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Looking back on 2019: Travels, Milestones and Lessons Learned

Each year in late December I look back on the year that’s passed and I write a blog post that recaps my travels, goals and lessons learned. You can find the back catalogue of annual reviews from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 here. After an uninspiring and lacklustre year in 2018, I’m pleased to report that 2019 treated me infinitely better and I’m now looking back on the year with pride and not a single regret! So many aspects of life took a turn for the better last year and I was counting my lucky stars constantly.

Milestones in 2019

Alongside some brilliant trips, which I’ve done a shocking job of covering on this blog, there were plenty of other big personal milestones and achievements I couldn’t have foreseen at the start of the year: from changing jobs twice while writing my thesis, to finally graduating from my Master’s; from hiking up all Three Peaks of Great Britain, to turning 30 with a great big party; from launching my first podcast, to competing in a Nordic skiing race on my second day of the sport; from finishing “first lady” in a 5km running race, to training for and completing my first Olympic triathlon; from visiting my sixth continent, to completing an impressive 28 of my ’30 before 30′ list; from meeting and falling in love with my wonderful boyfriend, to deleting those awful dating apps.

This last point is something I don’t write about often, but I know people adore to read about dating, so I’ve a blog post in the works about travelling while single in your late 20s – watch out for that!

My Travel Goals and Blog in 2019

Before we dive into a month-by-month account of 2019 though, I must remember that most of you lovely readers are here for the travel, not the personal life, so let’s start with my sixteen Travel Goals for 2019. How did I do? Even on this front I had a surprisingly successful year as I completed 14 out of 16! My favourites of those sixteen were definitely the “firsts” and new experiences I had: bungee jumping, hot air ballooning, visiting the Middle East and Australasia, visiting Umbria and Vienna, confirming that it’s variety and novelty that makes me feel truly alive.

The only two goals I didn’t manage were:

  • Walking a long stretch of a trail: I did research walking the Via Francigena in central Italy but in the end felt that I was dedicating too much of my year to walking, having hiked lots in New Zealand and to the summits of both Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike, on top of walking the first few sections of the North Downs Way with friends. After the triathlon in particular, my legs just needed a rest, so a week-long hike didn’t really appeal! But I’d still like to do this one day.
  • Sailing: I desperately want to sail around the Aeolian islands off northern Sicily, but I ran out of annual leave and wasn’t organised enough to fit in some sailing in the Solent before the season ended.

I was less successful on the blogging front, publishing a grand total of 14 blog posts, which I consider fairly pathetic since I used to clock up two posts a week in the very beginning! Quality over quantity though, and I shouldn’t be too self-critical, as it was admittedly a busy year and I had plenty of other priorities on my plate. My three most-read blog posts of the year were:

  1. 20 Essential Travel Experiences to Do in Your 20s
  2. Turning 30, my pre-30 Travel Wishlist in review, and 6 Guiding Principles to Live By
  3. Where to Travel in 2019? My 25 top places to visit + my own travel plans for the year

I also launched a podcast called ‘A Journey Across Borders’, which was an exciting venture into a new medium, entailing a lot of trial and error. I myself spend so much more time listening to podcasts and audiobooks these days than reading off a screen, that it made sense to try it out for myself. It’s surprisingly easy in fact, so I’m planning on doing more in 2020 – watch this space. Do take a listen and send me your feedback please, to help me learn and improve for the next one!

Anyway, without further ado, I present my travels in 2019:

January:

2019 started on the Isle of Wight with a bracing swim in the sea to banish the champagne hangover (a good cure!) from the night before. This swim proved to be a premonition of the year to come, as my friends and I decided that day to enter the Jersey triathlon, featuring a sea swim! Further afield, the highlight of the month was returning to Mürren in the Swiss Alps for my second Inferno ski racing experience. This year I ambitiously attempted the “combination Inferno” involving the trio of Nordic skiing 3x around the village, a Giant Slalom race, (neither of which I proved very ept at to be honest!) and the world’s longest, hardest downhill ski race. Like my first Inferno in 2017, it was a seriously epic week of skiing, lots of friends old and new, and the buzz of a competition to keep us all on our toes!

