2015 in Review: Travel, travel, and more travel!
What a year it’s been!
I started off 2015 with the relatively simple goals of surviving my first year back at university and maybe visiting one country as a reward for doing well at university.
Instead, I visited ten countries, spent five months living in Africa, worked with some pretty huge brands, and got so busy that I had to leave university after just six months to focus on my travels and my new role as the Asia-Pacific representative for Shadows of Africa.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and that’s certainly how my year panned out in a very groovy way.
January – February: Back to School
The first two months of the year played out largely as I’d expected.
Once my proposed role as a content creator in Thailand fell through, I hurriedly went to my Plan B – heading back to university to study tourism management and indulge my mid-life crisis by doing the living on campus thing.
Enrolling at Southern Cross University’s Coffs Harbour campus, I reverted to my late teens by moving into a shared college apartment on campus, skipping more classes than I attended, drinking entirely too much on a weekly basis, and somehow still getting all of my assignments done in good time.
Despite my initial fears that my age would be seen as weird, I was pleasantly surprised to find that people thought I was considerably younger than I really am.
I still recall one girl telling me her boyfriend thought I was “a cool kid”. When I explained I was probably older than her kilt-wearing beau, she assured me that wasn’t possible because “He’s 26”.
Ah, to be 26 again!
Over the course of my time at Carina College, I made some good friends, had some unforgettable (albeit blurry) nights out, and finished up with three High Distinctions and a Distinction. Not too bad!
March: Exploring Dubai with Hidden Dubai
My studies were disrupted for the coolest possible reason in March, with an startling invitation from Yahoo and Emirates to be their Australian representative of their Hidden Dubai campaign.
Designed to highlight the less known sides of the glitzy United Arab Emirates city, the Hidden Dubai campaign saw me spend a whirlwind week in the city doing things like swimming with sharks, trying my hand at fly-boarding, tackling gigantic burgers, being bent out of shape at sunset yoga, taking a hot air balloon over the desert, and learning to surf.
It was a hugely enjoyable week, and working with Yahoo was something of a geek out moment for a kid who grew up with late night Yahoo Messenger chats and who still has his old email@example.com email address. Read more about my experience on location with Yahoo.
April: Exploring my Heritage at the Australian Celtic Festival
I kept April fairly low key, with the only real adventure being a trip back to my home town to attend the festival that has made it pseudo-famous.
Despite having spent the last twenty years of my life calling the area home, I’d never been to Glen Innes’ signature Celtic Festival. Invited along as a guest of the Celtic Council, I had a fun day wandering muddy tracks between musical performances, food vendors, Scottish clan meetings, and demonstrations of swordplay.
It lay somewhere between a museum exhibit and a renaissance fair, and it’s an experience I still need to write about in greater detail as the 2016 edition approaches.
May: A Chinese Return
To celebrate successfully surviving my first (and so far only) semester back at university, I decided to reward myself with a week long visit to my former stomping grounds in China.
The first stop was a fantastic three day visit to Beijing – a city I’d somehow overlooked during my nearly three years living behind the Great Firewall. Accompanied by my good friend, Corinne I enjoyed two days of wandering through Beijing’s hutongs, visiting the Imperial sites, hiking the Great Wall of China, over-indulging in Beijing duck, and even getting into fisticuffs with a drunk local who thought it was okay to shove my traveling companion.
Following my Beijing adventures, it was off to Nanjing to renew old friendships and rekindle old flames. The four days in Nanjing are a blur of boozy nights, over-tired catch up lunches, and overdosing on nostalgia.
June: Falling in Love with Namibia
The next stop on my whistle-stop tour of the world would be Namibia – a country I couldn’t have pointed to on a map a year ago.
Invited along as a guest of the Namibian Tourism Board, myself and a few other tourism industry professionals would spend an amazing week on safari with Pack Safaris to enjoy a safari in Etosha National Park, sunrise over Sossusvlei, and the beaches of Swakopmund.
Over the course of this week of dunes, lions, and starkly beautiful beaches, I fell head over heels in love with the tiny African nation. So much so that it’s my unequivocal answer when people ask me: “What’s your favourite country?”
July – August: A Tanzanian Home
What did I say about plans going awry?
I arrived in Tanzania overtired but enthusiastic for my three weeks in the country, only to have my boss at Shadows of Africa ask me if I could stay through to September to help get the company’s new website off the ground.
Setting up a base in a spacious room in my boss’ house, I’d spend the next two months becoming acquainted with African cuisine, sharing an office with a pair of crazy Ukrainian girls, and even sneaking in a few adventures along the way.
