I feel like I say this every year, but as time moves on, the years seem to slip by faster than ever.
Looking back, 2018 was quite the rollercoaster. A topsy-turvy ride of new and incredible places and experiences with a healthy dose of chaos, confusion and lowlights thrown in for good measure.
It was a year spent almost entirely in Europe, returning to Spain for the sixth time, getting better acquainted with the Balkans and finally setting foot in the Caucasus after putting it off for years. It was a year of dealing with a break-up and finding my feet as a solo traveller once again. A year of hiking more than ever, spending some much-needed time in the sunshine after the dreariest winter imaginable and making the effort to travel better at every opportunity.
I saw the sunrise over century-old monasteries, historic castles and jagged mountain peaks. I hiked through thigh-deep snow, pitch black caves and juicy green fjords, past glaciers, ancient churches and mirror-like lakes. I stood atop the towering sea cliffs of the North Atlantic and was moved to tears by the beauty of the mountains of Georgia and northern Italy.
I swigged orchard fresh cider in Asturias and sampled grapes from the oldest wine region in the world. I gorged on snobby brunches, freshly caught seafood and traditional farm-to-table fare.
I got brain-freeze diving into the icy natural springs of the Albanian Alps and lost days splashing about in the aqua Ionion. I took the road less travelled and was constantly surprised.
I saw the snow melt away and the leaves unfurl from their winter hibernation, saw summer wash across the continent and burst to life in a fiery autumn palette, and as snow began to dust the mountains once again, I plotted my return to Australia and all the joys that a sun-drenched summer Christmas entail.
2018 was certainly a strange year, but it was a great one as well. This is the year that was, my favourite trips and the things you can expect to see more of in the year to come.
Raw, wild and windswept, the Faroe Islands are nothing short of spectacular.
In the final days of spring, the golden landscapes were doused in fresh snow and the landscapes transformed into an absurdly pretty snowglobe scene of snow-dusted gingerbread villages and untamed landscapes. After ticking off all the iconic spots on my first visit some two years ago, this second encounter was all about visiting the places that are often overlooked, like the dramatic southern isles of Suduroy and Sandoy and rugged landscapes that surround Fjallavatn, and generally just allowing time to press the pause button on the Faroese road trip and take time to explore on foot.
Despite its continued popularity on Instagram, this magnetic archipelago still has plenty of secrets up its sleeve.
I probably haven’t said this enough, but I just can’t get enough of Spain. Even after six visits, it still manages to be a wonderful surprise.
After the snow and bitter cold of the Faroes, a spring road trip through the Asturias region on the country’s north coast was the perfect antidote. Setting off from Santander, I wound along the rugged coastline of the Bay of Biscay, hiked the lush meadows and deep canyons of the Picos de Europa, supped crisp apple cider and devoured delicious seafood, and spent hours getting lost in the region’s charming old towns.
Absolutely one of the best decisions I made this year was to spend the summer in beautiful and wildly underrated Albania.
From losing days hiking the Accursed Mountains of the country’s north and whiling away afternoons beside the stunning Ionian Sea to wandering time-worn cobbled lanes of Ottoman-era towns and rediscovering the joy of travelling in a place that is yet to find a home on the often overcrowded European tourist trail, it was a fantastic choice for the summer.
Watching the first gleam of sunrise wash across rust-red rooftops of Meteora’s monasteries on their austere perches was one of my best moments of the year.
Despite the crowds and whether you’re religious or not, there’s just nowhere else like it.
Georgia is a place I’ve been dying to get to for years, and yet as each year trickled away it somehow never quite made the cut, until now.
My visit began with two weeks in lively Tbilisi, indulging on walnut stuffed eggplants, khinkali and khachapuri, before setting off for the delightful little village of Signagi in the heart of Georgia’s wine country. From there it was time to hit the mountains culminating in an unforgettable 4-day trek through the wild Svaneti region where glaciers were in abundance and forests blazed in autumn colours. I haven’t gotten around to putting these experiences into words just yet, but it was basically a dream trip and is definitely a place to get to sooner rather than later.
My visit to the Dolomites was ridiculously spontaneous but took me to some of the most exceptional scenery I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring.
Rugged peaks, autumnal tones and more hiking trails than you can shake a stick at made for an epic last-minute trip and I can’t wait to return.
For anyone who follows along on Instagram this one may come as a bit of a surprise, but for my very final week in Europe, when snow washed across the Tatras putting an end to my hiking adventures, I found myself with far more time up my sleeve than anticipated. And so, after pouring over maps and transport timetables, I found myself on an overnight bus to the bitterly cold streets of Berlin.
Berlin is a city I’ve said for years I’d love to go back to, but for whatever reason never quite made it. Having visited for a few days in my early twenties when enjoying the city’s legendary nightlife and lazing in parks to escape the summer heat wave took precedence over pretty much everything else, this visit was quite a different experience.
Now a few years on, my days were filled with gritty street art, communist architecture and museums that fueled my fascination of life behind the Wall. It was a trip that was purely indulgent that I didn’t share one smidge of online. I went and walked and saw and ate and learned and enjoyed and fell in love with the city all over again. It was a trip just for me, and it was perfect.
I’ve been back in Sydney for a little over a month now thoroughly enjoying the simple things of day-to-day life. Daily ocean swims, catching up with family and friends, the glorious Sydney summer weather, home-cooked meals and being able to grab clothes straight from the closet instead of rummaging around in a backpack and wondering when I last did laundry.
I leave for my first trip of the year tomorrow, a family trip to Tasmania, somewhere I can’t wait to explore, but after that, I’ve been careful not to add anything at all to the calendar.
With a new year comes a new slate, a chance to start afresh, chase those goals you didn’t quite reach and approach each day with a new direction and purpose. But as exciting as that clean slate is, I honestly find all the potential of the year ahead can also be slightly overwhelming.
So, instead of rushing to make plans before 2018 ran out, I made the decision to keep my next couple of months remarkably normal – banging away on my laptop and catching up on content from the last few months and following some other creative pursuits before diving into the immense and wonderful distraction of travel planning with a clear head.
If last year was the year of travelling Europe, this year will likely focus in large part on exploring more of the Asia Pacific, an incredibly diverse corner of the globe that I’ve barely set foot in. Between the jungles and idyllic islands, eclectic cities and ancient cultures, there’ll definitely be plenty of hiking adventures, road trips and city breaks thrown in, and I’m keen to get back to diving, a favourite pastime of mine during my previous travels.
Continuing on from the last two years, 2019 will also mean a bigger focus on travelling better, making more responsible choices as a priority, minimising my environmental footprint and being a little kinder to our big blue dot.
Each year seems to fly by faster than the last, but here’s to taking the time to slow down and enjoy the little things along the way. I can’t wait for what’s to come this year and to take you all with along for the ride.
As always, happy travels and may your year be full of epic adventures and incredible moments, near and far!