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Looking back on 2017: Travels, Changing Plans and Lessons Learned

The annual “best nine” phenomenon always gets me reflecting on my top moments of the year. In 2017 my blog suffered a bit of neglect. I published just 29 blog posts in the entire year and my blogging goals went out of the window as studies, work and travels took up all of my time. So it may have looked like a quiet year from this blog, but it was quite the opposite in reality!

         2017 was a year of changing plans, difficult decisions, new goals, multi-tasking and plenty of exploring! I spent 7 months of the year abroad, firstly living in Sweden for the 2nd semester of my Master’s, followed by a summer of backpacking around 9 countries in Europe, before moving back to London in October to start a new job. Before this job came up, I had been heading to study in Mexico City for 4 months and it was with immense difficulty that I eventually chose London over Mexico… A bit of a crazy decision, you might think, but it all makes sense in the longer term. Although I still pine over Mexico!

        Compared to 2016, my travels this year were less far-flung and exotic, and I didn’t leave Europe once. Although we all know I love Europe, so that’s really not too much of a problem! Europe has it all – mountains to ski (Mürren, Switzerland) and hike (Mount Etna and the Dolomites, Italy) and climb (Mt Blanc, France); beaches to laze around on (Albania, Montenegro and Sicily); fjords and lakes to explore (Norway and Lake Como, Italy), historic cities to wander around (Krakow, Stockholm, Oslo, Rome and others). I’ve been fortunate to spend so much time abroad in 2017, although much of it seems like a distant memory after 3 months of working full-time and without pause back in wintery London!

         At the end of each year I like to reflect back on the places I visited, the 18 goals I set myself 12 months ago and all the adventures that make up life! I’m pleased to say that I managed 12 of my 18 goals, very similar to last year’s tally. So here’s a month-by-month account of everything I got up to in 2017:

January:

The year began with a few weeks at home in Hampshire working on essays to complete the 1st semester of my Master’s, peppered with weekends seeing friends in London. Throughout the first year of my Master’s I wrote a ‘Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad’ all about my studies and life in general, which I just love looking back over. The main excitement of January however was my week skiing in Mürren, Switzerland [goal 1/12 complete], and completing the annual Inferno ski race [goal 2/12 complete]! I also packed up all my belongings once again to move to Sweden! 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 3/12 complete].

February:

February was all about settling into the Scandi way of life in my new city of Uppsala, Sweden, where I spent the 2nd semester of my Master’s as an Erasmus Mundus student. A lighter workload initially and a reading week allowed more time for blogging and exploring. The city was covered in snow, glistening in the sun under crisp blue skies, and I discovered my favourite running route in the world: along the banks of the frozen Fyris river that weaves its way through the centre of Uppsala. I also explored Stockholm, visited my Norwegian friend Ingvild in Oslo and spent time with friends in the city of Gothenburg, on Sweden’s west coast [goal 4/12 complete].

March:

This month I hosted the first of my visitors in Uppsala and Stockholm, two school friends, and I also popped back to London for a quick weekend. I also found out I’d be spending my 3rd semester studying in Mexico City and starting plotting my travels around Central America, which sadly never materialised, but I’m adamant I’ll manage that trip one day!

April:

April saw some actual deadlines and a long stint of cram-writing an essay on Estonian identity, but after that I was barely in Uppsala at all! I hosted two sets of visitors in Uppsala and Stockholm, uni friends and my sister, before jetting off for (another!) reading week back to my beloved Groningen in the Netherlands, as well as to Milan and heavenly Lake Como to spend Easter with a friend. I also popped back to London for an annual alumnae event I help organise every year for the University of Exeter. And the Swedish festival of Valborg in Uppsala was unmissable!

May:

This was my last month of living in Sweden and possibly my favourite, thanks to two great trips around different parts of Scandinavia. having finished the majority of my assignments, I spent a week driving and hiking around the Norwegian fjords and then a long weekend sunning myself on the surprisingly sunny Baltic island of Gotland with my then boyfriend. I also passed my Swedish language exams [goals 5 and 6/12 complete] and helped run a 1-day conference on fake news. Finally, I hosted my parents in Uppsala and Stockholm, the highlight of which was undoubtedly the ABBA museum – an absolute hoot! Finally though, I had to pack up my belongings once again, leave my flat and friends in Uppsala and move back to the UK.

June:

With my semester complete, I spent a week chilling at “home home” in Hampshire with family and friends before flying out to Chamonix, France, for my mother-daughter attempt to climb Mont Blanc and a week-long digital detox [goal 7/12 complete]. How I loved the mountain air and the incredible views! The weather sadly won the day just as we were preparing for the summit, so we only made it as far as the Tête Rousse hut at 3,167m high… However, a few days earlier we did manage to summit the Gran Paradiso mountain on the Italian side (4,061m high) so I’m claiming that as my mountain [goal 8/12 complete]! We originally hoped to try to summit another year, however the reality is that the endless months of training required to summit Mont Blanc are really quite taxing on myself and my 60+ mother (not to mention the cost), and we both have lots of other goals we’d like to achieve too. So it’s a TBC as to whether we’ll make it to the top of Mont Blanc in the future… After that high-altitude excitement, I headed to Krakow, Poland, for a week-long conference as part of my Master’s and to present my research paper on British Euroscepticism (which may hopefully be published in due course).

