Looking back on 2018: Travels, Adventures and Lessons Learned
Happy New Year! I have a custom of writing a recap of my travels at the end of each year, and these annual retrospectives are one of my favourite posts to write. Especially since I was very quiet on this blog in 2018, I’m enjoying looking back, seeing what adventures I got up to and remembering the unique moments that made up my year.
First of all – a caveat. My 2018 was nowhere near as jetset as my 2017, which involved 7 months abroad thanks to my semester in Sweden and a summer of backpacking, or my 2016, involving a 7 month sabbatical and a semester in the Netherlands. After a precedent like that, 2018 was always going to have a tough time living up to excitement of the last two years, as I spent it working in a full-time London-based job… In comparison, it felt like a relatively UK-bound year of hard graft, and while it was still an eventful year and very productive and positive in the career-sense, it didn’t feel as “exciting” as the previous two. I wrote a post in October about how to stay happy when I’m not travelling as much, as it was a quandary that crossed my mind a lot this year. I still haven’t entirely come to terms with the concept of “full-time” London and I do desperately miss the liberty and adventure I had in 2016 and 2017.
I do realise that the above paragraph could come across as incredibly spoiled, as many people I know have done the hard graft London-life continuously for years and years on end without pause, and I know of others still who would love the chance to live in London full-time, with all of the buzz and culture and vivacity that the city breathes into life! And on reflection I have still had a brilliant year full of travel, fun, friends, laughter and new discoveries so I cannot complain. I don’t think anyone on the planet can claim to be free of the curse of comparison. I’m no exception to that. A prime example: my mother retired last year and even she had a more exciting year of travel than I did! But I am additionally guilty of comparing my current self to my past self, and to my ideal self – holding myself to unrealistically high standards. But this blog post is definitively not a comparison – it’s simply a self-indulgent celebration of my travels and adventures in 2018, mainly so that in 2069, 80-year-old me can look back fondly on my twenties with a G&T in hand, and smile at the memories I made each year!
And of course I can’t ignore the travel goals I set myself each year. In 2018 I managed 14 of my 17 goals, which in my opinion is not to be sniffed at! The one I’m proudest of is managing to spend time abroad each calendar month of the year, something I’ve often attempted and only managed a handful of times. So without further ado, I present travels in 2018:
2018 began with an ominous start: a slightly suspicious London rooftop jacuzzi, a hammering New Year’s hangover and a broken boiler in midwinter. It swiftly improved as I waved my jet-setting mother off to complete one of my own travel goals before me, by sailing across the Atlantic. Retirement is looking good from where I’m sitting! I did escape London myself thanks to a brief work trip to Brussels, involving a sneaky gaufre au chocolat and a turn around the city’s beautiful old town. I also escaped my comfort zone by jumping into a freezing cold outdoor swimming pool to raise money for the homelessness charity Crisis. Brrrrrr… I also got stuck into the 4th month of my job in the UK Civil Service. I never write about my work in any detail on this blog, but for a little bit of context, I spent most of my waking hours in 2018 working on UK-EU relations, which should sufficiently explain what kept me busy! If you’re nosy and want a little more info on how I make a living, head over to my Linkedin.
My work travels also took me to sunny Madrid where my pangs to move abroad really developed into full-on heartbreak… I’m prone to exaggeration but here I do not lie. I missed not only the city of Madrid but also my lifestyle there (as I spent 6 months working there in 2014) and the ease with which I used to be able to explore different parts of Spain in my spare time. I arrived a day early specifically in order to experience the Hammam Al Andalus Arabic Baths – my idea of heaven – and for dinner with my Venezuelan friend Diego. I dragged my colleagues to all my favourite haunts, showing them the royal palace and cathedral, the major squares and of course: a ‘Lateral’ restaurant. Here’s my weekend guide to Madrid. The second part of the trip took us to Alicante, where we managed to squeeze in a tour of the surprisingly picturesque old town, guided by a locally-based colleague. I also attended a great hunt ball near Brackley, Northamptonshire with a great bunch of new friends.
Spring saw me travel back-and-forth a lot to Groningen, the Netherlands, for bits and pieces related to my Master’s: 7 times in total. It was a welcome break from work and a nice excuse to see the friends I made during my Master’s, but was physically exhausting to spend so much time in and out of planes and trains. I’m so grateful to my good friend Stefan for hosting me and to others who helped me survive the frankly gruelling travel schedule, often with less than 24 hours in the country before flying back on the return journey. I also spent a brilliantly sunny long weekend with my mother in Hamburg, Germany, courtesy of Hamburg’s tourist board. See my weekend guide to Hamburg here. On the home front, I spent Easter pacing the north coast of Cornwall with my father on 4 fantastic walks, I spent a few weekends in Wiltshire, Hampshire and Surrey and celebrated the wedding of my uni friend Anneliese in Buckinghamshire. I also watched the Oxford-Cambridge boat race in London for the very first time, and organised the hugely fascinating Exeter Alumnae reception.
