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Another year, another roundup!
I started these roundup posts in 2015 and although as I was writing it in a hostel bunkbed hungover in Bangkok I knew that hardly anyone would read it, I wanted to capture what an amazing year travelling I’d had.
But I also remember thinking that I wish I could be one of those bloggers who had lots of old roundup posts, showing just how long they’ve been blogging for. Well, 4 years later and not only do I have 5 roundup posts, blogging is now my job… woah!
2019 was by far my best year for travel because I spent 10 months of the year in Asia, and oh how I love Asia!
I visited 13 countries, 6 of which were new countries and went back to 3 this year twice. (I think!)
I’m about to close my laptop for 2 days for Christmas and then start my 2020 travels early (more on those below). So here are 10 of my highlights from 2019 in no particular order except for number 1, and as I was writing them I realised they are all dreams come true… hence the title!
1 – Putting my India Tours on Sale
Running tours had been on my mind for a few years, way before bloggers and ‘influencers’ started running them in the last 1-2 years but my desire to do them increased even more as I started to see more and more people organise them.
At first, and even this time last year, I was put off by how much admin and technicality goes into running tours, for example, I couldn’t have all the money go into my bank account for tax reasons and I didn’t want to book everything individually myself, but one day it clicked.. work with a company in India!
So I reached out to India Someday and it’s been a fairly simple process since then which shows me this is the right path.
I was over the moon when my first tour sold out, so I released a second tour, and although that hasn’t sold out, it is 3/4 full which I’m still so proud of and I cannot wait to show these women India in 2020!
Am I scared? Yes.
But a lot of 2019 for me, has been about noticing the fear, realising the fear and choosing love instead, not fear.
And that’s pretty much how I’ve been able to set this up and why I took the jump and made the risk to see if I could do it.
And let me tell you that I do not intend for this to be the first and last tours.. I have big plans! (more on that below too!)
2 – Working with STA and Contiki
In February I spent 3 weeks in Thailand on 2 Contiki Tours as a press trip organised by STA Travel.
I always say that Thailand is my favourite country. Thailand was the first Asian country I went to on my backpacking trip in 2011, on my own, before going to Australia, and every time I’ve been back it’s offered me something else, in fact, this was my 7th time back!
Essentially, being sent to Thailand- my favourite country for 3 weeks with everything covered, working with 2 of the biggest companies in the travel industry, seeing a new side of the country on these tours, and meeting some amazing people was a big ‘pinch me’ moment and highlight of my year when I look back.
3 – Going on a Backpacking Trip to China
Another ‘pinch me’ moment and a place that had been on my bucket list for a few years was China. I’d never been interested in travelling China alone, I had always wanted to go on a tour as I knew it would be much easier.
I heard about The Dragon Trip, reached out to them to see if I could work with them, they said yes straight away. So a few weeks later I was in China, on a tour with them, which was also completely covered, all because of my blog that I do work so hard on!
In addition to this, China totally surprised me and travelling with the same people for 3 weeks reminded me what a special bond going on group tours provides and this was a big catalyst for me knowing that I had to arrange my own tours and provide this bond to other people.
4 – Travelling Pakistan with no Plan
Along with India, I had wanted to visit Pakistan for years, why? I have no idea. I think because it had, and still does have, a fear around it. Until recently the visa was hard to get and compared to India hardly anyone visits and I always wondered why and what was there.
I had planned to go in August, which I then pushed to September, and then I nearly let fear override me going in September. The fear of not knowing what was there, how I’d get around and going on my own.
But as it happened, Travel Tom Tom was set to travel Pakistan in September too and after a few messages, I decided that I couldn’t miss this opportunity to go there and go there with someone. Especially someone I had followed online for so so long! I’ve literally been following Tom on Instagram since 2014 ha!
We had no plan for the entire trip and winged pretty much all of it and it was the best! It was like travelling a few years back with limited internet and turning up to places with no accommodation booked.
Not only did this country surprise me by its landscape, people and customs, it also reignited my love for ‘less visited’ countries and really gave me inspiration, motivation and above all, the confidence to visit more countries like this!
5 – Living in Gili T
When your best friend of 5 years lives on a tropical island in Indonesia, you have to visit right?!
So after a few months of travel and with a craving to stay in one place, get a routine and work, I gave myself 2 months to spend in Indonesia.
This little island of Gili T, where I’m writing this now, has become so familiar to me and I’m so thankful for it. I’m thankful for the people I’ve met, the friendless of the people, the sunshine, the cheap internet, the smoothie bowls, and the knowing that I can come back here anytime in the future and fit back into this little bubble.
If things get tough, or even if they don’t, this is where I’m coming back to!
6 – Travelling Taiwan, Japan, China & South Korea
Taiwan, Japan and South Korea are 3 more countries I’d wanted to visit for years. I remember back when I was living in London and thinking about future trips, I thought how amazing it would be to spend a few weeks travelling Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and China altogether. After all, it makes sense to see them altogether location wise.
