Well, it’s getting towards that time of year when I put on a pair of cozy slippers, change into a dressing gown, sink into an armchair and assess how my travel year has turned out.
Yup, there’s no denying it – 2018 has been my best travel year ever. Although I’m not in the realms of full-time travel… yet… but I’ve been to four new countries, as well as paid a visit to my beloved Italy, and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. Horizons have been broadened, doors opened. I have a fiercer-than-ever desire to visit new countries, try new foods, push the boundaries of my travel experience. I’m increasingly looking further afield, and at adventures that I never would’ve felt possible for me to do. This is all rather exciting.
And, rather helpfully, I think I’ve finally put an end to my fear of flying, and the airport anxiety I used to get.
How have I done this? Well, let’s look my travel year in a bit of detail!
Travel Year 2018: The destinations
My travel wish-list for 2018 started simply, and got a bit more ambitious. The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Russia. So how many of those did I actually achieve?
Amsterdam was the perfect place to kick off my travel year, but when I look back at it, I’ve come soooo far from the traveller I am now. I was terrified of my 30-minute flight. I was unorganized – I was still fumbling to put fluids in plastic bags at airports. On arrival in Amsterdam, I realized I didn’t know how to turn on data roaming on my phone in order to navigate us to the hotel. This in turn led to us getting ripped off for a taxi fare, leading to us being short of money, leading to us having dinner from a gas station. I freaked out when my hot dog (I was too scared to try Dutch food) had an unknown sauce on it (which turned out to be mayonnaise).
But! Amsterdam itself is beautiful, and the locals incredibly friendly despite the deluge of tourists clogging – no pun intended – up their city. It was an ideal start to the travel year, simply because it’s so user-friendly. Amsterdam is a perfect place for the wannabe traveller to cut their teeth and experience life on the road, whilst still having that lovely safety net around you.
Heading to Amsterdam? Have a look at my guide to Amsterdam’s best photography spots!
Germany was a country I immediately fell in love with, despite some absolute confusion about which train to catch on arrival in Munich (teaching me a vital lesson about the importance of public transport apps. Seriously, they’re awesome). But this was just one of the important things that I learnt in Germany.
The first was to embrace the local food, rather than to be wary of it, as I had been in Amsterdam. It sounds so stupid now, but I’d always worried that eating unfamiliar food would make me ill: I would have an unwanted and unknown intolerance to foods which were exactly the same as I ate back home, just prepared a different way. Yes, I know that it makes absolutely no logical sense. But I’ve learnt my lesson, I know better now. And holy cow, Germany has AMAZING food. More on this later.
Germany also taught me that yes, you can be more independent with your travel. As well as organizing my own day trip to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, it was my first experience backpacking, and travelling from one country to another. I LOVED this, the feeling of being able to just pick up my pack, and head for another country. It’s definitely something I’m going to do more in future.
Going to Germany? Have a look at my guide to spending one day in Munich!
And that backpacking lead me to…
My boyfriend and I picked up our packs, hopped on a train to Salzburg, and watched the world go by (well I did; he fell asleep on my shoulder in an adorable manner). Salzburg felt like the place where I became good at this travel lark: I navigated us to our hotel with no problems, sampled all the local food with not a care in the world, and fully made the most of my time there. That’s important in itself – an experience like that really does give you the confidence that you’re a proper traveller. And that goes for if you have anxiety or not. Once you’ve got that confidence, everything falls into place a bit better.
And Salzburg is wonderful! Don’t miss this gorgeous town if you’re heading to Austria; it’s not the Sound of Music tourist trap (or tourist Von Trapp, hurhur) that you might expect it to be. I’ve never seen The Sound of Music all the way through, because I’m a total heretic, and if it’s not your thing then you’ll barely even notice the connection. Salzburg is a perfect slice of classy Alpine life, with far more attractions than its small size might suggest. I thoroughly loved it!
Tempted by some Austrian travel? Check out my 2-day Salzburg itinerary here!