We had a stunning summer here in the UK, so I almost needn’t have left… I celebrated friends’ hen parties in Bristol and birthdays in London, played lots of tennis and switched off my internet access for a whole 5 days on the south-west coast of France during my annual digital detox over my sister’s birthday. I honestly can’t rave enough about how good for the soul it is to dedicate a good number of days to zero-internet – I felt like I gained so much time in each day, better awareness of my surroundings and my state of mind, and rare peace and quiet. Utter bliss – try it. Having wide open sandy beaches on the Atlantic coast certainly helped with the peacefulness of it!
My favourite month of every year – as it has the best weather and my birthday sits right in the middle of it. It kicked off with a day at Henley Royal Regatta, before Shakespeare at Regent Park’s open-air theatre and a birthday weekend with my sister in Tallinn, Estonia, and Helsinki, Finland. I’d long wanted to visit a Baltic country after writing a Master’s paper on Estonia and to complete my tour of the Nordics with a visit to Finland, and neither country disappointed! Waterfront NOA restaurant on the outskirts of Tallinn was my favourite meal of the entire year, and island-hopping in Helsinki just made my month. It was the perfect way to start the last full year of my twenties (gulp) and I wrote this list of ’30 before 30’ items. I then flew to Provence in the south of France for the amazing wedding of my schoolfriend Louise, and from there headed over to Slovenia (via Venice & Trieste in Italy) with my friend Imy for a quick turn of Ljubljana, and hikes around Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled. You know the one – the postcard-perfect lake with the church-on-island in the centre. Oh and I jumped out of a plane! Slovenia also excitingly became my 60th country visited. It was altogether too exciting a month and I loved every second.
Alongside a day exploring Greenwich in London, a polo ball in Oxfordshire (I don’t play polo, I was a rogue gatecrasher), a weekend at home in Hampshire, and my friend Kath’s wedding in West Sussex, my main excitement of August was flying 11,500 km around the world to the Philippines for 3 weeks! Our itinerary involved surfing, wake-boarding, yoga and exploring Siargao; scuba-diving, canyoneering and whale-shark-swimming in Cebu; scootering around Bohol with two great Catalan chauffeurs; and a week in the paradise that is Palawan: kayaking , island-hopping and snorkelling around Coron and El Nido. We skipped Manila altogether and spent 3 weeks in and on the sea. It was the escapist trip I’d dreamt of all year and it was even better than I’d hoped: it was a relief to be so far from the stresses of work and European politics (Brexit is thankfully not a hot topic in the Filippino news); from the pressures of societal expectations; and the relentless pace of London life. We had notoriously bad internet during the whole trip so I practically gave up on communicating to the outside world and focused entirely on making the most of every minute. We flew back exhausted from so much fun and excitement, straight to our friend Michael’s 30th birthday weekend in my beloved Bosham in West Sussex. I rounded off September with some sunny yacht-racing from Cowes on the Isle of Wight hosted by my schoolfriend Teddy, with some paddle-boarding thrown in for good measure.
Back in London after the summer, I threw myself into my ’30 before 30’ list and started French classes; squash, boxing and barre classes; swam in Hampstead Heath bathing ponds; attended the premiere of ‘A Private War’ at London Film Festival and even spent a day in Plymouth, partly visiting the Naval Base there and partly doing careers outreach at the university to encourage students to apply for jobs in the Civil Service. The main excitement travel-wise was a long weekend road-trip around Transylvania in Romania with my mother, starting in Bucharest (you have to visit the mammoth Parliament Palace and the opulent Ceauşescu Mansion – two mind-boggling brainchildren of the corrupt former Communist leader) and heading to Brașov (for Dracula’s Bran Castle), to the medieval citadel of Sighisoara and cultural Sibiu. The endless castles and fortresses were all the more atmospheric as we’d timed our trip with Halloween and had the legend of Transylvanian Count Dracula in the back of our minds… Back in the UK, I spoke on a panel at the enormous travel expo, the World Travel Market, and ticked off a few more London-musts and ’30 before 30’ items with a visit to Christie’s auction house, Columbia Road Flower Market, a life-drawing class, breakfast in the House of Commons, the French Film Festival and a charity boxing match. Not to mention weekends in Surrey and on the West Sussex coast with uni friends.
