Planning Solo Travel

The Best Places I Visited in 2019, And My 2020 Travel List

26 countries (19 of which were new to me), 83 cities, 21 sims, 54 flights, 11 trains, 13 ferries, 3 buses, 89 beds slept in, 108 blog posts, seemingly endless cold brew, and 3 new tattoos.

2019 was a groundbreaking year in every sense.

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It was the year I left an industry (advertising agency life) that had been a core contributor to the rise of anxiety and constant stress I’d endured for over a decade.

It was the year I sold just about everything I owned in London, put a few boxes in storage, and left on a trip with no return date.

It was the year I mapped out a business plan with diversified income streams, working as a digital consultant and teaching English as a second language.

It was the year I visited countries I didn’t know if I’d ever make it to, let alone call home.

It was the year I reached and passed my goal to visit 50 countries before the end of the decade (current count: 55).

It was the year I learned just how capable I am, traveling solo non-stop around Europe, Asia and Oceania. No stranger to solo travel prior, I now know there’s a big difference between taking an occasional solo holiday and setting off on a trip by yourself with no fixed return date.

It was the year I conquered many anxiety-fuelled fears, including learning how to drive a moped, and serving as lead driver in a two-month road trip around Australia and New Zealand.

It was the year I took healing and rest seriously.

And the year, I realized what I want to set my sights on for 2020 and beyond.

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Heading into 2020, I’ll be starting a new role in digital marketing that I’m excited about. It’ll mean relocating to a new country, and going back to an office environment.

Although I don’t believe my consulting days are over for good, I’ve made the decision to return to a more structured work environment, in part, to continue to work on skill growth.

Other reasons are more personal- I miss having a routine and things that are constant in my life.

Chief among them: A weekly grocery shop and kitchen to cook in, a yoga studio where I’m a regular month over month, access to CrossFit and distance running training, and simple things I’ve taken for granted in the past- drinkable tap water, hot water to shower, and the same bed to sleep in night after night.

I’m in the process of mapping out exactly what I hope to accomplish in 2020, but some things, like taking the first steps to becoming a sound healer, and getting back into racing shape, are going to be easier accomplished if more things in my life are constant than fluctuating.

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That doesn’t mean I won’t be traveling regularly though.

I’m looking forward to being based in Europe again- there so many places on the continent, as well as in the Middle East and Africa I’ve yet to explore.

All this to say- 2019 was an epic year, but I’ve got a feeling 2020 is going to be one for the record books as well.

As with years past, the motto remains- Have passport, will travel.
2020, come blow my mind. 

My Favourite Destinations of 2019

This list was an especially hard one to cultivate this year, with travel to so many new and exciting places.

But, if I really consider the places that left a lasting impact, a few things stand out- peaceful, spiritual communities; stunning nature; fewer crowds; strong community; and aspects that truly kept me out of my element, encouraging growth in the best ways.

Not every place below checked the aforementioned boxes, but there are certainly common threads

LUANG PRABANG, LAOS

Gorgeous Luang Prabang. In only a matter of days, Luang Prabang became one of my favourite places, not just in SE Asia, but in the world. The old town is dubbed a UNESCO heritage site with its French colonial buildings, dozens of Wats, hazy, green mountains, and flowing, mighty Mekong. There wasn’t a specific thing I loved the most about Luang Prabang. Really, it was the wandering that I fell in love with. The slow pace of life encouraging days without real plans, just waking up and deciding what to do. Meandering town, popping into cafes, enjoying strong cold brew and delicious, salty khao soi. It’s the kind of place that, even months later, I can’t stop thinking about.

