2016 had been a tough year for me emotionally, but at the same time a great year for travel. I spent the last four weeks of the year (ok, that’s not entirely accurate; I flew back to the UK on Christmas Eve) backpacking around Myanmar and Thailand, a trip that had been in the making almost 12 months prior to its actual realisation.
Travel-wise, 2017 had a lot to live up to.
2017 also began with a lot of uncertainty regarding my looming house move. My flat had been on the market for almost a year before we finally managed to secure a sale on 26 August 2016 – just three days before my dad sadly passed away. Around a month later we’d had an offer accepted on a house I immediately fell in love with as soon as I viewed it. So, when I flew out to Bangkok on 25 November we were just waiting for the solicitors to finish processing the paperwork, and for the results of the survey on the place we were buying to come through. I was hoping to move into the new house as soon after Christmas as possible.
New year, new start.
Except that it didn’t work out like that.
We were buying an old property that had been newly refurbished, and the survey results highlighted “excessive damp” which hadn’t been treated, but had been covered up by dry lining instead. There was also evidence of subsidence, which the owners could not prove was merely historic. Further investigations highlighted that all other houses on the terrace had been underpinned – apart from this one. In short, my mum (my landlady, and the person who would be funding the purchase) was not prepared to go ahead with the purchase following the results of the survey and the vendor’s significant lack of documentation for works carried out.
I completely understood, but I was gutted. That house really felt like home from the moment I walked through the door.
Pulling out of the purchase also meant that I’d likely end up in temporary accommodation, paying ridiculously elevated rental costs (on top of storage fees) whilst I attempted to find myself another home. Having been settled in my previous flat for over 10 years, it was a period of my life I was most definitely not looking forward to.
But then another curveball was thrown: almost six months after a sale was agreed on my flat and just before we were about to exchange contracts, our buyer suddenly decided to pull out.
We were back to square one again.
My mum and I were starting to wonder if anything was ever going to go right for us; it seemed to be one thing after another ever since my dad died.
But then our luck started to change.
My mum had been toying with the idea of downsizing for some time. It was my dad who loved gardening, and since his death my mum was finding it very difficult to manage the relatively high maintenance patch of land that she had now become the sole owner of, with its vast array of plants, flowers and homegrown fruit and veg. She also felt that the house itself had become too big for her, considering that there was one less person living in it now.
But she always maintained that she wouldn’t move unless she found a bungalow she really liked, with the right-sized garden, and in a part of town she wanted to live in. And there was no point putting her current property on the market until she’d found that.
So naturally I assumed that she’d never actually get around to moving.
But then not only did she find somewhere that ticked all the boxes, she put her own house on the market and within a matter of hours she had accepted a full-price offer, which then allowed her to put an offer in on the bungalow she was interested in. An offer that was subsequently accepted.
How many people can say that they sold their property on the same day they put it on the market, and for the full asking price?
A few weeks later we had secured a second sale on my flat. It had only been on the market about a month this time around.
We then proceeded to look around at a few potential properties to buy, but none of them felt quite right, and I was starting to panic once again that I’d end up reliving my student days – back in a temporary shared accommodation with a bunch of strangers, where queues for the bathroom every morning are normal, and finding clean crockery in the kitchen is a bonus.
But then my mum made a suggestion that would change my fortune.
And although I’ve never really been one for believing that, “whatever is meant to be, will be,” when I look back now it’s actually quite serendipitous how it all worked out in the end.
You see, the very first house I fell in love with (well before the one we almost bought) was one we viewed just weeks after we initially put my flat on the market. However, due to not having sold my flat at the time we were not in a position to put in an offer, and the house subsequently got sold to someone else.
At the time the house did need a complete renovation, so we weren’t sure whether it had been purchased by someone who intended to live in it, or someone who intended to do a bit of work on it and sell it on.
My mum suggested I pop a note through the letterbox to enquire as to whether the current owners may be interested in selling the property. Knowing I had nothing to lose by doing so, but a very teeny weeny chance of gaining quite a lot, I drafted the letter and slipped it under the door.
I never expected to hear anything at all, let alone the fact that yes – due to a change in the owners’ personal circumstances – they actually were planning to sell the property.
They hadn’t finished the work on the house, but had done enough to make it liveable. This worked in our favour, as it meant the property was still affordable. Had it been completely renovated it would have been well over our budget.
The timing couldn’t have been any more perfect.
Our offer was accepted on 23 May 2017, and on 14 July 2017 I moved out of my flat and into my new home: a cosy circa 1910 2-bed semi-detached house with original period features and oodles of character.
I couldn’t be happier.