July:

From Krakow I headed straight to Groningen, the Netherlands, to help run a week-long summer school on Illicit Trade that I’d been helping organise for the previous 6 months. It was a huge success and altogether a fascinating week. At this point I paused my monthly ‘Diary of Master’s Student’ [goal 9/12 complete] as I’d found out the news about my job in London and had taken the painful decision to cancel my semester in Mexico and prioritise my career instead. I spent the next few weeks in London, celebrating my 28th birthday, attending a stunning wedding at the Reform Club, catching up with London friends, escaping to Herefordshire for a best friend’s hen party, and planning my last few months of summer travels before the 9-5 returned in October…

August:

August saw me fly out to the Balkans for 4 weeks with my then boyfriend, backpacking through Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia and Hungary. With that trip I brought my total of new countries for the year to 7 [goal 10/12 complete] and I discovered why everyone raves so much about the Balkans [goal 11/12 complete] – they are fascinating and beautiful countries that (for the most part) haven’t yet been over-run by mass tourism, and I absolutely adored our trip! I learned so much and also rekindled my love of extended travels, and rounded off the month with a quick detour back to Uppsala in Sweden. Oh and while in Bosnia I also published an academic side-project I’d been working for the Honours College called ‘A Journey Across Borders’, documenting the 26 borders I’d crossed in the previous 6 months.

September:

Back in Hampshire fleetingly between trips, I attended my best friend Emma’s wedding along with my other schoolfriends and realised it had been a whole decade since we left the comfort zone of school and stepped into the big wide grown-up world of adulthood! After that scary thought, I embraced youth wholeheartedly by stepping onto a plane to Italy for the next 4 weeks, firstly to Padova (and up hiking into the Dolomites) and then to Sicily – which is my new favourite place in the entire world [goal 12/12 complete]! Sicily had been beckoning me ever since I discovered the TV series Inspector Montalbano in 2011 and the island did not disappoint. We spoke no English for 4 whole weeks, indulged in the incredible cuisine, watched countless numbers of spectacular sunsets, soaked up the last of the summer sun in what is (almost) the southernmost tip of Europe, and relaxed. Favignana had to be my favourite spot (an island off an island), but Siracusa and Agrigento also scored very highly!

October:

October signalled the start of a new phase in my life, as I started my new job in London on the UK Civil Service Fast Stream. The job is surprisingly well-suited to my academic background and it pretty quickly proved all-consuming – hence why I failed to publish a single blog post this month. I did manage to escape from London for a weekend up in Nottingham and I also acquired a beautiful baby blue bike with a basket! Having been converted to the brilliance of cycling by my time living in the Netherlands, I am infinitely happier on my two wheels than squished into a train carriage, as my new commute takes me right along the pedestrianised Thames Path (see my route on Strava).

November:

November saw work get busier and busier with long hours, although with the happy perk of a fleeting visit to Rome. I also headed home to Hampshire for a much-needed spa day with family, to Nottingham for Bonfire Night and to Exeter briefly to give a careers talk to current students. My sister and I also completed the full redecoration of our flat (after doing half of it in 2016) so our flat is now a beautiful baby blue colour (that coincidentally matches my bike)! In my head, we’re channelling a fusion of Scandi-Greek design – monochrome everywhere with pops of vibrant light blue, inspired by memories of stunning Greek islands. I love it.

December:

This month in London has been a whirlwind of work, Christmas parties and Christmas shopping, which finally contrasted with a peaceful few days down in the countryside in Hampshire, before Christmas itself in another rural idyll in Surrey. Country walks, presents and a lot of food out of the way, I travelled back to London to spend 2 days volunteering for the homelessness charity Crisis, in their centre for vulnerable homeless women. As part of a team of 10, I’m volunteering and fundraising for Crisis for 6 months, and will be doing a freezing sponsored Mid-Winter Swim on 20th January! Our JustGiving page is here if anyone would like to donate and help end homelessness: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/raisefortheroof

My 2017 Goals

I achieved 12 of the 18 travel goals I set myself for 2017, but what about the 6 I didn’t manage?

  • Visit Australasia and Antarctica – Nowhere close. Happy to admit that one was a little far-fetched!
  • Live outside of Europe for at least 6 months – I really thought this one would be ticked off by moving to Mexico City, but alas I’m still 7 weeks short of managing this one. (Tear rolls down cheek at the thought of living in Mexico…)
  • Travel during my internship – Instead of studying in Mexico, I’d originally planned to do an internship abroad and travel around at weekends. Technically speaking, my work trip to Rome could count for this?
  • Go sailing – I went dinghy sailing for 1 day in the Solent, in Hampshire… does that count? Not really, as I originally had a whole week on a yacht in mind, as per our blissful sailing trip around the Saronic Islands in 2016.
  • Travel abroad every month – Another one I thought I’d nail with the Master’s, but in both October and December I was purely in the UK, so only 10/12 months managed.
  • Blog more consistently – Massive fail. In 2016 I published 48 blog posts, and just 29 this year. Oops…

