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As much as I don’t like using cliché’s, the only way in which I can describe 2018 is as an absolute rollercoaster. There have been hard times, such as coming out of a long-term relationship and learning to live with a chronic condition, and there have been exciting times, like quitting my job to travel and figure out what I really want to do with my life.
It’s certainly not always been easy, and it’s safe to say that 2018 has been the most eventful year of my life so far. But now that it’s over and I can look back at both the good and the bad, I can see that everything really did happen for a reason (yes another cliché, I’m sorry!) to bring me to where I am today.
I’ve ended 2018 with a great new freelancing career, some fantastic new friends (and ones I’ve grown much closer too), many fond memories and loads of exciting plans for 2019 (scroll to the bottom to find out more about these)!
2018 Travel Round-Up
One of the biggest highlights of 2018 for me had to be the amazing travel opportunities which came my way. Between several small city breaks and press trips to an extended 2 months of travelling around Europe during the summer, I was lucky enough to visit 23 cities and towns across 11 European countries this year; Lithuania, Scotland, Spain, Albania, Netherlands, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Gibraltar and England.
To end the year, I’ve decided to look back on my travels over the last 12 months and share a few of the highlights…
February 2018 – Vilnius, Lithuania
My first trip of the year was my annual winter break to an eastern European city. The previous two years I spent February in Montenegro then Latvia and fell in love with exploring snowy European cities with hardly another tourist in sight. So this year I decided to head to another Baltic state, Lithuania, starting in its capital city Vilnius.
Vilnius was a fascinating city with loads of beautiful churches and interesting historic buildings from the city’s Soviet occupation, as well as fun activities for escaping the cold such as the mind-boggling Museum of Illusions and the challenging Wrong Room escape room. But my favourite thing about Vilnius had to be visiting the Republic of Užupis, an independent republic within the city which has its own flag, president, public holidays and a rather unusual constitution.
Read about my trip to Vilnius here.
February 2018 – Kaunas, Lithuania
After spending a few days in Vilnius, I then headed to Lithuania’s second largest city, Kaunas. Kaunas’s main charm had to be its amazing street art, including the iconic Wise Old Man mural and the fascinating open-air Courtyard Gallery depicting the stories of residents past and present.
Here’s how to spend a long weekend in Kaunas.
April 2018 – Glasgow, Scotland
In April I took a long weekend trip up to Glasgow with a group of old university friends. Asides from catching up with good friends and pretending that we could drink like we were 18 again, my favourite thing about Glasgow had to be (like Kaunas) its street art. Glasgow’s city centre mural trail was an initiative by the local council to rejuvenate streets and revitalise buildings and has resulted in some amazing artwork by local artists all across the city.
Discover Glasgow’s best street art with me here.
May 2018 – Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
After leaving my full-time job at the end of April, I only had a few days to relax in London before heading out to Europe for 2 full months of travel. The first stop was Gran Canaria with my travel buddy for the summer Jodie, where we were kindly hosted by the luxurious 5* hotel Seaside Palm Beach.
We spent 10 days feeling like royalty as we soaked up the sun by one of the hotel’s several pools and explored the diverse Maspalomas beach. Accidentally wandering on to the gay nudist stretch of the beach during a huge gay pride beach party is certainly an experience I won’t be forgetting too soon!
Here’s how to spend the perfect day at Maspalomas beach.
With Jodie’s digital nomad lifestyle, she had plenty of work to be getting on with during our downtime in Gran Canaria, which also gave me some time to work on my own blog while putting feelers out for potential freelance work for later in the summer.
May 2018 – Durres, Albania
While Jodie headed off for a press trip in Turkey, I went to spend a week in one of my favourite European hidden gems… Albania. I took my first trip to Albania last year to visit my best friend’s family in the coastal town of Durres and immediately fell in love with the country. This year we returned to Durres to see the progress of their beautiful family farm ‘Peme e Jetes’.
We spent plenty of time relaxing around the farm and helping with tasks such as berry picking – a welcome change from my usual hectic city life! The farm had also opened its own on-site restaurant serving some of the best locally produced food in Albania (not that I’m biased at all).
Albania is also where I first gave YouTube a chance, however, due to a hard drive malfunction my channel didn’t last much longer than a few videos.
Watch my YouTube video of Peme e Jetes farm in Durres.
May 2018 – Tirana, Albania
While in Albania, I also finally got to visit the country’s colourful capital city of Tirana. On our first day in Tirana, we attended the first ever annual colour day festival with famous local singer Alban Skënderaj (watch my video here), followed by a day exploring the city and learning all about its sad history under communist rule. Tirana is truly a fascinating European city which I strongly believe more people need to visit.
