I decided to drop the “goals and aspirations” part off the end of the title of this year’s post, because I don’t think I managed to achieve any of the personal and blogging goals I set myself at the start of 2018:
- To complete my first half marathon. In my defence I would have reserved my place on Shrewsbury’s half marathon had my Georgia flights not coincided with the event. I flew back from Georgia on the 17th of June – the date the half marathon was taking place. On the plus side though, I have kept up with my running (although it’s not been as regular an occurrence in the winter months) and this month I’m taking part in R.E.D January. R.E.D stands for Run Every Day, as that’s exactly what I’m doing, in order to raise money for the mental health charity, MIND. As I write this, we’re six days in and so far I’ve run 37.6 kilometres over those six days. I think I’m going to treat myself to a nice long, hot bath at the end of week 1, in order to sooth my tired, aching muscles! This is my Just Giving page if you’d like to donate any money to this worthwhile charity.
- To create a media kit and a ‘Work With Me’ page. I realise that it would save me a lot of time that I currently spend replying to requests for link placements or “guest (sponsored) posts” if I could just point people towards my ‘work with me’ page instead. So, for that reason, I know I need to make this goal a priority for this year.
- Create Pinterest graphics for all my posts that don’t currently have them. I have created a few more since writing last year’s post, but I still have a long way to go!
- Work on a comprehensive guide to my hometown, Shrewsbury. The only point I have to make in my defence is that I’d like to be able to include a few hotels in this guide, and in order to successfully pitch to hotels, I feel like I need a larger audience than I have already. I know comparison is the thief of joy, but I genuinely feel like the growth of my blog has been painfully slow compared to other bloggers out there who’ve been blogging for a similar amount of time. I post regularly to social media, I contribute regularly to collaborative posts, I like and engage with other bloggers’ posts on a daily basis and I ensure that all my posts have the YOAST green SEO light, yet my traffic and follower numbers seem to be at a permanent standstill. I try not to fret about it, because at the end of the day this blog is my hobby, not my job. But it does honestly get me down from time to time.
- To always have at least two posts written and scheduled. I tried SO hard with this particular goal. At times I was smashing it but then all it took was a couple of very busy weeks (socially or travel-wise) for me to fall behind. I also suffered several periods of “writer’s block” or whatever you like to call it; periods when I just didn’t have the motivation or inclination to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) or I simply couldn’t find the right words.
- To find some more freelance work. I set up an account on Upwork but then I read the rates of pay for many of the jobs advertised and subsequently discovered just how much Upwork deduct from that in commission. I’m still picking up the occasional bit of ad-hoc work, but that’s mainly through companies approaching me or through reading about the job opportunity in one of the blogger Facebook groups I’m a member of.
- To read a book every month. Considering that I spend every spare evening I have on my blog, I rarely seem to find the time to sit down and read a book. The books I did manage to read this year were read on flights or train/bus journeys, but as I don’t fly or take long distance buses or trains every single month, I didn’t manage to achieve this goal. I’m thinking maybe I should try ‘reading’ an audio book instead?
So, to summarise: all of the above are still goals I’d like to achieve this year. But I think the only one that’s really a priority for me (in that it will save me a lot of wasted time) is to create a ‘Work With Me’ page. However, I now also have another task to add to the above list that’s kind of been forced upon me, and that is to change my blog’s theme and all the remedial work and ‘tweaking’ that goes alongside that.
My current blog theme is unfortunately no longer being supported, so – much as I’ve loved using the Woo Themes Canvas theme since the conception of my blog back in 2013 – it is now time for a change. And let me tell you, just finding a blog theme that I like and that appears to have all the functionality of my current one is hard enough. I dread to think what the whole process of actually making the switch will be like!
But, on to my travel plans for 2019…
When I published my 2018 Travel Review post, I really didn’t have much of a clue where my 2019 travels would take me. Aside from the two short trips I already had booked, there were zero others even in the pipeline. For some reason – from the long list of countries, towns and cities on my wish list – I just couldn’t decide which ones I wanted to focus on next.
I knew I wanted to explore more of Africa beyond Morocco (one of the reasons Namibia had appeared in my 2018 Travel Plans, Goals and Aspirations post), which is why I’m so excited about a trip that a friend and I spontaneously booked on New Year’s Eve. More on that in a minute!
I’d also like to make the effort to get away from the well-trodden tourist trail – whether that be travelling to countries that have not been written about to death on the internet, exploring lesser-known towns and cities, or seeking out quirky and unusual sights and attractions within those more popular ones. I absolutely adored my solo hiking adventure through the lesser explored parts of the Catalonia region in Spain, my visit to Italy’s City of Caves (although Matera is set to become more popular now that it’s been voted the 2019 City of Culture), and my cycling trip around Puglia in Italy – again, one of the lesser visited regions in the country.
