! The prices of food in Bergen were absolutely astronomical, and the two days we spent in this beautiful city had a pretty devastating effect on our budgets, but it was gorgeous and the weather was perfect, so we happily took the good (the views) with the bad (the cost).
From Bergen we flew to Helsinki and had a full day to explore. Unfortunately, the city just didn’t excite me, and looking back, I think this was the beginning of a sort of ‘city fatigue’.
From Helsinki we travelled up to Lapland in order to stay in a glass roofed cabin and indulge in some winter activities.
However, bad weather struck once more, and even though it was mid-November, there was a lot of rain and very little snow, which meant that we couldn’t do the stuff we had planned, and we did not see any Northern Lights.
We still did have a wonderful stay thanks to the beautiful accommodation and the glorious sunrises, so it wasn’t a complete fail, but when do this again in future, I wouldn’t plan to do so any earlier than January.
From Lapland we travelled to Riga, but I again failed to really enjoy my time there and as a result, I have very few pictures. I just didn’t vibe it, y’know?
From there we arrived in Warsaw for a kind of staycation. We hung out in our disaster of an AirBnB (a tale for a future blog) and got a lot of online work done. We did make time to go to the tiny little Neon Museum, and despite it’s small size, we had a real blast checking out the collection of old neon signs.
We also ate pretty much exclusively vegan whilst in Warsaw, because there is a truly huge number of vegan restaurants serving truly awesome cuisine! We ate hotdogs and ‘cutlets’ that tasted almost suspiciously like real meat. I am not a vegan, but a new vegetarian who was motivated to change her diet in order to reduce her impact on the environment.
I am very conscious that with all the flying I do, my carbon footprint would be pretty significant. Eating a vegetarian diet is much better for the environment, so it is my way of trying to offset my environmental impact.
Prague, Czech Republic
By mid November it was time to leave Warsaw and catch a train to Prague to meet up with Katt, the new friend we made in Comoros. It was my second time to Prague, and the city has definitely not lost any of its magic. The number of tourists felt about the same and the city is still just as pretty as ever. We spent our short time there wandering around on foot and soaking up its pure loveliness.
From Prague, we went to Budapest, and unlike the former, I feel very strongly that Budapest is being ruined by tourism. When I visited in 2013, it felt like a magical city full of wonder and possibility.
When I visited last month, it felt like nothing more than an overcrowded wasteland of tourism where you couldn’t find a corner without three people trying to sell you a hop on hop off bus tour.
There were many more people than there were on my last visit, and the surge in popularity doesn’t feel like it has had a positive impact in the slightest. It’s a shame, but I have absolutely no desire to go back.
Maasai Mara & Nairobi, Kenya
Leaving Europe left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I was sad to leave Europe on the whole, but on the other, I was so happy to leave the disappointment that was Budapest.
We travelled to Kenya to go on another safari and to spend a night at the very famous Giraffe Manor. We had been warned that the Maasai Mara is incredibly crowded with visitors and that it isn’t uncommon to have ten or even twenty vehicles surrounding one lion, so I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be that great of a safari.
However, we completely lucked out! We were staying at one of the most beautiful safari camps in all of Africa, Cottars 1920s Safari Camp. Not only was the accommodation beautiful, but it is also located within a private conservancy of the Mara, which means that there are very few camps with access to this particular area.
It meant that when we found a leopard roaming out in the open, we were able to follow it for an hour without ever seeing another car. Experiences like that just don’t happen every day.
Our last night in Africa was spent in style at the Giraffe Manor. This one night stay was a serious splurge, but it ended up being well worth the hefty price tag. After all, it isn’t every day that you can get this close to giraffes!
We had some hours to kill between our checkout from the manor and our flight to Dubai, so we seized the opportunity to head to the daily feeding of orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. These baby ellies have been orphaned due to poaching, drought or famine, and the trust is committed to raising them and helping reintegrate them back into the wild. Watching these babies play and interact was a wonderful experience.
By the time we got to Dubai in early December, we were nearing the end of our trip and running seriously low on cash, which really hindered our enjoyment of Dubai. If we’d had ample money I am sure we would’ve loved going to bedouin camps, soaring above the sky in a hot air balloon and even venturing to the top of the Burj Khalifa, but unfortunately, our wallets did not allow for any of this.
Dubai is undoubtedly a modern marvel, but I really feel like you need a sizeable chunk of moolah to really love it.
Our last destination for the year was a road trip through the true jewel of the Middle East, Oman.
We travelled from Muscat to Sur, Wahiba Sands, Nizwa and then back to Muscat. My only regret is that we didn’t get a 4×4 vehicle as it meant we couldn’t go up into the mountains. However, despite this, our trip was absolutely fantastic and even though Omani people are truly terrifying on the roads (nobody indicates!) they are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
The architecture was amazing and we saw some really incredible sights. As an added bonus, we drove over 800kms and only spent like $30 on fuel!
It was the perfect way to end our trip, and it is somewhere that I’d love to return to one day.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this round up, and I hope you are looking forward to reading more in depth blogs and guides to these destinations in the coming weeks.
Happy New Year, and as always, safe travels.