But thinking about this trip in London seemed partly unrealistic due to how expensive the trip could be and getting time off work to see them all and see them properly.
However, this year I spent the good part of 2 months in this area of Asia travelling all 4 countries together which was literally a dream come true!
What was even more dreamy was being paid to go back to Japan in October and then going back to Taiwan for 2 weeks, because I could!
Did I mention this year has been epic?
7 – Being Paid to go to the Caribbean
Talking of epic trips and being paid, I didn’t do many press trips this year, at least not as many as other bloggers do and did, but if I’m honest, that suited me just fine as I like to travel by myself and super organised press trips are not always as fun as they make out to be online.
However, being invited to spend 1 week in the Caribbean, in a country I hadn’t even heard of before going, and being paid to go, was incredible.
Not only was I with 5 amazing and inspiring creators, the island of Dominica surprised me with how wild and beautiful it was. Our itinerary showed us far more than I could have ever seen on my own and although that makes for an unrealistic trip for others to follow, I lapped it all up and was grateful for the incredibly unique opportunity to see the nature island of the Caribbean!
8 – Spending 2 Summer Weeks in Italy
Being able to spend the winter in Asia and summer in Europe is pretty much the dream right?
Flying from the UK to Italy to spend 2 weeks in Northern Italy and the Dolomites with a few hundred amazing and creative people, not needing to worry about time off work, or the money I was spending, was another huge ‘pinch me’ moment and made me feel so free.
This, along with going home for the summer and not needing to think about getting a job at home was when it really hit me that blogging is my job and that I want to continue doing this.
9 – Earning how much I did this Summer
Not a travel highlight but certainly a life highlight. The summer of 2019 marked one year since I quit my job to travel and blog full time. I wrote a very long, detailed and honest post of how the first year went and I was honest in saying that although I did make money in year 1, I also spent money from my savings and didn’t break even.
Earnings wise, I had a winter slump, which picked up in the spring and then really picked up in the summer with numerous small projects and campaigns coming in that all added up, and an increase in my ad and affiliate income.
This meant that for 3 months this summer I consistently earnt more than I did in my job in London that I’d left the year before.
Come Autumn it did decrease but I’m still earning a lot more than last year which gives me continued hope and knowing that I can sustain this career and life.
10 – Leaving the UK
Finally, although I enjoyed being home for 2 months in the summer and I got to do the epic trips to Italy and Dominica. A big realisation I had is that the UK and my ‘home’ at my mums, is not my home anymore.
I went home to work and catch up on blog posts, videos and updating my blog in other ways, and the fact that I didn’t have to spend much money at home on living costs made the situation work well for me but it also reminded me not to plan to spend that much time there in the future.
I left the UK and went straight to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka overall was not a highlight for me, I didn’t vibe with it at all but after one week of being there, I went to an ecstatic dance class and around a fire whilst drinking Cacao we had to say what we were grateful for.
I said that I was grateful for being here, because right now, being in a foreign place, travelling again, with people I don’t know, doing things that push me, feels more at home than being at home had the last 2 months and it was another realisation that my life is now travelling, which is the dream I had had for such a long time.
That doesn’t mean I won’t go home in 2020 but it means I won’t plan to spend too long there and will instead treat it as more of a holiday, which isn’t bad!
So, what does 2020 hold? Well, A LOT OF TRAVEL, is the answer!
First off, I’m setting myself a little (or kinda big) challenge to visit 20 new countries in 2020! So we’ll see how that goes, but seen as I’ll be bringing in the new year in Kuwait, flying to Saudi Arabia on 1st January and then I have from Mid March until September totally free with the Middle East and Central Asia on my radar, and I’ll be heading to Africa properly for the first time at the end of the year, I think that’s possible.
Side note – Looking back at my 2015 roundup, I realise I visited 20 new countries in 2015, so maybe it’s not that impossible after all!
Secondly, I cannot wait to run my 2 tours to India in January & March and spend a good amount of time back in India.. I have a serious connection with that country! (There’s still 4 places left on the march tour which is on sale until 3rd Jan if you are interested in joining!)
A little early-reveal is that I’m organising a 2 week trip to Pakistan in September 2020 which will be a mixed trip for men & women. More details coming on that very soon with the most incredible itinerary!
I’ll also be co-hosting a trip with a difference to a country in Africa in October 2020 which I’m so excited for and will be sharing more details on that soon too!
But above all, I want 2020 to be about connection.
I want it to be less about travelling by myself and more travelling with people, whether that’s other travellers or locals.
I want it to be less about the ‘top tourist attractions’ and more about seeing the real and raw side of countries.
I want it to be about showing you countries that you might not have thought of going to, and sides of countries that differ from what the media tell you.
I want it to continue being about gratitude, choosing love over fear, and a whole lot of fun!
If you’ve read all of this, thank you so so so much! Your support on my blog, on social media, and in real life means the world to me! I’m grateful for everyone who follows, likes, comments and shares my content and my words and I wish you all the best for 2020 too!