It’s been an odd twelve months.
I knew this year would involve a lot of travel, but I didn’t count on quite so much. This time last year, I was mainly blogging for my friends and family; now, I feel like I’m writing for a much bigger audience. And three continents and ten countries later, I’m planning my extensive trip to South America in February next year, and viewing it in a totally different light to my six months in Asia.
Thinking back to January feels so long ago that I decided to revisit where I’ve been over the last year, in preparation for the next one. Here goes…
January – watching the snow in London, England
In amongst the chills of a true London winter, I made the final arrangements for my travels to Asia. After six months of interning, I finally faced up to the fact that being in an office was making me unhappy, and I needed to chase the two things I was most passionate about: travelling, and writing.
So I spent some quality time with my cat, packed my backpack, dutifully put up with the snow postponing my flight out of Heathrow, and eventually headed off to Asia.
February – bathing with elephants in Chitwan, Nepal
My month in Nepal was an eye opener like no other. Within a few weeks I completed a bucket list dream and rode an elephant through the jungle, became a female Pied Piper while leading a group of Kathmandu orphans to their school each day, and perfected my skills at washing my hair in freezing water with nothing but a bucket.
I also began my intimate four week long hate-hate relationship with what’s known as Delhi Belly, and became a leading contributor to never ending conversations about it. (Seriously – ask me anything. I’ve seen and endured all there is to see and endure, and much more besides…)
March – eating birthday cake in Mandu, India
I left Nepal, still downing sachets of Dioralyte powder in bottled water, flew to Mumbai, and began to discover the wonderfully unique joys of everything Indian, from throwing paint at locals as part of the infamous Holi festival, to being propositioned by priests and chopping all my hair off on a whim. As you do.
One of the craziest days? My birthday in Mandu, which involved half my friends being struck down by Delhi Belly, a luminous pink cake that travelled 50km on its own private minibus, a tribal wedding fair complete with drums, crazy drunk locals and a photo for the local paper where we posed holding water pistols.
April – befriending babies at Mysore market, India
Heading to the south of India was like going to a different country altogether. The landscape changed, as did the language, the food and the attitude of the people around us.
In amongst the dosas, the beaches, the fruit markets, and the adorable babies I was often gifted with for large amounts of time on various trains, I discovered what I looked like in a sari and managed to get my legs threaded on the beach. And yes, it is exactly as painful as it sounds.
May – working in music events in Chandigarh, India
In probably one of the more surreal months I’ve spent during my travels, I somehow found myself working in the Indian events sector for six weeks in the heart of Punjab.
Apart from other more normal experiences, I had a photoshoot in a local park, numerous interviews with local Indian papers, became a social media consultant and lived in a four star hotel for a few days. Oh, there was also the week I spent living with a Bollywood celebrity on his island, complete with pet camels. No biggie.
June – dancing at a friend’s village wedding in the Himalayas
After a few relaxing weeks spent in Dharamsala, practicing yoga and drinking numerous cups of chai and ginger, lemon & honey, I made the trek up into the mountains to the village of an Indian friend I made at my job in Chandigarh.
Neelam’s wedding was an incredible contrast of all night partying, wild dancing and a huge emphasis on religion and tradition, and I’m so thankful I was able to be a part of it. Not least because the distinct lack of any other Westerners in the area made me appear like a total celebrity, which was an adventure in itself!
July – teaching English in Nong Weang, Thailand
I finally ended my love affair with India and flew off to Thailand, eager to discover what South East Asia was all about. Within moments of landing I was amazed by the cleanliness and friendliness of the place; sadly I also realised just how touristy it is, too – at least in comparison to India.
I travelled through the north of the country and explored some , but the time I spent volunteering at a permaculture farm and teaching the village children English for a few weeks was definitely the highlight of my Thailand time.
August - drinking with friends in Brescia, Italy
Getting back to England after six months away was a huge shock to my system – so much so, in fact, that I immediately booked a flight to Italy and went to stay with a friend I’d met in India, who lives in a beautiful old Italian villa.
Our Swedish partner in crime also flew out to join us, and we joyfully ate a ridiculous amount of food, practically inhaled various tubs of gelato, and reminisced about our adventures in Rajasthan while drinking a lot of wine, and subsequently got hangovers and brain freezes. It was wonderful, and the perfect antidote to the fear I felt at returning to Europe.
September - attending the blog house in Besalu, Spain
The month of the conferences. Or, the time when I couldn’t remember not having had travel bloggers in my life. In September, I managed to attend two travel blogging conferences – TBU in Porto, Portugal, and TBEX in Girona, Spain – as well as taking part in the first ever Blog House in Besalu, with a group of the most amazing people.
I learnt so much about blogging, social media, the importance of interacting with your audience and your fellow bloggers, and above all, the possibility that travel blogging could actually be something more than just a hobby. I had my first experience of heading out on blog trips, where I ate seven course meals, rode in beautiful boats and got splashed in kayaks, sampled local beers, Portuguese blood rice and way too much port, and fell slightly in love with a multi-lingual Catalan chef.
After the conferences were over, I took ten days respite and went to Malta with my dad. We explored the island and neighbouring Gozo, as well as searching for his old army base, when he served on Malta fifty years ago (the post on this is still to come!).
October - live music at Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavik
No sooner had I got back from the conferences than I was off again – to Iceland, and a music festival called Iceland Airwaves. I volunteered behind the scenes last year, so this time I decided to simply enjoy it, relax and have fun without the need to put in serious hours guarding a backstage fire door.
Because of all the lessons I learned at the conferences, I also successfully managed to sort out my first two sponsored trips while in Iceland; first heading out into the Icelandic countryside to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, and then snorkelling the ice cold waters of the Silfra Rift.
November – wandering the souks in Marrakech, Morocco
Fresh off the plane from Iceland and with a head full of cold, I made my way to Excel for World Travel Market’s final few days. I was also on antibiotics so I couldn’t drink, meaning I had the interesting challenge of socialising with my dear fellow bloggers as the one sober person in a sea of inebriation.
With a turnaround of just a few days I left for Morocco – Marrakech specifically – on a press trip with Club Med, writing for the travel site TravMonkey. I loved the souks so much that I hung back from our group at every turn, desperate to capture just one more perfectly glorious photo of leather shoes, spices, silver jewellery and the incredible faces of the Moroccan people. Sadly, my three days in Morocco were nowhere near long enough so I’ll be making moves in the near future to get back and explore the country properly.
December - celebrating a very English Christmas in London
Back in England again, I decided to lay low – finally! – and caught up on a lot of work in my cosy bedroom, with a warm cat for company who constantly required affection, thus providing me with the requisite amount of work breaks.
I settled back into something resembling my old lifestyle in December. I started work on my fifth tattoo at a famous parlour in London, volunteered with the homeless at Crisis at Christmas for a fourth year, and hung out with old friends, drinking coffee, eating cake and wandering through London’s Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
But the travel bug has lain dormant for a few weeks too long, and it’s time to get started again. So here’s what’s happening in my life next.
Future travels for 2013
After such a good year, it’s prime time to capitalise on all the trips I’ve completed over the past twelve months – which means that next year is going to be even more full of travelling adventures!
And it starts right now. I’ve been invited to spend New Year in Scotland, celebrating Hogmanay in Edinburgh with a group of bloggers from around the world. With torchlit parades, dog shows, ceilidh dances, whisky tastings, and music concerts continuing long into the night, #Blogmanay promises to be one of the most exciting New Year’s celebrations I’ve ever experienced!