Italy, and specifically the Naples/Amalfi Coast region, is a big comfort blanket of a destination. I’ve been there five times now, and… I think I’ve done it all now. I love it there, I really do: it feels like a second home. But if my travel year has taught me anything, it’s that I really enjoy exploring new places.
I’ve come to the conclusion that revisiting places you love is brilliant, but I’m going to limit myself to visit places twice only, unless there’s something earth-shattering going on or I’ve missed something I desperately want to see. The Amalfi Coast is totally my go-to place for relaxing, and if I want a trip for pure relaxation, it’ll feature high on my list. It’s also taken me five trips there to feel like I’ve seen everything, which is impressive in itself – how many places can you say that about? It’s purely that there’s a lot of world that I want to see.
But I still pushed myself on this trip. I visited Ischia for the first time; something I’d previously put off because there’s limited ferries there and back, and I was worried that I’d miss them. I not only caught the ferry and got back with no problems, but I did it all solo too. Another valuable experience!
So I might not go back to the area for a while, but it gives me inspiration to write some awesome Amalfi Coast itineraries for you all – I have the knowledge of the area, and how to make the most of your time there. So look out for those!
Going to Italy? Have a look at the best souvenirs to buy in the Amalfi Coast!
Okay, this is the one fail on my travel year. Because it didn’t happen.
Basically, the political climate got the better of my boyfriend and I. We’d been planning to visit St Petersburg for his birthday, but at the time we were looking at it, there were tensions between the UK and Russia that made us think twice. Did we think we’d have any problem with normal Russian people? No, absolutely not; people are people, and generally decent everywhere. Did we think we might have a might more trouble with visas, or hassle with immigration at the airport? Quite possibly.
So the plan changed. First it was going to travelling by bus through the Baltic states, then it was Romania, then it was a return to Germany and seeing Nuremberg and Munich again. And I have no doubt we’ll do all of those places (and Russia! Absolutely want to visit there, now that things are calmer), but we ended up going to…
Considering that Prague was an absolute last-minute decision (booked a mere two weeks before we departed), we absolutely fell in love with Prague. After the first full day, I felt tearful at the thought of having to leave. Prague got me bad.
I’m not surprised by this: we were there at a quieter time of year, therefore avoiding the crowds of stag and hen parties, and the whole place is delightfully quirky. Add some beautiful scenery and friendly locals, and it was bound to come in high on my travel list!
But again, Prague was confirmation of how far I’ve come this year. It was booked at short notice, something which would’ve previously filled me with horror. I got us to our hotel with no problems, despite having to deal (for the first time) with a language which was nothing like the two languages I speak. I threw myself into sampling as much of the food as possible, and realized that trying new dishes has become a large source of pleasure when travelling. And in a beautiful piece of symmetry, we got ripped off for a taxi fare on the way back to the airport, but we can overlook that, right?
Take a look at my guide to unusual things to do in Prague, and see how many you’d do!
Travel Year 2018: New foods and experiences
As I said above, 2018 was the year that I went from being scared of trying new foods, to suddenly devouring everything in my path like some kind of Marvel villain. This is genuinely one of my favourite things from my travel year, because I didn’t even realize just how bad my anxiety was in connection to food. And now it has been defeated; mwahaha!
If anyone is suffering from the same thing, specifically if you’re from the UK/USA, I highly recommend Germany and Austria as destinations. The food is similar to what we’re used to whilst being slightly different, and trying the dishes there gave me the confidence to get ever more adventurous. In Prague, I was ordering dishes with not a great idea of what to expect, and it paid off in spades. I’m looking forward to going further afield in 2019, and pushing the food boundaries even further!
So if you want to follow in my footsteps, or just make yourself really hungry, check out the below, and expect more of the same next year!
To add, I enjoyed German food so much that I went looking for it at home. So if you’re visiting the UK and want to see what I mean, check out my guide to the best German food in London!
Travel Year 2018: The most useful travel tools
I don’t mind admitting that my travel year would’ve been considerably more anxious and stressed if it wasn’t for some really useful travel tools and apps.