// Blog posts about Luang Prabang //

ISTANBUL + CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY

Stretching over the continents of Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a multi-cultural mecca- a city of sacred traditions, culture and mouth-watering food. With 15M people, it’s the biggest city in Europe, and regarded as cosmopolitan, where people can be who they want to be. To say I enjoyed my few days in Istanbul would be an understatement- I loved Istanbul. And, a quick jaunt to Cappadocia, land of atmospheric fairy chimneys and incredible nature-sculpted rock formations was the perfect compliment to visiting Turkey’s bustling capital. I’ll never forget the epic balloon sunrise I watched from a beautifully decorated rooftop, with ever-flowing Turkish tea.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA, AUSTRALIA

The real Australia is out of the cities. While places like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns and bohemian Byron were amazing to visit, the real highlight of my trip to Oz were the natural wonders. Driving ‘Straya’s Western Coast for a week was absolutely unbelievable- heart-stoppingly gorgeous coastline, small towns with ace wineries and breweries, close proximity to the hinterland, laid back coffee culture, secluded beaches, gorgeous sunsets amongst towering pine trees, great hiking trails, and mornings spent on white sand beaches with kangaroos- what’s not to fall head over heels in love with?

SOUTH ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND

It’s difficult not to fall in love with New Zealand, a trip to this country really is a visit to Middle Earth. It’s a place that has landscapes that make you pinch yourself to check you’re not dreaming. New Zealand may be small, but it packs a punch with epic mountains, volcanoes, glaciers and wild beaches. The rugged landscape is straight out of a fairytale, and the week we spent road tripping the South Island was spectacular.

TAIPEI, TAIWAN

Visiting Taipei was one of the best impulse travel decisions I’ve ever made. Articulating how I feel about this country is tough, because I loved it so much. Clean, orderly streets. Seemingly limitless ace street food. Kindness toward Westerners I really hadn’t experienced anywhere else in Asia- which, really is saying a lot because so few Westerners visit Taiwan. Refreshing and fun bubble tea. Quirky cultural obsessions, enter the arcades. And, an obvious respect for the world (and environment) we live in. Already scheming a return.

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VIETNAM

Vietnam, there’s more to you than meets the eye. You were a last minute, ‘sure why not visit’ addition to a trip that I planned with great excitement for Thailand. In the end, you were the one who stole the show. It was love at first sight my first night in Hanoi. Your charm snaked its way into heart, and as I explored back streets and beaches over the course of a month, I couldn’t deny how hard I was falling for you. I call you my favourite country in Southeast Asia, a title you earned but not without fierce competition from Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia.

//Blog posts about Vietnam //

INDONESIA (BALI, ALSO THE GILIS & FLORES)

Bali. Island of the gods. Paradise. Tropical getaway. Spiritual haven. Destination hotspot. When you think of Bali, chances are you envision gorgeous temples, sweeping rice terraces, thundering waterfalls, fresh smoothie bowls, swinging monkeys, dramatic cliff vistas, yogis twisting into different shapes, or streams of incense floating in the air. From my time spent living there this year, I can wholeheartedly confirm people are honest, open, kind and vulnerable. The laws of karma are valued. Beautiful nature surrounds some of the island’s most populated areas. Everyone smiles, always. It’s an incredible island, to say the least.

// Blog posts about Bali //

ANDALUSIA, SPAIN

Southern Spain was a place I had always dreamed of road tripping. Miradors (stunning viewpoints) over the mountains and sea that’ll take your breath away; historic flower patios that could easily serve as national treasures in their own right; historic fortresses with jaw-dropping details; churches with Islamic history; delicious tapas; the tap of Flamenco shoes on wooden floor; and the smell of orange blossom wafting in the breeze- the entire region is an actual dream.

// Blog posts about Andalusia //

SRI LANKA

When Marco Polo first visited Sri Lanka back in the fourteenth century he said it was “undoubtedly the finest island in the world,” and I agree wholeheartedly. Sri Lanka is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination for a reason, it’s a hidden gem packed with gorgeous mountainous hikes, ancient beautiful beaches, fun train rides, incredible wildlife, lush tea plantations, delicious food, and enthralling culture. This tiny island nation was, without question, one of the top five places I visited in 2019.

INDIA (JAIPUR, JODPHUR, JAISALMER, AMRITSAR, DELHI, AGRA)

India is polarising. It’s a land of energy, mystery, colour, love and spirituality. A place with grand architecture, colourful saris, chaotic streets blocked with slow moving cows, creamy chai, and perfectly spiced food. I’m keen to go back to India to see more of the country than I had time for in 2.5 weeks, but I can’t say I ‘head over heels’ loved my first visit. I enjoyed it- immensely- and feel like I learned and saw a lot of incredible things in a very short period of time, but I didn’t love it the way I’ve loved other places I’ve traveled to. One of the most important lessons? A reminder that when you travel, a foreign country isn’t designed to make you comfortable- it’s designed to make its own people comfortable.

