2013 was an odd year.
It started with a lot of uncertainty and ended in much the same way. But this wasn’t uncertainty necessarily in a bad way; it was the kind of uncertainty that signalled approaching change; that paved the way for prospective opportunities for me.
At the start of the year (or rather, the end of 2012), I was informed that the ‘proposed’ closure of all 39 DVLA local offices throughout the UK, was to become a reality. All offices would be closed by the end of 2013 and over 1200 staff faced redundancy, including myself and all of my work colleagues.
I’d been working for the company since September 2006 and had grown very close to many of my colleagues, most of whom had been with the company longer than I had. I know it’s a cliché but we really were like a big family. We’d shared laughter and tears and everything in between, and we’d supported each other through good times and bad.
What’s more, considering I essentially had an office job which incorporated some face to face customer service, it was incredibly well paid, and we had the benefit of 30 days holiday per year, in addition to bank holidays and up to 3 flexi days per month (if we had accrued them). Basically I had A LOT of annual leave, which meant A LOT of paid time to travel. Life was good. Life was stable. And I liked it.
Knowing that I would be made redundant by the end of 2013 put a bit of a damper on my travel plans for that year. Having enjoyed our cycling trip through Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia so much, in May 2012, we had our hearts set on a two-week trip in 2013. This time we had planned to cycle the back roads of Cuba. Unfortunately, due to the cost of the trip, and my looming redundancy, I just couldn’t afford to pay out that sort of money.
We still took 4 trips throughout the year, but unlike 2012, when I spent 3 weeks in China, 2011, when I spent 17 days in Thailand, and 2010, when I spent 11 days in India, 2013’s holiday destinations were a little closer to home.
Being made redundant from a central government agency did have its plus points as well: we were all allocated £750 to spend on courses of study which would improve our chances of gaining future employment post-DVLA. As a result, I was able to undertake a GCSE in Spanish, an evening course in web design, and an NVQ in ICT (the latter of which would unfortunately not be as useful as I originally believed, but it’s an additional qualification all the same)
2013 was also the year I discovered just how big the realm of travel blogging had become. I read a lot of other blogs, namely Bridges and Balloons, Flora the Explorer, Never Ending Footsteps, A Dangerous Business, What’s Dave Doing?, This Battered Suitcase, The Great Affair, Expert Vagabond, Backpacker Becki, and Alex in Wanderland, and this prompted me to begin writing again.
So, here it is: my year, month by month…
Compared to my New Year’s Eve celebrations the year beforehand – when I was really struggling to hold together a failing relationship with my previous boyfriend of 3 years (a relationship that finally ended late January of 2012) – my New Year’s Eve 2012 had been fantastic.
My two friends, who at the time we’re playing in a duo band called Belladonna, had a New Year’s Eve gig at one of our favourite local pubs. The pub was filled with fellow musicians, good friends, acquaintances, along with many I’d never met. But we all had the same goal: to enjoy the music and share a memorable night filled with laughter, festive banter, and a healthy dose of alcohol.
After the gig, we continued the celebrations at another of our favourite local pubs, well into the early hours of the morning.
January I also enjoyed an impromptu trip to London to support Belladonna when they played the Jamm in Brixton with John Power from The La’s and Cast fame.
Having missed out in 2012, because my life had very recently fallen apart following my split from long-term boyfriend Alex, this year my new-old boyfriend (long story but his name is Stu and we did go out together some years beforehand) and I decided to take a skiing/snowboarding trip. We chose the Sierra Nevadas in Spain, as we were both familiar with the resort, and had enjoyed skiing trips there previously.
We’d only recently started learning snowboarding (we’d both ski’d for some years) so it was my first experience of trying it on real snow.
We’d chosen to ski for 3 days and snowboard for one (it was the cheapest way of doing it with regards to the hire of the equipment). We had near perfect conditions for the 3 days we spent skiing. However on the third night, it snowed, and snowed, and didn’t stop snowing. Yes the snow was great for sledging, building snowmen, having snowball fights and general snowy antics, but it wasn’t the best for boarding. Admittedly ice would have been worse, but deep snow meant that my board kept getting stuck, and the fact that it was still falling meant that I couldn’t see very far in front of me AT ALL. All I could see was white everywhere I looked. However it did mean that falling over was a lot less painful – and I did spend a lot of time on my arse! Moreover, I finally managed to get the hang of link turns, which – for those of you who’ve ever boarded will know – is the crux of any snowboarding experience.
We also managed to squeeze in a few days of sightseeing in Córdoba, including a visit to the stunning Mesquita and entry to a live Flamenco show.
Almost tempted by a 10-day cycling trip through Petri and Wadi Rum, we finally settled on a trip to Turkey. Friends and family had, for many years, waxed lyrical about the charms of Istanbul, and were convinced that I would fall in love with this diverse and intriguing city.
They weren’t wrong.
As well as enjoying the charming neighbourhoods, stunning mosques, and wonderful markets and bazaars of Istanbul, I was curious to see what else this vast and beautiful country had to offer. So we also added Pamukkale and Cappadocia to our travel itinerary. We loved the rural setting and peaceful tranquility of Pamukkale, and were both awed and intrigued by its famous travertines, which gave the landscape such an unusual appearance.