See what it’s like to visit Tirana here.
May 2018 – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Next, I flew over to Amsterdam for early birthday celebrations with a group of friends who came over from London to meet me. We were also joined by an old university friend who we hadn’t seen in several years and now lives in Amsterdam. Being my 3rd time in the Dutch capital, it was great to have a local show us some more off the beaten path parts of the city and the areas where the young local population go out drinking (far fewer stag do’s and strip clubs!).
Here are my top tips for exploring Amsterdam like a local.
May 2018 – Rotterdam, Netherlands
From Amsterdam, Jodie and I jumped on the train over to nearby Rotterdam for the annual Traverse travel conference. With many of my closest friends in the travel community coming together from all across the world for this event, it’s now one of the highlights of my year.
During the week preceding the conference, I joined several of the mid-week events which included city tours, chocolate tasting, a theme park visit and a number of fun evening parties. I really got to know Rotterdam in the week I spent in the city and felt at home almost immediately. I could certainly see myself going back for an extended period of time.
The conference itself was as helpful as ever, with talks from experts on topics including SEO, travel writing, travel photography, pitching to brands and affiliate marketing. I left Rotterdam feeling extremely motivated and full of ideas for both my own blog and my future freelancing business.
Here are a few of my favourite things to do in Rotterdam.
June 2018 – Porto, Portugal
After an extremely busy couple of weeks in the Netherlands, we made our way to Porto for a more chilled out 7 days along with Jodie’s boyfriend Brendan. The three of us rented a lovely apartment close to the centre which we used to catch up on work. With not as much to do as the others, I managed to spend a couple of days exploring Porto on my own and even hired a moped to explore the city’s beautiful coastline.
One of the highlights of my time of Porto was getting to use Brendan’s expert photography knowledge to brush up on my own photography skills and get some beautiful long exposure shots of the Dom Luis I Bridge at night.
June 2018 – Dusseldorf, Germany
For the next step of our European journey, Jodie kindly invited me to join her on a press trip to Dusseldorf where we ate and drunk our way around the German city with a group of other bloggers. Dusseldorf was definitely a city which surprised me, having never really been a place I would have thought of visiting before. With so many cool bars, unique experiences and some of the best Japanese food in Europe, Dusseldorf was truly a foodies dream and somewhere I would recommend visiting.
Check out 7 interactive food experiences you can try in Dusseldorf
June 2018 – Krakow, Poland
The final destination of our 2 months of travel was back in one of my favourite European cities, Krakow. Keen to see even more than I did on my last trip to the city, we hired pedal bikes for a day and headed out to explore the outskirts where we climbed one of the famous mounds for a beautiful view of the city skyline and even stumbled across a Go-Karting track where we temporarily swapped our bikes for karts for some competitive fun.
Leaving Krakow was one of the saddest parts of my 2018, as it meant the end of two amazing months of travel and also the end of my time with my favourite travel buddy Jodie.
June 2018 – Devon, UK
Coming back home from Europe wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t made any easier coming home to the end of a 5 year relationship. But luckily for me, the transition was softened by a week away in Devon with my family and our energetic border collie Toby. 7 days of long walks in the beautiful English countryside was a lovely way to catch up with my family, burn off some of the calories I’d consumed out in Europe and clear my head before taking on the next few months.
Read my post on the most dog-friendly days out in Devon here.
July 2018 – Provence, France
After just a few weeks back at home, it was already time for my next trip out the French Riviera. This trip started in the luxurious coastal town of Saint Maxime on the Gulf of Saint Tropez where I worked with Summer France to experience one of their beautiful private rental villas. Coincidentally, my time in Sainte Maxime coincided with the French National holiday Bastille Day, which was celebrated by a firework display on the beach followed by a free live music festival.
The second half of my trip to the French Riviera involved heading up the coast to Nice where I met a group of friends for a few days of ultimate relaxation at another villa in the small nearby town of Tourrettes-sur-Loup. Days spent floating in the pool slowly crept into dinner and drinks on the terrace as the sun set over the coast below… ah, what I wouldn’t give to back there right now.
Read more about my time on the French Riviera here.
September 2018 – Mediteranean Cruise
In September I was lucky enough to be invited on a 7 day Mediteranean Cruise as a part of a campaign with Princess Cruises. Along with 7 other talented travel bloggers, I jumped on board the Crown Princess and had one of the most amazing weeks visiting some beautiful destinations along the Mediteranean coastline.
