2016 Travels on The Well-Travelled Postcard: Goals, Decisions and Lessons Learned
While I have to agree that 2016 has been a terrible year in the world of politics, I also have to be grateful that 2016 has been very kind to me personally! I spent 9 months of the year abroad, 5 months on sabbatical from work, I only worked (in the conventional sense) for 3 months, then I left my job, escaped London and moved abroad to start a Master’s degree which I really love. I only visited 7 countries, 4 of which were new. But I feel like the experiences I did have, staying between 2 weeks – 4 months in almost every place, were so much more meaningful and enriching than the short tourist trips or weekend breaks I took last year. 2016 for me has been a year of adventure and I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it. Exceptions include the results of the EU referendum, the US election, the stress of a loft conversion and the 3 months I spent back at work over the summer, but the low points have at least allowed me to appreciate the highs all the more.
At the end of 2015 I looked back over the year’s travels and blog posts (here: 2015 Travels on the Well-Travelled Postcard) and I set myself 17 goals for 2016 (here: My Travel Goals for 2016. Some of those 17 overlapped with my pre-30 wishlist, which I wrote on my 25th birthday in July 2014. I’m now 27 and a half years old, meaning I’m exactly half way between 25 and 30, but I’m not quite half way through those goals! But for today I’m going to focus on my list of 17 travel goals for 2016 (and I’ll turn to the pre-30 list on New Year’s Day). I managed 11 out of 17, but this year’s travels did edge me closer towards achieving 2 others as well…
So what did I get up to in 2016?
Having already started my 6-month sabbatical in November 2015, I began 2016 with lots of optimism and no work to dread! I started the new year on the fresh Cornish coast with uni friends, before spending two weeks backpacking around stunning Sri Lanka, both with friends and a bit of solo travel too [goal 1/11 complete], where I started learning to surf! After a quick turnaround back in London, a week later I flew to Kathmandu to begin my 4-month stay in Nepal, volunteering with the DFID-funded International Citizen Service (ICS) programme and the sustainable development charity Raleigh International [goal 2/11 complete]. And of course, as I have done for the last few years, I donated to the Woodland Trust to offset my carbon footprint by planting trees [goal 3/11 complete].
- My Travel Goals for 2016
- 5 Reasons Why Everyone Should Take a Year Abroad during University
- My 2-week Travel Itinerary for Sri Lanka
- En Route to Nepal: Why, What and Where I’m Volunteering with Raleigh and ICS
I spent the first few weeks in Kathmandu being trained with 8 other Team Leaders and I got really close to my wonderful Nepali counterpart and co-Team Leader Asha. We had a couple of opportunities to explore the three famous Durbar Squares of Bhaktapur, Patan and Kathmandu and to experience the utter chaos of a capital city during a fuel crisis and a border blockade, before the Nepali and British volunteers joined us in mid-February. After training them up in Hetauda, our team of 15 moved to our rural village of Bhalu Khola in the district of Makwanpur, south-east of Kathmandu. and settled in with 7 lovely host families.
In March (still in Nepal) our team of volunteers got down to work: surveying and researching the local area and issues and planning our project. We celebrated International Women’s Day, took part in week-long Hindu festivals and Holi, hiked into the mountains, raised awareness of environmental issues on World Water Day, and encouraged youth participation in development work through an Easter Treasure Hunt. We also had a 3-day break in Hetauda, where we stepped out of the digital detox bubble and reconnected to the internet!
- Celebrating International Women’s Day in Nepal: A Day in the Life of a Nepali Woman
- Diary of a Raleigh ICS volunteer in Nepal: Part 1
- “The World is Your Oyster” – But Not For Everyone…
- The Words of 3 Inspiring Young People from Nepal
- Embracing the Digital Detox and the New Luxury of Switching Off
Still in Nepal, in April we celebrated World Health Day with 5 information stands, we set up a youth club and organised training days on organic and alternative farming methods for the community. We marked the 1 year anniversary of the deadly 2015 earthquake in Nepal, hiked and organised more action days in partnership with the local young people. After so much work we had another much-needed short break in Hetauda.