So, whilst one of the year’s lowlights was the stresses and strains of moving house, the actual move – into the place I originally fell in love with almost two years beforehand – also turned out to be one of my highlights.
Here are a few more.
#1 On assignment in Copenhagen: Taking the £200 challenge in collaboration with The Money Shop
If you want to find out exactly how I ended up taking part in this collaboration, then check out this post. But in short it’s one of my biggest triumphs as a blogger since starting Gallop Around The Globe in October 2013.
The Money Shop paid for my return flights (and transport to and from the airport) and then gave me £200 to cover two night’s accommodation and all spending money whilst in the city. Truth be told, I could have chosen any European city in which to take this challenge, but I picked one of the most expensive cities because I wanted to show people that it is possible to travel (almost) anywhere on a budget.
You can read all about how I got on with the #TMS200 challenge here.
#2 Rediscovering travel with my mum: A week in Tuscany
The trip was a Christmas present for my mum. Yes I totally blew my entire Christmas present budget on this one gift, but it was something I knew my mum would love, and after everything that life had thrown at us throughout 2016, it was something she desperately deserved, too.
We flew into Pisa and travelled to Florence, San Gimignano, Lucca, Siena, and Montalcino, before travelling back to Pisa to fly home. Although the weather was a little more chilly than we’d hoped for at the end of March, we had a wonderful seven days together. And, considering that I slowed my pace down considerably for the benefit of mum, I was pleasantly surprised at how much we actually managed to see.
It’s difficult to name a highlight of the whole trip, because everywhere we visited (with the exception of Pisa) was just so damn beautiful.
#3 Ticking off a few Welsh bucket list items
I live just 14 kilometres east of the Welsh border. It’s so close I could probably run there if I tried (I managed 11K earlier this year; it’s only 3K further). However I’m embarrassed to admit how little of the country I’ve actually explored as an adult. When I lived in Cambridge as a child we often used to take our family holidays to Wales. I have vague recollections of visiting Portmeirion (a tourist attraction that was built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village) and loving it, and apparently I’ve visited the smallest house in Great Britain (located in Conwy) too, but my memories of that are a little more faded.
I wanted to revisit these places as an adult, and also to add the longest place name in Europe into the mix. There’s not a lot to see in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – but the sign on one of the platforms at the train station makes for a pretty cool photograph.
So, over the Easter bank holiday, Stu and I decided to take a little camping trip around Wales. In spite of the awful weather (Wales is renowned for being wet) and the fact that we didn’t make it to the third best beach bar in the world when the weather did improve – due to the fact that it can only be reached on foot or by boat and we had a very elderly dog with us who couldn’t walk further than around 100 metres without his legs giving way – I thoroughly enjoyed exploring my own back yard. And vowed to do it more often as soon as I got home.
#4 Realising how much I’d missed travelling alone: A solo city break in Girona
I actually won my return flights here in a competition I entered just before Christmas. I’d read about the city’s colourful Temps de Flors (Flower Festival) on another travel blog, and it looked amazing. So, after a quick Google search alerted me to the fact that the festival takes place in May every year, I booked my flights for the first week in that month, over the bank holiday.
Of course, when I arrived in Girona I discovered that the flower festival only takes place for a week in May; not the entire month, as I had wrongly assumed. I would be leaving the city three days before it even began.
In the words of Homer Simpson, “doh!!!!”
However, in spite of that epic travel fail, I loved Girona. It’s a relaxed, compact, and stylish city, and offers a wonderful mix of history, culture, architecture, and a vast array of quality dining options. I felt completely safe there as a solo female traveller wandering around after dark, which immediately earned it bonus points over the city it often plays second fiddle to – Barcelona.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Barcelona. But I also loved spending four nights in a city that many people only factor in a day trip to, if that.
#5 Finally making it to Montenegro: A fantastic 7-day road trip around the country
My parents had waxed lyrical about Montenegro ever since they visited some years beforehand, and more recently a few of my favourite travel bloggers had also been singing its praises. I decided that I had to visit before it became somewhere that everyone wanted to spend their summer holidays.
So, as soon as Easyjet announced that they were launching flights from one of my local airports (Manchester) to Tivat, I started planning my trip.
We started our 7-day road trip in the beautiful walled city of Kotor, located in a secluded corner of the deepest natural fjord-like bay in the Mediterranean Sea. Its Old Town has earned itself UNESCO World Heritage status, and I guarantee it will totally charm your socks off. Remember Dubrovnik before it became overrun with tourists?
From Kotor we continued around Kotor Bay to Perast before heading away from the coast, towards the lesser-explored parts of inland Montenegro. It reminded me of our road trip around Slovenia four years beforehand, except that Montenegro was much more remote. It was quite normal to find ourselves driving for well over an hour and not pass a single village.