As well as the numerous excursions (which there’s more about below), spending time on board the ship getting to know my fellow travellers, enjoying the pools and spa facilities and eating our way around the ships numerous world-class restaurants made the whole experience undoubtedly one of the highlights of my entire year.
Read my post ’11 common misconceptions about cruising’ here.
September 2018 – Barcelona, Spain (Cruise)
Our Mediteranean cruise started in the Catalan city of Barcelona. After dropping our belongings off on the ship, we headed back into the city for the ultimate culinary experience… a Spanish cooking class, where we worked as a team to make Spanish omelette, paella, sangria and more.
Despite being my second time in Barcelona, both of my visits have been short with pre-arranged activities so I’m definitely keen to go back and explore the city properly soon.
Read more about each cruise destination in more detail here.
September 2018 – Gibraltar (Cruise)
Next, we stopped at the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar where we hiked up the Meditteranean steps to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar. Although not somewhere I would necessarily return to again, getting to see Gibraltar and its cheeky Barbary macaque population (the only wild monkey population in Europe) was certainly a cool experience.
September 2018 – Bandol, France (Cruise)
The third stop of the cruise was back once again to the South of France. This time it was to the Bandol region where we spent the day wandering around the numerous vineyards and trying many of the award-winning wines produced in the area. Touring wineries and vineyards is one of my favourite activities when travelling so this was definitely one of the highlights of the cruise for me.
September 2018 – Cinque Terre, Italy (Cruise)
Our next stop was the one I was most excited about as it was somewhere which has been at the top of my bucket list for a while now, the Cinque Terre. The five coastal towns were just as colourful and beautiful as the photo’s I’d seen all over Instagram, just with a lot more people – it’s clearly a popular tourist spot!
September 2018 – Pisa, Italy (Cruise)
Our last cruise destination was the Italian city of Pisa. Using Segways as our form of transport, we spent our final day whizzing around the city seeing sights including the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa and Pisa Cathedral, stopping only for a lunch of (you guessed it) pizza.
October 2018 – Lincoln, UK
In September it was time for another short UK trip, this time to Lincoln with my cousin Sophie. Despite being October, we had a gorgeous few days of sunshine for exploring the castle, Cathedral and historic town centre, before regressing back to our uni days and hitting the clubs each evening with Lincoln’s large student population.
Check out my guide to exploring Lincoln in the Autumn.
November 2018 – Sussex, UK
In November I made the last minute decision to join my parents at a lovely little cottage they’d rented for the week down on the Sussex coast. While they spent their days exploring the local area, I used the cottage as my office for catching up on the freelance work I had taken on over the previous few months. The fresh ocean air and peaceful environment made for a great place to get work done, in between walks on the beach of course.
December 2018 – Trento, Italy
My final trip of the year was back to one of my favourite countries, Italy, for one of my favourite activities, visiting European Christmas markets!
Trento is a quaint alpine town in Northern Italy which due to its extensive festive celebrations has been nicknamed ‘Christmas town’. And it certainly lived up to this name! Along with two friends, we wandered around the markets, drank plenty of mulled wine and enjoyed the magical festive feel of the town.
Find out more about Christmas in Trento here.
December 2018 – Verona, Italy
On the way back from Trento we decided to make a quick overnight stop in another one of my favourite European cities, Verona. Getting to see Verona at Christmas, albeit for less than 24 hours, was a really special experience, with its impressive shooting star Christmas decoration coming out of the arena and it’s busy Christmas markets filling the central square. Verona is definitely somewhere I intend to return to again very soon!
So 20 flights, 23 destinations and 11 countries later, that’s 2018 finished and I feel so lucky to have had the travel opportunities that came my way. It was a tough year for me in many ways, but getting to spend so much of it doing the thing that I love the most certainly made it a year worth looking back on.
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
2019 Travel Plans
I’m extremely excited about my travel plans in 2019, which already currently include:
- A long winter weekend in Cologne
- A tobogganing press trip in Tyrol, Austria
- A couple of weeks in LA with university friends
- KeyFrame conference in Hamburg
- ITB conference in Berlin
- Traverse conference in Trentino
- A month in China visiting my cousin who will be teaching out there
- An extended period of time in Italy (I’m finally going to learn Italian properly!)
There’ll be plenty more to come on these so make sure to stay tuned and follow on Instagram.
Dammnnn girl, my goal for 2019 is to travel half as much as you do! hahah, my first trip this year is down to none other than London!