- Postcard of the Week: Kathmandu, Nepal
- Diary of a Raleigh ICS volunteer in Nepal: Part 2
- Cultural Exchanges for Young People in the UK: Where to Find Them
- Postcard of the Week: The Himalayas
- How Nepal is Surviving 1 Year after the Earthquake
The time came to say ‘Namaste’ to Bhalu Khola, our host families and the lovely community and the British half of the team left Nepal. I spent a week recovering in the UK, indulging in spa days and country walks in Hampshire, catching up with friends and watching West End theatre in London, before flying to St Petersburg for a 2-week intensive Russian language course. I explored the city as much as possible and spent 3 days in Moscow, loving everything about my trip to Russia [goal 4/11 complete]. And with that my sabbatical came to an end…
- Diary of a Raleigh ICS volunteer in Nepal: Part 3
- Observing Plan International’s Work to Improve Maternal Health in Rural Nepal
- Capturing my Raleigh ICS Experience in Nepal on Video
- The Ultimate Guide to Exploring St Petersburg in Russia
- Looking Back on 6 Months of Adventures on my Sabbatical
A pivotal month. As June began I returned to my former life and work in London. My sister and I began a loft conversion that would end up taking an agonising 3 months to finish, I caught up with all my friends, went to a few events at places like the Ritz, celebrated a whole 4 years of travel blogging, went to Ascot and popped over to St Malo in France for 36 hours to surprise my sister on her birthday. It was initially quite fun to be back in London and in June it still felt like a novelty, although I was definitely feeling unsettled and unfulfilled back at work. The result of the EU referendum on 23rd June really shocked and horrified me, and helped me take some key life decisions: I finally decided to leave my job, to turn down the Civil Service Fast Stream job offer I had and to accept the Master’s degree offer that meant I would move abroad once again [goal 5/11 complete]. Once that decision had been taken, a weight lifted and I regained the energy and enthusiasm I had had while on my sabbatical.
- 4 Years of Travel Blogging!
- Good Deeds Through Travel: How to Sponsor a Child in a Developing Country
- For the Record: I Do Not Want to Leave the EU
The month began in excellent style with a 10-day trip to Greece: a blissful week sailing around the Saronic Islands [goal 6/11 complete] and 3 days on the beautiful island of Santorini for my 27th birthday! My family had a day out watching the cricket at Lords and my sister and I spent the rest of the month being boring grown-ups and managing the loft conversion (choosing bathroom fittings, tiles, paint colours, carpets, etc.). I handed in my resignation at work and told my friends and everyone about my decision to move abroad once again. My sister Olivia was a saint to be so supportive!
- Conquering Shyness through Travel
- Exploring Greece with MedSailors Part 1: What to Expect from a Week Sailing among Saronic Islands, Sparkling Seas and Stunning Sunsets
- Exploring Greece with MedSailors Part 2: What to Expect from the Route among Idyllic Islands, Picturesque Ports and Breathtaking Bays
While preparing for my next move to the Netherlands, I spent a weekend at home in Hampshire, a couple of days in Surrey, I gave a couple of talks in London about Nepal, but predominantly I tied up loose ends at work and I finally left my job at O2 (aka Telefonica), almost 4 years after I first joined. Ever since graduating from university I’d been employed by O2 so it was a pretty big part of my 20s! I’m grateful for the opportunities O2 gave me, to move to London, to travel around Europe, to live in Madrid, to buy a flat and to take a sabbatical, but after 4 years it was also time to close that chapter and open a new one. Once I’d bid farewell to my colleagues, I had one week to pack up my life and move to the Netherlands. Having never there before, it became the 6th country I’ve lived in and the 50th I’ve visited [goal 7/11 complete]!