February:

I spent most of February training for a half-marathon and conducting interviews for my thesis – not very blog-worthy past times! When I’m not travelling I live in Earlsfield, a great area in south-west London. To break up the hard work though, I walked the first stretch of the North Downs Way with friends. It’s a 156-mile-long footpath through Surrey to the Kent Coast at Dover, and is manageable in 1-day sections by train from London. I was also treated to a heavenly digital detox spa day at Careys Manor in the New Forest, Hampshire, by my dear mother and, like true millennials, my uni friends and I inaugurated our newly formed book club! We started with ‘Everything I Know About Love’ by Dolly Alderton, and since then have also read ‘The Italians’ by John Hooper, ‘Three Women’ by Lisa Taddeo and ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman. Our next book is ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris, which I’m listening to in French for some extra language practice. #LanguageGeek

March:

Kicking off with a long weekend in Cornwall near Polzeath with friends, we each dressed up for a murder mystery, we walked the coastline, peeked into David Cameron’s garden, and hopped on the boat to Padstow, and even swam in the sea to officially kick off my triathlon training! It was also in Cornwall that I started recording my podcast! Two weeks later I found myself walking nervously to the start line of the Jerusalem half-marathon with my friend Jess, which was the most tortuously hilly ordeal! Minus that agony, we loved exploring Israel, also visiting Tel Aviv and marvelling that two so radically cities can exist in same country as each other, let alone only a couple of hours apart! I also finished the first rotation of the Civil Service Fast Stream, leaving DExEU after 18 months working in Communications and Engagement. My last day coincided with the UK’s original departure date from the EU, so it was bizarre to leave the office surrounded by pro-Brexit protesters filling Westminster. This blog post recapped the first (hectic!) quarter of the year.

April:

Two busy weeks ensued: I started my next rotation at the Department for International Trade, working on trade sanctions, I somehow managed to finish all 21 of my thesis interviews (over 33 hours’ worth), and I was accepted into Putney Lawn Tennis Club! All of which happened just in time for me to board a flight to New Zealand for a 3.5 week adventure! I spent 2 weeks road tripping with my sister and housemate around New Zealand’s North Island: Auckland, Coromandel beaches and hiking the Tangariro Crossing. And South Island: cycling around Marlborough vineyards, Kaikoura, hiking at Lake Tekapo, Mt Cook and Roy’s Peak, exploring Te Anau lake and Milford Sound fjord, bungee jumping, jet boating and rafting in Queenstown, having 15 minutes of fame in Arrowtown! From there I completed the most amazing month by flying to Melbourne to continue the Australasian adventure…

May:

I visited my schoolfriend Imy in Melbourne for 4 days, exploring the Great Ocean Road, the city’s history, galleries and botanical gardens, before flying to Sydney to spend another 4 days with schoolfriend Phil and his then-fiancée Samantha in beautiful Manly. I drove to Blue Mountains and hiked solo for one of the few times in my life, I explored Sydney on foot in the rain, we ran from Rose Bay to Watson’s Bay, snorkelled from Manly Beach to Shelly beach, walked from Bondi to Coogee and I generally just soaked up the scene. I’ve never seen a more outdoorsy major city, with so much beach on its doorstep, and I now see why it attracts so many! Once back in the UK, I got stuck into my new job, the analysis for my thesis and my triathlon training.

June:

Back in London, I was thrilled to chair a One Young World panel event at the British Council, on the topic of Brexit’s impact on youth, and I loved an early birthday surprise at the penultimate day of Queens Club Tennis Championship. Outside of London I stuck mainly to the British Isles, flying to the Scottish Highlands to climb Ben Nevis with my mother, also hiking Cow Hill and the intense Ring of Steall, where we were caught in a freak storm and both struck by lightening! Next I headed to Jersey with schoolfriends for an Olympic Triathlon, hosted by two friends based in Jersey. Being my first triathlon, there had been a huge amount of preparation, effort and build-up so it felt like a major achievement to finish after 3 hours 6 minutes! I also hopped over to Brussels briefly for a work trip, a city I always love visiting.