First up was one that busted my fear of flying. SkyGuru is an app of absolute genius, and I wish I’d found it sooner. At the start of the year, I was tearful about getting on a thirty-minute flight to Amsterdam, and panicked at every random noise the plane made, convinced that I was moments from the brace position. At the end of the year, I was flying back from Prague in a plane which was being thrown around by strong winds, in a tail section which was bouncing so badly that my head was almost banging against the window. And I barely batted an eyelid.
Having a fear of flying cured by a phone app may sound unrealistic, but trust me – it really does work. Check out my SkyGuru review here!
These two apps are very similar in function, and both have their own pros and cons. Moovit covers more locations, but has an issue if you want to travel from one region to another. Citymapper features less destinations, but is beautifully user-friendly. Until my dreams come true, and the two apps merge together in blissful union, I’ve taken to using Moovit in collaboration with Rome2Rio. All three are available on your phone, and should be an essential for travellers!
2018 is the year that TripAdvisor got more useful than ever. I’ll be covering it in a more in-depth review, but both the phone app and the web page are better than they’ve ever been! You can now share travel advice, and follow others for their stories, and it’s brilliant. Plus it’s got the same essential hotel reviews that you know and love; there’s no reason not to have it on your phone.
TripIt was the discovery for me this year. It’s a work of absolute brilliance – it keeps your travel plans organised and handy. It provides you with airport maps for easy navigation. The number of your baggage carousel will be pinged to your phone before you even step off the plane. It’ll even tell you how safe the area around your hotel is, tell you where to find an ATM or a good meal, and navigate you back to your hotel if you get lost. It’s simply indispensable. Have a read of my TripIt Pro review here, and see what you’re missing!
I’ve also complied a travel anxiety packing list, and I’m truly proud of it – if you suffer from any kind of travel worry, stress, or anxiety, the items I’ve listed will genuinely make your life better. I should know; I’ve tried them! In 2019, I’ll be as committed as ever to trying out products, and recommending the best ones to you.
Travel Year 2019: What’s coming up!
In addition to the trips I’ve taken this year, I’ve also been busy booking a couple for the start of next year!
2019 will hardly have started when I take another trip to Prague. As I said above, I’m increasingly less keen on returning to places I’ve already been, but Prague has so much to offer that I’d genuinely feel regretful if I didn’t take another trip there.
It’s going to be cold. I don’t deal well with the cold. But I’m quite looking forward to pushing that particular boundary.
A month after Prague, I’ll be heading to a very familiar country, but a city I’ve never been to. Yes, in all my years of visiting Italy, I’ve never been to Florence. But my trip there is booked, and I can’t wait to go! I’m looking forward to seeing how it measures up against the rest of the country, after my repeat visits to Naples, Rome and Venice. Will I fall in love like everyone else, or will the hordes of tourists put me off?
After that, everything’s a little more mysterious. I’ve got a list of European destinations I want to visit, including Norway, Iceland, Romania, the Balkans and the Baltics, and Hungary. Which ones will I get to? I guess I’ll see.
I also want to do something I haven’t done in ten years, and visit another continent. Specifically, Africa or Asia. So hopefully there’ll be some exciting news to follow…
And the cherry on my 2018 travel cake…
Right in the last month of 2018, I achieved a little step which had been on my ambition list for a while – I was featured on Lonely Planet’s Best of November list.
You can’t do travel writing and not want to be acknowledged by Lonely Planet. They are my constant travel bible companions. I have a bookcase which is full of little blue books, as well as the glossy hardcovers, for travel inspiration. I have wanted to write something for Lonely Planet ever since I took my first flight as a kiddo. The email announcing that I was one of the month’s best was accompanied by a lot of ecstatic squealing.
So, my ambition for 2019 is to take things a little further, use the inspiration of being picked by Lonely Planet, and see what else I can get published. And I’ll be pouring more time into this blog. It’s been a busy year, and it’s been hard to devote as much time as I’d like to, but I’m genuinely committed to making this blog as helpful, informative, and entertaining as possible. And pretty to look at, just cuz.
I hope you can come on the journey with me!