Free from 9-5 working hours and annual leave restrictions, I fell in love with my new city of Groningen pretty instantly! A heat wave, a beautiful youthful city, perfect for cycling, and a new schedule with lectures only between Tuesday-Thursday made Groningen easy to love. Paired with a great new class of 24 others from all around the world, a great weekend in Amsterdam running a 10-mile race with friends and I found myself bouncing out of bed each morning with an excitement, an energy and a purpose I hadn’t felt since being in Nepal this Spring. While it truly felt like a holiday, I did also start my Master’s, do some studying too and even a little bit of work, giving training on how to blog. I honestly couldn’t care less that I’m being a bit unconventional by returning to university after a few years of work, and Groningen has truly prompted me to stop taking my 20s so seriously [goal 8/11 complete].
- A Student’s First Impressions of Groningen, the Netherlands
- Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad: Month 1 (September 2016)
As my studies really got underway in Groningen, I picked up extra classes in Dutch, Russian and photography, and I was accepted into the university’s Honours College programme which involved extra classes on leadership [goal 9/11 and 10/11 complete]. I found myself happily busy, with both brain and body feeling truly exercised. Meanwhile, I had to choose where to spend the next semester of my degree and I found out that I’ll be moving to Sweden in January! After the first set of exams were complete, we had a great 3-day class trip to Brussels to visit the EU institutions and meet various NGOs and alumni from my degree. And just in time for Halloween, I popped back to London for a house party at our flat.
- Decisions, Decisions! Where to Study Abroad Next?
- What is an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree?
- I’m moving to Sweden!
- Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad: Month 2 (October 2016)
- Why Every Pupil Should Study a Foreign Language at A-Level
The month began with a much needed reading week. I headed back to Hampshire to give a talk at my secondary school on the importance of studying languages, in London I ran an event for my university’s female alumni group, and I caught up with friends at the Battersea Park fireworks on Bonfire Night. Back in the Netherlands, I spent two weekends in Amsterdam thanks to a bit of work and a visit from my sister! Other than that I studied flat out, giving presentation after presentation, writing essay after essay, going on a class trip to nearby Leeuwarden. I even had some work published in The Euroculturer and the The Huffington Post and I advertised my availability to provide training and consultancy on a range of topics. A busy month!
- Why the Haitian hurricane barely graced your newsfeeds: bad timing or do we simply not care?
- Talks, Training and Consultancy
- Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad: Month 3 (November 2016)
Before I knew it, we’d hit December and it was already time to leave Groningen after 4 months living in the city… In the middle of finishing essays, papers and presentations, we celebrated Sinterklaas (Dutch Christmas) on the 5th December, explored Christmas markets and all said our farewells to the rest of the class, as we’re all heading to different countries for our next semester. I also decided to display some of my academic work in a separate section of this blog, called The Well-Travelled Journal. So I also managed to spend time abroad every single month in 2016 [goal 11/11 complete]! Flying home to Hampshire for Christmas, I had 4 days worth of celebrations with my family, my aunt and uncle, my godmother, uni friends and tomorrow, for New Year’s Eve, I’m still down in Hampshire, celebrating with school friends!
My 2016 Goals
So I achieved 11 out of the 17 goals I set myself for 2016, but how about the 6 that I didn’t manage?
- Live outside of Europe for 6 months – After Chile and Nepal, I’m now just 7 weeks short of completing this. As merely ‘travelling’ doesn’t count, Russia and Sri Lanka don’t count for this goal.
- Do Ibiza – I didn’t even attempt to organise this trip. To be honest I’m getting less and less interested in Ibiza every year, so I may even strike it off the list altogether one year…
- Ski the Inferno race – Technically I achieved the goal of registering for the Inferno, and I’ll be taking part in this race in Switzerland in 3 weeks’ time!
- Sail across the Atlantic – The Master’s put a spanner in the works for this goal as there’s only a small window between November-December in which it’s best to sail across the Atlantic, so this may have to become a post-Master’s goal.
- Visit Sicily – I didn’t go to Italy once in 2016, let alone the long-lusted-after Sicily!
- Blog more consistently – Each year since I began this blog, my total number of blog posts has decreased: 150 in 2013, 122 in 2014, 55 in 2015 and just 48 in 2016. I have a fair excuse that I spent 4 months in Nepal practically without internet, but I’m still disappointed at this trend.