July:

The month was full of extremes, with pure thesis hell on the one hand, and a huge amount of fun and celebration on the other! As well as a murder mystery and annual day out at Henley Royal Regatta, I turned 30 and threw my 30th birthday party in Surrey for 30 of my favourite people! After more than 12 months of organisation, pulling off the party and having such a fantastic evening was possibly the highlight of my entire year! It was followed by a country walk and pub lunch before dashing to my friend Phil’s fantastic wedding nearby at RHS Wisley. Shortly after all the fun, I was back to thesis hell as my August deadline loomed…

August:

I submitted the thesis and a three-year old weight miraculously lifted off my shoulders – I have never felt such utter relief and exhaustion in my entire life! And so commenced my delayed big summer of travels! I visited Rye in Kent for my friend Jess’ 30th birthday, spent a weekend with uni friends in London with barbecues and picnics on Reigate Hill, and I went hiking with my father in the stunningly sunny Lake District in order to complete my Three Peaks by summiting Scafell Pike! I was also whisked off to Umbria to meet my boyfriend’s family and had an unplanned digital detox, as my phone decided to finally die in Rome Airport! As well as our first stop in Todi, we also did a mini road trip through Perugia, Assisi, Spello and Spoleto!

September:

A week later I found myself in Ibiza with 14 other girls for my friend Annabelle’s 30th birthday, which I just adored, after 5 years of build-up, since I first added Ibiza to my wish list! We partied until 6am, recovered beside our gorgeous villa’s pool and the beach, did rooftop yoga, cycled around the island of Formentera, and ate the most incredible food. From there I flew to my mother’s house on the south-west coast of France for long days sunbathing, playing tennis, eating, reading and taking a well-earned break. Back in the UK, I attended my godfather’s memorial, spent time with family, explored Covent Garden in London and finished up my rotation in DIT. To finish off the month, my boyfriend and I flew to Nairobi for the start of the most incredible 11-day trip.

October:

After Nairobi we headed on safari in the Masai Mara: firstly at the Sarova Mara Camp and then at the out-of-this-world Cottar’s Camp. Cottar’s merits a whole post of its own as it was just so out-of-this-world. Alongside the general excitement of seeing lions and their cubs, elephants, cheetahs and even two leopards, we also had a surprise hot air balloon flight over the savannah at sunrise (!), sunset bubble baths on the terrace of our tent at Cottar’s, I went running in the wild with a Masai, and we finished with a walking safari and sundowners around a camp fire. We flew to idyllic Chale Island, off Diani Beach near Mombasa, for four days of doing exceptionally little: reading, relaxing, swimming, kayaking and playing Monopoly Deal. It was the slice of island retreat I’d hoped for in my travel goals at the start of 2019. I flew back to start my latest rotation of the Fast Stream that very same day, where I’m now working on Fisheries negotiations in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

November:

November’s highlight was undoubtedly graduating from my Master’s in the Netherlands with my whole family and boyfriend around me, after three years of hard work and perseverance through some very challenging times! I guided them around Groningen, and together we explored Amersfoort, Utrecht and the Kasteel de Haar. Closer to home I spent time in Hampshire, visiting the amazing cat cafe in Romsey, walking in the New Forest and along the Lymington coast. The Mountains on Stage film festival, with five short films about extreme skiing, climbing and mountain expeditions, also wowed me!

December:

As if I hadn’t had a good enough year to date, my boyfriend planned a surprise weekend away for us in Vienna! We sampled the gluhwein and delicacies of all the best Christmas markets, we listened to a festive classical concert in St Stephens Cathedral, and visited Habsburg palaces galore. In the UK I walked headed home to Hampshire for a 10-day Christmas break, including an ambitious 3.5-hour walk with my father in the South Downs. The year’s end drew me back to London for a brilliant house party with 13 friends in Marylebone. Et voilà – what a year!