And, last but not least, I’d like to do some more hiking. Reading this post by Dan and Audrey of Uncornered Market reaffirmed to me what a wonderful way of seeing a new country trekking can be, and that there are still plenty of incredible corners of the world that I hadn’t even heard of.
For example, I had no knowledge of it prior to reading Dan and Audrey’s post but the Markha Valley Trek in Ladakh, India is now up there above the Annapurna Circuit trek on my high altitude treks wish list. It looks stunning!
So, where WILL 2019 see me exploring?
As I type this, I have four trips booked. Two in Africa, one in Poland, and one in England.
I always skim through Travelzoo’s weekly emails when they land in my inbox, and I have been tempted by a few of their deals previously, but for some reason I’d never booked any of them.
However, this particular one to Branscombe in Devon caught my eye. Despite my mum’s side of the family originating from neighbouring Dorset, Devon is a county I’ve barely explored – with the exception of attending a festival in Ottery St. Marys and spending a day in nearby Exeter. Travelzoo were offering two night’s accommodation for two people including breakfast and a tidy discount off food at the on-site restaurant for £99. The hotel/B&B has great reviews on Booking and Trip Advisor, as well as being just 10 minutes from the beach.
Branscombe is reportedly “one of the most relaxing and picturesque villages on the Jurassic Coastline” (visitsouthdevon.co.uk) and is believed to be the longest village in England. There’s also a nearby town called ‘Beer’ – which obviously sold it to Stu 😉
Uganda, East Africa
Yep, this is the spontaneous trip my friend Jayne and I booked on New Year’s Eve. No alcohol was involved, she just found flights that were too cheap to pass up. To be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about Uganda before committing. In fact, I’m not even sure I could’ve pinpointed exactly where it was on a map. But it was Africa and I’d already said I wanted to explore more of Africa, so that was enough of a reason for me to throw caution to the wind and book it.
I’m panicking a little that I cannot find my original Yellow Fever certificate (fortunately I had an electronic copy which I’ve used to apply for my visa) and that Jayne applied for her visa a couple of days after me and hers has been approved but I’ve heard nothing, but fingers crossed it will all work out ok.
Now that I’ve had the chance to research Uganda a little further, I’m getting ridiculously excited about visiting. Unfortunately neither of us can afford to go gorilla trekking (the permits alone cost $600), but it is possible to go chimp trekking for a fraction of the price, so we’re hoping to do that instead.
We’ll be spending a few days in Entebbe, possibly a day in the capital city Kampala, and then heading up to Murchison Falls National Park.
I was pleased to discover that Uganda has actually been voted one of the friendliest countries in the world in the Expat Insider survey 2018 (it ranks at number 12) and safety and security-wise, it’s on a par with the UK. So, mum, you don’t need to worry 🙂
Photo by bill wegener on Unsplash
It’s become a bit of an annual tradition: my friends Gloria, Kath and I have travelled abroad for a long weekend together every year (once, twice in one year) for the past few years. Our stipulation is that return flights and accommodation for three nights must cost us under £100 each. We’ve visited Riga (Latvia), Poznan (Poland), Cluj Napoca (Romania) and Vilnius (Lithuania); this year we’re heading back to Poland, to have a look around its capital city.
Poland’s capital city always seems to get a little overlooked in favour of cities like Krakow and Wroclaw, even Gdansk – the prettier cities. But we’re determined to do our best to uncover Warsaw’s charms, even if it does mean hiding under a multitude of warm layers in order to do so; Warsaw’s average temperature in February is -3!
Photo by Jimmy Moon on Unsplash
Climbing Mount Toubkal, Morocco
This was actually the first trip of the year that I booked. It’s another with my friend and work colleague, Jayne, but this time her boyfriend is accompanying us too. If you’re read any of my previous yearly summaries, you’ll know that this one’s been on my wish list for some time. I almost ended up booking the hike through adventure travel company Explore last year (when you’re a solo traveller it’s often best to book organised treks with a group), but the dates didn’t quite work out. However, now that I have a couple of willing victims to join me, we’ll be doing this trip independently and booking a guide through a local trekking agency.
Jayne and her boyfriend will be flying into Marrakech a few days before me (I wanted to save my leave and also I have spent a few days in Marrakech previously), and then I’ll be joining them a day before we begin the hike.
