“Very few travel experiences have made my heart beat as fast as it did in that moment. With my head torch off, the precipice less than a metre in front of me was invisible.”
Like every year, 2017 has had its highs and lows, its mundane days and life-changing seconds. Despite these ups, downs and unknowns there are a few aspects of my life that stay unchanged: My love for friends and family, my love of a good glass of red wine and a cheeseboard and of course, my love of all things travel.
My favourite budget destination
In April I planned a whistle-stop trip through Italy from north to south, finishing on the island of Sicily. Not only was it significantly cheaper than the rest of Italy, its multicultural towns steeped in ancient Greek, Roman and Arabic history and its unique identity absolutely fascinated me. A land of active volcanoes, pygmy elephants and sardine pasta to die for, with Easyjet doing returns from £30: Sicily was my favourite budget escape of 2017.
My favourite travel meal
Italy is renowned for its food but I had no idea it would be quite as good as it was. Even when I thought I’d stumbled on a tourist-trap or became concerned about the quality of the wine at less than €5 a bottle, I was pleasantly surprised. On my first day in Catania I chose Pasta a la Sarde for lunch and never looked back. Washed down with a light white wine, the combination of pine nuts, pesto and fresh sardines would have been a feast fit for any one of Sicily’s many kings.
My best travel experience
There’s one moment that wins this accolade hands down in 2017: The first explosion of lava I watched on top of Stromboli volcano’s ridge. I’ve never felt so close to earth’s gradual transformation and so small as a human in comparison. Stromboli is so active that one hike is enough to experience its eruptions, so this experience also rates very highly on an effort to reward ratio!
My biggest travel game changer
I’ve travelled solo a great deal in the last decade, always considering myself lucky to be my own boss – never having to compromise my experiences for others. So much so that when I went to Italy with my boyfriend in April I was concerned that I had become the world’s worst travel partner. I quickly realised both our travel outlook and our opinions on life in general were completely aligned. It was my biggest travel learning experience this year: I don’t always have to go solo to get the most of my travel time. In fact, the right travel buddy can enhance an experience.
My strangest day trip
In November I found myself unexpectedly in Gibraltar for the first time in almost a decade following a family tragedy. During a time of utter grief and turmoil, I decided to get the cable car to the top of Gibraltar’s famous rock and found an hour’s relief with its feisty monkeys. I’ve always found that a high vantage point allows me to think and gain some perspective. Simply standing and looking out across the sea while listening to the giggles of tourists getting their belongings ransacked by the monkeys allowed me an afternoon of much needed contemplation.
My biggest travel surprise
Nobody who has grown up in Wales ever expects sunshine, not even in mid August. This year though, the Welsh Riviera really turned it on. For seven days I enjoyed non-stop warm weather with swims most mornings and lunches at beachside restaurants. It was the perfect place to treasure happy memories with my family and friends while enjoying all the beautiful coastline the Gower has to offer.
Where am I now?
As 2017 ticked by something just didn’t sit quite right. After six years with a great global company and four of those spent in wonderful London, I began to feel restless. Mondays loomed large every week. Shortly after turning 33 I decided that I needed to press pause. To get away from the daily commute and my deadline-focused job. Luckily, my new travel buddy was on board.
As I type this, reggae music echoes towards the sea behind me in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. From my vantage point by the hostel pool I can see other backpackers arriving in their droves to see in the New Year. After the clean up of cuba libres is complete on January 1st, we will all bundle into next year oblivious to what it holds for each of us. Just the right dose of the unknown.
Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and travel-filled 2018.