__________________

What I learned in 2019:

  • Turning 30 is actually a doddle, if you prepare for it adequately – I’d spent an entire year gearing up for the thirties, that my birthday itself felt more like a celebration of my life to date, than a mournful goodbye to my twenties. I actually found my 29th birthday more stressful than my 30th, as it signalled to me the fleeting nature of youth and the ticking clock on all my pre-30 to-do lists. I know not everyone likes their 30th birthday and some even stop celebrating birthdays altogether after 30, but could that be because they’re in denial rather than looking it in the face and coming to terms with it in advance? I’m loving 30 so far.
  • I’m addicted to to-do lists and I have to work to a deadline, even if self-imposed – Setting myself pre-30 to-do lists and a travel wishlist really focussed the mind and I achieved the most as the deadline loomed. This worked equally well with my circa 70 personal New Year’s Resolutions, which I really sped through as 2019 came to a close. I do sometimes get frustrated with life feeling over-structured and micro-managed, but it does force me to get stuff done and I love that feeling!
  • When you hit the lowest of lows, then what’s waiting around the corner can only be better. Just hold on in there until the corner arrives – For me this was my thesis-writing marathon over summer, 6 weeks of pure, sustained hell while I bashed out 111 pages of analysis on the impact of Brexit on EU27 citizens’ identity and decision-making, alongside my full-time job. I averaged 4.5 hours of sleep most nights, staying in the office until midnight and beyond, cancelling my social life, abandoning fitness, hating every single minute. But the hell did eventually end, and it allowed me to finally graduate in November, so I can now move on to the next chapter of my life without lingering regrets about a challenge I attempted then abandoned. So no matter how hard or grim things may seem, they can only get better around the corner! A small habit I learned somewhere to banish self-doubt and low moments is to say “I can” three times out loud (perhaps best in private), it’s surprisingly effective.
  • Humans really do have 9 lives, and I can survive being struck by lightening! – No joke, read all about that miracle here.
  • That I am not suited to Nordic skiing or long-distance sea swimming – Both of which were lessons discovered the hard way during actual races! They were both elements of different tri-sport competitions: the Inferno combination ski race and the Jersey triathlon, so I was relieved to survive and complete both unhurt, but I do not intend to try them again!
  • People treat you differently (and mostly better) when you’re in a relationship, compared to being single – This lesson may only apply to girls in their late 20s, I’m not sure, and it’s more of an observation that I’d suspected for a while… I don’t believe it’s intended with any malice, but even in 2019 I still felt a stigma around being a single girl in her late 20s, and I really noticed it disappearing once I found a boyfriend. I’m trying my best not to perpetuate that stigma towards others now that I myself am not single, as it serves no positive purpose whatsoever. It can have a profoundly negative impact on girls’ self-esteem and I believe there needs to be more awareness and dialogue about how people in relationships act towards single people (particularly girls, although I’d be keen to hear a man’s perspective too).
  • All decent parties have a game or two – I’ve been official Games Master as the last four New Year’s Eves and I revel in my responsibility to keep everyone entertained and make laughter the soundtrack of the night. I’m not talking about the board game variety, but the singing, dancing, acting kind: the games that get people on their feet, adopting funny accents, different personas and even full-on costume! My favourite game played this year was a Cornish beach contest of Giants, Wizards and Dwarfs, which I first learnt in Nepal. For a more side-splitting affair, murder mysteries were my game of 2019: I had no fewer than three! In the first I was a naughty police officer in Cornwall, in the second I was a French chef in a Swiss ski resort (available here), and the third was at my 30th birthday. I hired four professional actors from Smoke & Mirrors to run a murder mystery for 30 of us – it was both hilarious and utterly impossible to guess.

I adore writing these annual reflections on my travels and personal milestones through the year. Especially since I found far less time to document my travels on this blog in 2019, this annual recap is at least some sort of substitute. I also love the back catalogue of annual reviews that I’m building up – they make for a lovely read each year and a record of how far I’ve come, and how my travel tastes, goals, and even myself are evolving over the years.

I believe it’s important to take stock of the chapter that’s finished, before throwing ourselves head first into the next one, with all the energy and enthusiasm that the fresh start and new decade deserve! My look ahead to 2020 is coming in a another blog post soon, so look out for that.

In the meantime, I’d love to know: how was your 2019? Where did you love travelling to most, and what big moments did the year hold for you? What were your big lessons learned?

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