Highlights include a four day safari through the Serengeti, overnighting at the stunningly beautiful Africa Amini Life Lodge, exploring the Kilimanjaro foothills in Marangu, and partying the night away at local hotspots like Via Via, Le Patio, and Fig & Olive. Those cheap cocktail nights were very nearly the death of me!
September: Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya
I bid farewell to Africa in suitably unexpected style, with the boss sending me on a three week exploration of some of our up and coming destinations.
A week in Uganda saw me trek with chimpanzees, take a boat safari through Queen Elizabeth National Park, and fall just a little bit in love with Chameleon Hills Lodge.
A week in Rwanda had me visiting the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, having a rather rough time of things at the famous Red Rocks Cultural Centre, and having my heart broken time and time again by the various genocide memorials across the country.
A week in Kenya featured a safari through the Masai Mara (complete with Wildebeest Migration!), exploring Nairobi, and taking a serene boat safari on Lake Naivasha.
It was a stellar three weeks of travel, and I have unfinished business with all three countries.
October: Thailand, TBEX, and Singapore
You know how they sometimes say that you need a vacation to recover from your vacation?
That’s how I was feeling after four months of unexpected travel, so I booked myself two weeks on the beaches of Thailand to get some much needed (but thoroughly undeserved) R&R.
After revisiting Phuket with my friend Ting Ting, I spent a very chill week hanging out on the largely abandoned beaches of Koh Lanta.
From there, it was up to Bangkok for the four days of debauchery that is TBEX. Along the way I made some awesome new friends, which was definitely a highlight of my year.
Special shout-outs to Jade from OurOyster, Cherie from Flight of the Travel Bee, Brendon from Nerd Travels, Mica from Travel This Earth, Dimitris from Roo Rover, Jacky from Colourful Movement, and Mel from If You Wanna Go, Just Go).
While in Bangkok I ate a lot, drank a lot, went on a fun food tour with Context Travel, and discovered the wonders of 7-11 toasted cheese sandwiches. I also took part in my first ever Escape Room experience!
After Thailand, it was off to Singapore for ITB Asia. While this event wasn’t as much fun as TBEX and Singapore can’t hold a candle to Thailand, I did enjoy the cheap eats in the hawker markets and one rather wild night out (complete with Singapore Slings from Raffles) with Nick’s Travel Bug, XPat Matt, Cruisinaltitude, and Travels in Translation.
Another highlight of October? Rejoining the Travel Massive community at events in both Bangkok and Singapore. Having been one of the almost founding members back in Sydney, it was certainly a thrill to see how huge the organisation has gotten.
November: Back Home
I kept things fairly low key in November, choosing to focus on catching up with friends and getting work done.
I met my adorable new nephew, reconnected with my other niece and nephew (who had forgotten who I was), and enjoyed the lead up to Christmas with my family.
December: Wonderful Indonesia and a Family Christmas
December got off to an unexpectedly exciting start when the Indonesian Tourism Board invited me on their end of year famil trip to see Bali, Lombok, and the Komodo Islands.
Departing on my birthday, I spent a very fun week with an awesome crew of people exploring the jungles of Lombok, the islands of the Komodo National Park, and the wonders of Bintang beer.
Returning home just in time to snare a ride back to the village with my mother, I then had a really chaotic but fun Christmas.
Or is that two Christmases? With my sister bringing her brood of kids up just after the main event, my mother’s birthday got turned into a second Christmas complete with backyard cricket, sunset BBQs, and board games.
It’s been a really wonderful welcome home, and I’m not even upset about the fact I’ve rung in the New Year in a sleepy village of fifty.
Looking Ahead to 2016
As you can probably see, 2015 was a busy year. Ten countries, seven new countries, countless stories, and I’m 1/6th of the way through a second Bachelor’s Degree to boot!
I don’t want to look too far ahead into 2016, lest fickle fate throw me in an entirely new direction.
That being said, I have a few highlights tentatively locked in:
- January – February: My good friend, Hogg and I are off on a five week Great US Road Trip that will take us from San Francisco to New York. I anticipate putting on a whole bunch of weight.
- May: I’m headed back to Africa as part of Shadows of Africa’s annual retreat. During my month (?) there, I’ll be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, going on safari in Uganda, visiting Ethiopia for the first time, and finishing it all up with some beach time in the Seychelles.
- July: I’m hoping to get to Sweden for TBEX Europe. While in Europe, I’m planning to visit Slovenia and spend some time on the Greek beaches.
- October: With TBEX Asia taking place in Manila, I’m really tempted to go along just so I can renew my love affair with the beautiful islands and people of the Philippines.
- November: I may be taking a month long job that will see me exploring southern Thailand with a bunch of bright-eyed kids.
I’m also hoping to continue my studies, lose weight, fall in love etc. I’ll save that nonsense for my upcoming 2016 Resolutions post.
How was your 2015?