As well as exploring Turkey’s ‘Cotton Castle’ on foot, we also made a spontaneous decision to go paragliding over these bizarre calcium carbonate deposits, which spread across the countryside below the ancient ruins of Hierapolis.
Whilst the landscape high above the town of Pamukkale was like nothing I’d ever seen before, it paled into insignificance in comparison to the weird volcanic wonderland of Cappadocia.
It’s a universe of dusty valleys, strange and imposing rock castles, ancient cave dwellings, and mysterious underground cities. You can even sleep inside a cave, and eat a traditional Turkish meal in a cave.
The unique terrain was created around 30 million years ago, when surrounding volcanoes erupted, cloaking the Anatolian plateau in ash and lava. Over the years erosion has formed the land into what it is today.
While we were here, we simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity of seeing this weird and wonderful landscape from the sky.
Yes, we took a flight in a hot air balloon and witnessed one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes to view from the sky.
It was so totally and utterly worth the 160 euro fee.
Despite June’s highlights, this was also the month I received my official notice of redundancy, and was informed that my last day of work with DVLA would be the 31st of October.
Being my birthday month, I always try to get away for a short break abroad in June. Last year it was a 6-day tour around Hungary; this year it was 6 days of art, culture, music, and food in Barcelona. But not before joint birthday celebrations in London for myself and one of my close friends, Trinny, who now lives, works, and gigs in England’s capital.
I’d visited Barcelona 9 years previously but it was lovely to revisit this Catalonian gem. My experiences this time around inspired my first blog post since my solo trip around South East Asia back in 2006.
Yes, July was when I really started writing again, and wondered why the hell I hadn’t done so earlier.
It was also the month that Stu and I made the decision to take a long-term trip to South America in 2014. I would be paid a redundancy package for my 7 years of service with DVLA, and he had just under a year to save the equivalent amount of money. Bearing in mind that his work as a self-employed plumber, electrician, and general handyman, paid around twice as much as mine, this was a very achievable goal.
I wrote more articles for my blog, about my recent trip to Turkey. I formulated ideas for future articles and tried to develop the design of my site on WordPress.com.
I also received my result for my Spanish GCSE exam. Considering that exams have never been my chosen method of demonstrating my learned knowledge of any given subject (my mind goes blank as soon as I walk into the examination room), I was over the moon to discover that I’d attained a grade B.
Maybe my 8 months of hard work, of pouring over textbooks and puzzling over verb conjugations, had actually paid off in the end.
A conversation with two of my close friends up in Newcastle during a visit in August, had inspired the road trip Stu and I decided to take this month.
Starting in Ljubljana, we took an awesome road trip around Slovenia, and finished up with a visit to the stunning and magical Plitvice Lakes in Croatia.
When I returned home, I wrote one of my longest articles to date about my Slovenia road trip. This was not intentional and in retrospect I think perhaps I should have broken the trip down into smaller, more easily-readable chunks, but I didn’t want to lose the continuity. My head was bursting with images of the breathtaking scenery we’d witnessed, and I felt compelled to try and put it all into words.
I also wrote another article I’m very pleased with, the one that details my first ever cycling trip, and one that was completed with no prior cycling experience whatsoever.
I also had two weeks of leave booked off this month, as it was originally when we’d planned to cycle Cuba. However, with it being so close to my date of redundancy, I sensibly chose not to go away.
Instead I worked (playing the part of a builder’s labourer in a rather attractive boiler suit, and doing some painting for the gentleman Stu is currently working for) for 6 days of my 10 days off work. The rest of my time was spent job hunting, badgering the local employment agencies, and working on my blog. This month was also the month that I moved my blog to a self-hosted one on WordPress.org and spent countless hours personalising the Theme I’d purchased from Woo Themes.
My tenacious tactics with the agencies worked, as I managed to line up 2 weeks work for the day after my finish date with DVLA.
A strange old couple of months on the job front. Whilst it was a sad departure from the familiar, comfortable environment of DVLA, I was apprehensive but excited to be moving on to some new and challenging work projects, and was lucky enough to land two jobs in quick succession of each other, both with a lovely bunch of people. The only downside is that similar jobs in Shrewsbury (particularly those through agencies) pay incredibly little in comparison to DVLA, so I had to be extremely careful with my money, so as not to eat into my travel fund.
Instead of socialising I spent a lot of my spare time working on my blog. I also set up a Facebook page, and put a lot of effort into sharing with my friends, gaining likes, and growing followers on Twitter. I still have a long way to go. I haven’t even reached my milestone of 100 on either social networking site yet. But it’s a work in progress, and one I’m 100% committed to.
Despite the lack of funds to treat friends, family, and loved ones, I still had a very enjoyable Christmas, and finished the year off at a party at Stanley Kubrick’s estate in Oxfordshire!
So what’s in store for 2014?
As I write this, we have now booked our one-way flight to Lima on the 1st April 2014, and we’ve also had our place on the Inca Trail – 2 months later on the 2nd June – confirmed, with Peru Treks
Whilst I still have no employment lined up for February and March, I hope that good reports from my recent employers will help to land me some more temp work through the agencies. So, all being well, I will still be able to build upon my travel fund rather than eat into it.
I have also enrolled on Amanda Williams’ (of A Dangerous Business) ‘Travel Blogging 101’ course, and hope to start a refresher Spanish course next week, in order to brush up my language skills before I go.
Exciting times lie ahead 🙂