14 Places I’d Love to Visit in 2020

As always, my travel wishlist is long as ever. While I’ve enjoyed a multitude of fast-paced city breaks in the past, my travel style definitely shifted this year. I find myself favouring more slow paced, leisurely trips.

This year, I’ll be looking for a way to combine both. I’m thinking weekend jaunts to some of my favourite places in Europe (Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Rome, London, Scandi cities), with longer breaks set aside to truly see and experience new-to-me destinations.

There’s no way of knowing just how many of the below places I’ll actually make it to, but these are the top ‘new to me’ spots I’m tracking flights for.

  • Malta: One of Europe’s smallest capital cities, Valletta is breathtakingly picturesque with pre-historic temples, hidden coves, limestone cobbled streets, and a history with remarkable intensity
  • Cape Town: An absolute beaut, Cape Town has hovered at the top of my travel list for years. How could it not? With stunning landscapes, delicious food, and a blend of cultures, it’s an incomparable South African getaway
  • Peru: Tradition at every turn meets trekking for the view of a lifetime. Longing to visit this country’s gems- from the ancient Incan cities to colonial architecture, cathedrals and museums to Machu Picchu itself to rainbow mountains and salt flats
  • Mexico City: Cosmopolitan, cultured, and an exploding culinary scene. It’d be an understatement to say Mexico City is having a moment. Did I mention, tacos, tacos and more tacos?
  • Faroe Islands: 18 islands halfway between Iceland and Norway, not part of the European Union, and technically not their own independent country, the Faroe Islands are understandably mysterious. But, with epic hikes on the edge of the world, raw and rugged landscapes, adorable puffins, and colorful, grass-roofed villages, the intrigue is worth exploration 
  • Guatemala: Considering a sound healing certification retreat here in the future, I’m keen to get a feel for Guatemala before committing two weeks of annual leave. Gaining popularity as one of the most visited places in Central America, I’ve been told to expect colonial houses, cobblestone streets, soaring volcanoes and remnants of a traditional, indigenous way of life in Antigua
  • Switzerland: No disputing Swiss cities are some of the world’s most beautiful, they’re also undeniably expensive. Having traveled to Geneva on business several times, I’ve let the £9 Starbucks drink orders put me off booking an actual holiday, but in 2020, I’m hoping to see more of this country’s scenic mountain range, emerald lakes and storybook villages
  • Uzbekistan: Boasting some of the most incredible architecture in the world and historical sights centuries old, Uzbekistan cues timeliness images of the Silk Road, intricately designed mosaics, and forward, friendly locals
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: Long overlooked by tourists, Bosnia is becoming more trodden by visitors keen to experience its beautiful rivers, old towns and natural wonders. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from fellow travellers who’ve made the trek to Mostar
  • Slovenia: Many travellers consider Lake Bled to be one of the most beautiful places in Europe, and for good reason- it’s ‘can you believe this place exists?!’ incredible. A long weekend in Ljubljana with a jaunt to the lake is at the very top of my city break list
  • Montenegro: Kotor, a UNESCO protected town, has long been favoured by day trip cruisers. I’m keen to spend a long weekend in this slice of adriatic heaven wandering the ancient town and hiking the surrounding majestic mountains
  • Greek Islands: Of course I’d love to visit Santorini and Mykonos for the iconic views, but for actual holidaying, I’m more interested in the lesser known Greek islands for their just-as incredible scenery, and solitude
  • The Dolomites: Jagged mountain peaks, sublime summer views and fresh, fragrant air. Hello, summer camping dream
  • Scotland: Sure, I’ve been to Edinburgh loads, but I haven’t seen much of the highlands. Hearing tale Skye rivals the beauty of New Zealand, I’m eager to take a few weekend trips to Scotland this year to explore more of the rolling green hills dotted handsome cities and spectacular views I’ve come to love

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Are you resolving to travel more in the New Year, new decade? What places are the top of your travel wishlist? 

Previous End of Year Recaps on YaleWanders

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