If you love outdoor adventures and you’re a sucker for beautiful landscapes (there are mountains, lakes, and canyons, and a monastery built into a sheer rock face) then you absolutely must come to Montenegro!
#6 Discovering Luxembourg and wondering why more people don’t visit this amazingly beautiful country
This post by Lauren at Never Ending Footsteps piqued my interest in this tiny lesser-visited European country, so when I spotted some cheap flights there over a weekend when I had two flexi days to use, I jumped at the chance to check it out for myself.
I based myself in the ridiculously pretty Luxembourg City and made day trips to Vianden and Echternach, using the country’s reliable public transport network and the Luxembourg card. This card offers amazing value for money in a country where most other things are pretty expensive.
Luxembourg City has to be one of the prettiest capital cities I’ve ever visited (Sucre in Bolivia is one of the others) and outside of the capital city you’ll find some magnificent castles and adorably charming little towns with quiet cobbled streets, that make you feel like you’re somewhere in Bavaria.
#7 A Romanian city break with two of my favourite girls
Gloria, Kath and I have now made this a yearly tradition: find flights and three nights accommodation to somewhere none of us have been before for as close to under £100 each as possible. Riga cost us £60 each, Poznan cost us £70, and Cluj Napoca cost us £92 (but we did have an amazing apartment with a super helpful host).
Although Cluj is not going to win any awards for being one of Europe’s prettiest cities (Riga and Poznan’s old towns are largely pedestrianised; Cluj’s is not), it is home to some beautiful architecture, incredible restaurants, and quirky hidden bars.
#8 Hiking through Kerala’s beautiful tea plantations
I hate the British winter time. It’s cold, wet, cloudy and dull, and Christmas starts way too early in England! And despite the fact that I can’t really afford to at this time of year – what with Christmas coming up ‘n’ all – I always like to escape to sunnier climes in at some point during November or December, even if only for a week or so.
Kerala had been on my radar for for some time. If you read this post, you’ll know that it was one of the destinations I specified as being on my 2017 wishlist.
As I was browsing the Explore magazine for some travel inspiration one evening, I came across its Walking in Kerala trekking trip, and began to read through the itinerary and look at prices. Now I don’t very often book organised tours (because I much prefer the freedom of planning and organising my own adventures), but when you work a full-time job with a limited amount of leave, they allow you see and do a lot more in a much shorter space of time compared to an independently organised trip.
When you travel independently, a large chunk of your time is spent trying to figure out the logistics of your itinerary – bus/train times and tickets, sightseeing, accommodation options and cafes/restaurants to eat at – so it takes a lot longer to actually see and do everything you’d planned.
The Kerala trip ran over my flexi period changeover dates (meaning that I can take a Friday and a Monday together as flexi leave (leave I have accrued by working over my statutory weekly hours)), and for just 10 days. This would mean that I only used 6 days leave for a 10-day trip, and that I’d have some leave left to use in the first quarter of 2018, before my leave year finished at the end of March.
Apart from the monsoon rains for the majority of the trip (the result of a cyclone that hit not far from where we were trekking; normally it rarely rains at this time of year), Kerala was everything I’d hoped it would be.
The food was amazing, the landscapes were incredible (when we could actually see them for the fog), and everyone we met seemed genuinely happy and welcoming – a stark contrast to the pushiness and insincerity I experienced from some people in the north of India. I was also fortunate enough to have a fantastic guide and equally brilliant group who all gelled well with each other and stayed positive in spite of the constant rain and the abundance of leeches.
So how did I do with regards to the travel goals I set myself at the beginning of the year? When I wrote my 2017 travel goals I already had three trips planned and booked – Copenhagen, Tuscany, and Girona. However my other goals were to:
- travel to my 40th country for my birthday in June – Montenegro. Check!
- take at least one long-haul trip each year. Check! (Kerala, India)
- add at least one new country to my visited list. Check! (Montenegro and Luxembourg)
- take one weekend every couple of months visiting somewhere in the UK I’ve never been before. Failed miserably! One camping trip to Criccieth, Portmeirion, Conwy, and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (Wales) in April. But three out of four ain’t bad!
If you’re still reading (yes, I realise this post is over 3000 words long!), tell me about some of your 2017 travel highlights in the comments below 🙂
Seeing as this post is so lengthy already, next week’s post will look at how my year measured up with regards to my personal and blog goals. If you want to be notified when I post it, make sure you subscribe to my posts by entering your email address in the box on the right. Or alternatively you can follow me on Bloglovin’
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