We’ll be camping on the hike so we’ve booked a lovely (and incredibly cheap!) Airbnb for the nights before and after the trek. If you’ve not yet registered with Airbnb, you can get £25 off your first stay by booking via this link.
Photo by Chris on Flickr
And where MIGHT 2019 see me exploring?
As you’ve probably gathered, this is the part I’m a little more unsure of. But here are a few trips I’d like to see myself making over the next few years, some of which I hope to be ticking off my list by the end of 2019.
Northern Spain – Galicia, Basque County, Navarra, La Rioja, Arragon, and Castilla y Leon. Aside from the seven days I spent hiking through the Picos de Europa (in the Asturias/Catabria regions), northern Spain remains a part of the country that I haven’t explored. I’d love to visit the cities of Bilbao, San Sebastian, Leon and Santiago de Compostela, but also to venture out into the countryside beyond these cities.
Helsinki and Tallinn. This two-for-the-price-of-one city break has been on my wish list for a few years. I’ve not visited Finland or Estonia yet and as Helsinki and Tallinn are only a couple of hours apart on a ferry, it makes sense to combine the two for a long weekend to a week-long city break.
Malta. Although it seems like every man and his dog is visiting Malta at the moment, it’s a country that my mum would very much like to explore, so we’ll hopefully be booking a few days there together this year. We shall most definitely be avoiding April-September though, due to neither of us being a fan of crowds.
The Balkans. Apologies if I’m not correctly classifying them here (there seems to be conflicting information on the internet), but the countries I have in mind are Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina. Along with Montenegro (which is sandwiched in between these countries), this area remains a lesser-explored part of Europe that I’ve always been intrigued to visit.
Some of the lesser-known Greek islands. It’s no secret that I love Greece. Aside from Denmark, some of the first holidays I ever took were to Greece and I’ve been in love with the country ever since. Yes, I have visited most of the more popular Greek islands in my teenage years/early 20s, but as a result of having a former long-term boyfriend whose parents lived on the Greek island of Paxos, I also spent around six weeks in total exploring this little hidden gem, and I absolutely loved it! So, I plan to make it my mission over the next few years to add a few more of the lesser-known Greek islands to my visited list.
Bhutan. Another country that’s long been on my travel wish list, but due to the compulsory $250 charge per person per day (which rises to $290 if you’re travelling solo), financially it’s always been a little out of reach.
Nepal. Mainly I’d like to visit Nepal for the amazing trekking opportunities through stunning and remote mountain landscapes. The Annapurna circuit has been on my travel wish list for some years.
The Indian Himalayas. This part of the world didn’t feature on my travel wish list until I read the aforementioned post by Uncornered Market, and now I desperately want to go!
Sri Lanka. I’m actually gutted I haven’t made it here previously because over the past couple of years Sri Lanka seems to have grown in popularity quite significantly, and that’s kind of lessened its appeal somewhat. I would still love to go, but I’d like to plan an itinerary that sees me incorporating parts most tourists don’t make it to, alongside the more visited spots.
Sumatra. Gunung Leuser National Park is reportedly where you have the best chance in all of Indonesia to see orangutans in the wild, and seeing orangutans in the wild has long been one of my dreams. Wild and rugged and more remote than neighbouring Borneo, Sumatra is home to immense volcanoes, lush rainforests, highland lakes and locals with distinctive cultures and unique traditions.
I’d pretty much love to visit all of Africa right now (well, almost all of Africa!), but Namibia, Ethiopia, Botswana, Rwanda, Mozambique, and South Africa are probably the six countries at the top of my list.
Central and South America
When I bought a one-way ticket to Peru in 2014, the plan had originally been to visit more than just two countries. However, Peru stole my heart so bad that I ended up spending three months there before heading on to Bolivia, where I spent another two. And then, rather earlier than I had anticipated, it was time to fly home.
So I’d still like to make it to those I missed. I’d love to trek to the Lost City in Colombia, to spend time in the Atacama Desert in Chile and to hang out in the highest constitutional capital in the world in Ecuador.
I also found really cheap flights to Mexico on Secret Flying a few weeks ago, and having now researched the destination in a little more depth, it’s definitely piqued my interest in visiting.
The Middle East is another huge part of the world that I’ve not yet explored. Jordan has been on my radar for many years (because, well, the Lost City of Petra is there and it looks amazing), but Oman, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan are new additions to my wish list.
And that concludes what was supposed to be a short post outlining my 2019 travel plans, but has actually turned into almost 3000 words!
So it’s your turn now: tell me about your travel plans for this year. Where are you most excited about visiting?
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