Looking back on the goals I set myself in 2014, 2015 and at the beginning of 2016, I have to say that I feel like a different person compared to the person who wrote each of those sets of goals. Some of my priorities have shifted and my outlook has definitely changed, as I no longer really consider 30 to be the absolute cut-off point. When I decided to do this 2-year Master’s, I actually added on an extra 2 years to my deadline for completing my pre-30 goals! It’s true that I am slowly inching closer to 30. But at the same time, I’m now surrounded by fellow students slightly younger than me, who have a completely different (and much more appealing!) outlook on life, so I no longer feel like 30 will be so dreadful after all.
It’s important to mention that, when a 25-year-old version of me wrote that first travel wishlist back in 2014, I didn’t include anything from my ‘life’ wishlist. I have of course always had a private life wishlist alongside this travel wishlist as well. That other list included things like ‘buy a flat’ and ‘do a Master’s degree’. Both of those two are pretty hefty investments and commitments of time and money! In order to achieve goals on both my ‘travel’ and my ‘life’ wishlists, I’ve had to sacrifice some goals and postpone others. But I feel like that’s ok. And I think possibly the most important goal I achieved this year was this: ‘learning not to take my 20s so seriously’. I achieved that goal through gaining another perspective (living in Nepal), through having the courage to take a risky decision (quitting my job) and through starting afresh with a new adventure (starting a Master’s).
Even if the travel goals I set myself every year are only one half of the picture, I still enjoy the task of looking back over the year, of imagining what the next year may hold and trying to pinpoint what I’m hoping to achieve. I love making to-do lists and so it’s an exercise that I think suits me perfectly. So even if I don’t succeed at everything I set out to do, I still enjoy trying!
What I learned in 2016
- I can survive on very little money – 2016 was my cheapest year since university, and definitely the most fulfilling! The only things I really needed to dip into savings for were my trips to Sri Lanka, Russia and Greece. Nepal was completely free (thank you UK government!) and the cost of student living in the Netherlands is tiny, showing me that I really do not need a huge salary to make me happy. In fact, the only 3 months in which I did earn a salary were the least happy!
- Never again will I do any kind of home renovation – A word of warning: only embark on any kind of serious home renovations if you have limitless time and money! It will always take longer than you expect, cost more than you expect, and it will be a major headache. Our loft conversion did pay off in the end, but I shall be avoiding it at all costs from now on!
- I am a European – The EU referendum result prompted me to realise how much my EU citizenship means to me, and just how lucky I am to have grown up within the EU. Studying for my Master’s, learning more about the history, politics and culture of Europe, and receiving the full brunt of the pro-Brexit trolls after I made a statement on national TV has only strengthened my belief that I am more European than I am British, and that it’s a cause worth fighting for.
- Learning languages is just the best – This year I resumed learning one language (Russian) and started two new ones (Nepali and Dutch), and next year I’ll add to this by studying Swedish. I seriously love learning a new language and being in a position to use it!
- Anyone who loves to travel is doomed to long distance – This is hardly a new one, as long distance has been a feature of my life since I was 19, but of course it’s back to haunt me as I move from country to country during my degree.
- The West is too individualist – Nepali society has a lot of problems to deplore, but one thing I do really admire is their selflessness and their commitment to family, to others and to their community. Working with Nepali volunteers and villagers really taught me a life lesson in looking out for others, not just “no.1”, as we so commonly do here in the capitalist West. I’m not the best at practicing selflessness, but at least I am now aware of how much the people around me really are important.
I want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s followed along with me this year! Although my blog posts may be less frequent, as I’ve spent so much time away and kept myself busy with volunteering and studying, I feel like the world has really opened up to me in 2016: I’ve learned and experienced so much. 2017 is sure to hold a lot of excitement as well, and I’ll be writing my new travel goals for 2017 on New Year’s Day, so look out for those! I hope you enjoy reflecting on your own year as well and, when the clock strikes 12 tomorrow in whichever time zone you find yourself, take time to celebrate all your successes and achievements this year, as well as the lessons you learned in 2016.