This month in London screamed Christmas from day one: featuring no fewer than 4 carol services, 3 Christmas dinners, 2 boozy nights of singing at Winter Wonderland and Winterville, and 1 winter army ball at the HAC. Topping this all off were the Christmas Markets in beautiful Munich, Germany, with my friend Simon. As well as feasting on glühwein, sausages and crepes during our full tour of the city’s markets, we also explored the Residenz (the former royal palace), had a few too many cocktails with old work friends, and soaked up the festive feeling to the maximum. I spent Christmas itself in Hampshire this year with my family plus a Kiwi friend Jess who joined us as an honorary sister, before beginning a social tour of Hampshire and Nottinghamshire, seeing relatives and family friends, partying with schoolfriends, new friends, and even long-lost-living-in-Oz friends, before a New Year’s Eve escape to Cowes on the Isle of Wight with 14 of my favourite people. There’s something about leaving the mainland and travelling by sea to give you that unmistakable holiday feeling, even if it were only for 24 hours – I still adored it. And there was even a New Year’s Day swim in the sea!
And that thereby concludes my 2018 travels! There were lots of firsts, lots of big travel goals and dreams completed, and brilliant company at every step of the way. Alongside this I did my best to maintain my languages and improve my French (see my language-learning tips here), keep on top of work and manage the last few bits related to my (as yet unfinished) Master’s degree. The two main goals I didn’t complete were: visiting the Middle East, and visiting Mexico or Central America. When I wrote those travel goals back in January 2018, I’m not sure my brain had quite comprehended the limits imposed by a 26-day annual leave policy…
In some respects it felt like a very long year and I’m dying for the good weather of spring and summer to return. In other respects though it feels like the world has come full circle exceptionally fast and I can’t see that much difference between this New Year’s and the last one: 365 days on I still live in the same south-west London flat, I’m in the same job, commuting on the same bike, spending time with many of the same people as last year. So I like to reflect on what did actually change and what I did learn over the year.
What I learned in 2018:
- Jumping out of a plane is the most exhilarating thing in the world!! Do it, even if you have vertigo – you won’t regret it. Next up: bungee-jumping.
- I want to move abroad again. Badly.
- The English countryside is actually really pretty and I’d like to explore more of it. Not having a car would seem to be the biggest barrier to this, but I saw my fair share of counties in 2018 sans voiture so it’s not impossible.
- Français! Je suis très contente des progrès réalisés avec mon français en 2018.
- There are some seriously brave and inspiring people out there. Listening, reading and learning about them is incredibly motivating and helps me to refocus on my own goals. I interviewed two of said people, who have both (among other things) summited Mount Everest: Rupert Jones-Warner and Geordie Stewart. And don’t miss my mother’s great guest blog on her trans-Atlantic sail, which is a great read about isolating yourself from civilisation for over 3 weeks on a small yacht.
- How to stay young at heart when people around you are growing-up at the pace of lightning and you’re not ready to follow suit. One answer is to throw on a backpack and head halfway around the world, another is to expand your social circles and find like-minded friends, but the most important one is to recognise your individuality and identify what is really your dream and what is someone else’s dream. Just because someone else is following a path doesn’t mean you automatically have to follow that one too, and it takes strong self-understanding and acceptance to acknowledge that you don’t really want that path. I wrote more about this in my mid-year life update blog post. The older I get, the more I learn about what I personally want from life and what will make me individually happy. See Steve Biggs’ brilliant blog post along this theme here.
- I am too fussy. I feel like I dated 90% of London’s 28 – 33-year-old bachelors in 2018. I exaggerate, but I did spend a disproportionate amount of time perfecting first-date small talk; navigating all manner of bars, restaurants, theatres, galleries, army dinners and even horse shows (!) while attempting to be charming and engaging. The vast majority of these men weren’t quite what I’m looking for, but a number of those first dates did progress into notable meet-the-family territory and I had a lot of fun with a few of said gentlemen. But the year also taught me that perhaps I need to stop looking for absolute perfection and relax my ideal a tad.
- And a few things I really wish I had learned… how to stop procrastinating on things I need to do; how to better prioritise; how to focus on one or two really key goals instead of attempting everything; and (linked to that) how to be less hard on myself when I don’t achieve 100% of what I set out to do.
What were you main lessons of 2018? And did you travels in 2018 pan out more or less as you expected at the beginning of the year?
I love reading other bloggers’ annual recaps of their travels and love to hear how other people reflect and remember their year just past around the New Year. Please do send me any posts you’ve written or others’ you’ve enjoyed so I can have a read!