I seem to find my yearly travel goals far easier to complete than my big-ticket wishes on my pre-30 Travel Wishlist. When I took on the 2-year Master’s I decided to extend my wishlist by 2 years. Given that I’ve paused the Master’s after one year, I now have only 2.5 years left  to complete them (and only 18 months until I’m 30, eek…)

Although some of my big goals didn’t get a look in due to my change of plans and decision to swap Mexico City for London, there are other non-travel goals that I’m proud of completing this year, and which comfort me that I haven’t wasted my 2017:

  • I completed the first year of my Master’s with a high grade, I completed the Groningen Honours College which entailed 25% extra workload on top of my Master’s, and involved organising the Illicit Trade Summer School and my ‘Journey Across Borders’ project.
  • I helped run a conference on fake news and had an academic article published in a peer-reviewed journal, as well as sharing my essays in The Well-Travelled Journal section of this website.
  • I completed a 19-year-old-me career goal by getting my current job in the UK Civil Service, I gave another careers talk at the University of Exeter, and helped run the 2017 Exeter Alumnae reception (and the 2018 reception is currently in the planning!).
  • I fundraised and volunteered for 3 days for the homelessness charity Crisis.
  • I wrote a daily micro-journal for the entire year, and we finally completed the redecoration of our flat.

What I learned in 2017

  • I have never been so grateful for the roof over my head – Volunteering with Crisis and learning about homelessness has made me infinitely more appreciative of having a flat to call home. It’s no mansion nor luxury penthouse, but it is somewhere constant to come home to in between travels, and it’s shocking to realise that so many thousands of people in the UK do not have any roof over their head whatsoever. I feel particularly strongly about society’s need to help women who find themselves homeless, as they are especially vulnerable to violence and abuse.
  • Life happens at inconvenient timing – And there’s nothing you can do but embrace it. Some years in life I’m craving for anything exciting at all to happen, and other years I get too many exciting options at once, as both Mexico City and my new job presented themselves at the same time. Why world why?!
  • Perseverance is key – I applied in 5 separate years for the graduate scheme I’ve just started, and this year I finally got into the scheme and the type of role I wanted. In the meantime during those five years of course I got on with my life, doing a different grad scheme, taking a sabbatical, starting a Master’s, but I carried on persistently applying and not giving up. And it has finally paid off – never has patience been more of a virtue.
  • How politics and government work in the real world – Having studied politics and international relations over the years, it’s been fascinating to actually see how it plays out it real life from inside government. I’m not going to write in detail about my job or my work, but I’ve learned a huge amount over the last 3 months about how a government actually works – it’s honestly riveting.
  • Find somewhere to live that you can actually afford – Studying in Sweden was a real exercise in budgeting and it frustrated me that I couldn’t afford many of the things I could afford in the student’s paradise that was Groningen in the Netherlands. I’m now back in London with a a salary, albeit one far lower than I had back in 2016, and having to tighten the purse strings means missing out on all the fun (eg. skiing trips are sadly out of the question this winter!).
  • I can’t handle long-distance, nor even medium-distance, relationships – This featured in last year’s blog post as well, and again proved itself true again in 2017. My boyfriend and I recently parted ways purely due to distance, no personal flaws, and it’s heartbreaking when that happens.
  • The Balkans are just awesome – The scenery, the culture, the history, the food, the coastlines. There’s so much to discover. And now I want to visit the Baltics too (and particularly Estonia), after studying the region during my Master’s.
  • I’m feel most alive with a backpack on – Ideally for a full month, with someone by my side, a one-way ticket and all my options open! There’s no replacement for a really long trip, living with only the bare essentials and a guidebook to help choose tomorrow’s destination. Our trips around the Balkans and Sicily this summer absolutely made my year, I was so happy.
  • Blogging is not my true calling – Letting this blog slip in favour of other life priorities like my Master’s and my new job has shown me that I was never cut out for full-time travel blogging, and I’m fine with that. I think blogging has (very almost) had its day, as the world has moved onto Instagram and Youtube instead. As much as I love to write, I’ve realised I’m more of a visual person than a prolific writer, and I update my Instagram far more regularly than this blog.

2017 has been a funny, spontaneous year of changing plans and not knowing my whereabouts more than a month or two in advance. Overall it’s felt very busy, hugely varied and surprisingly unexpected. I hope you’ll forgive my slight lack of blogging over the last 6 months – it’s not that I’ve nothing to say, just not enough time to write it all down! Which is ultimately what life should be about – living life, not letting documenting it get in the way of life. I hope you’ve achieved more of your goals than I have in the past year, and that you’re happy, healthy and positive about the year ahead of you. I’ll be writing down my travel goals for next year in the next few days, but for now, have a very Happy New Year and celebrating all your successes and achievements in 2017, as well as all of the lessons you learned!

Did you set yourself any travel goals in 2017? What were your travel highlights this year? What else do you feel grateful for in 2017?

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