2015 in Review: Travel, Travel, and More Travel!

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2015 in Review: Travel, travel, and more travel!

Wow.

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.

waterslide coffs harbour southern cross university carina college
Getting right into the swing of things with college life.

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!

carina college coffs harbour photo booth
Being frightfully mature at the college ball.

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.

surfing kite beach dubai burj al arab
Not a bad place to learn to surf, eh? I also got to do sunset yoga here.
claw burger dubai
I was soundly defeated by ‘The Claw’ in Dubai. This gigantic burger was too much for one man.

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 inches_72@yahoo.com email address. Read moreĀ about my experience on location with Yahoo.

hot air balloon dubai
One of the highlights of my visit was undoubtedly a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the desert outside of Dubai.

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.

australian standing stones glen innes celtic festival
Erected during Australia’s bicentennial celebrations, the Australian Standing Stones act as host to the Australian Celtic Festival.
sunset bagpipes glen innes standing stones celtic festival
The bagpipers join forces to bring a close to the day with a stirring bagpipe performance.
live music australian celtic festival glen innes
Fell just a little bit in love with this talented songstress.

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.

great wall of china window
A highlight of the year was definitely standing atop the Great Wall of 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.

great wall jinshanling
On top of the world!

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.

nanjing nanking nation party bus
Reunited with some of my favourite people in Nanjing for a pirate themed pub crawl.
nine dragon screen forbidden city beijing china
The Nine Dragon Screen took a bit of effort to find, but it was worth it.

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?”

lion cub etosha national park cute
An adorable lion cub warming up in the morning sun in Etosha National Park.
sossusvlei dune 45 sunrise
Climbing the towering dunes of Sossusvlei was an exhausting treat.
deadvlei sossusvlei namibia
In stark contrast to the fiery red of the Sossusvlei dunes, Deadvlei is a place of grim beauty.

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.

kibowa orphanage tanzania arusha orphans
Taking a day to volunteer at Kibowa Orphanage was a really moving and rewarding day.
ngorongoro hippo pool
I take a moment from dining with hippos to look regal in Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
amini life lodge picnic
What better place for an afternoon picnic?

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.

serengeti sunset tanzania
Arguably the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen.

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!

maji moto hot springs tanzania lake manyara
Maji Moto, an oasis of tranquillity in the otherwise arid region near Lake Manyara, was a dreamy escape.
leopard serengeti in a tree
A lazy leopard poses for us while we cross the Serengeti.

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.

chameleon hills lodge uganda
The stunningly beautiful Chameleon Hills Lodge was a Ugandan highlight for me.

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.

rwandan food lake kivu
Enjoying some exquisite seafood on the shores of Lake Kivu in Rwanda.
banana beer making rwanda red rocks
Learning how to make the sickly sweet (and dangerously strong) banana beer at Red Rocks in Rwanda.

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.

rhino nairobi national park
My first close encounter with a rhinoceros at Nairobi National Park.

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.

karon beach sunset phuket thailand
Ting Ting watches the sun set on Karon Beach in Phuket.
kayaking phang nga bay phuket
Kayaking in to the first of many well kept secrets in Phang Nga Bay.
A brilliantly sunny Koh Lanta day. Perfect for a dip!
A brilliantly sunny Koh Lanta day. Perfect for a dip!
koh lanta sunset
A stellar sunset over 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).

cabbages and condoms bangkok
With a few of my favourite bloggers at Cabbages & Condoms in Bangkok

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!

scorpion eating khao sanh road bangkok
Eating some not-so-local delicacies with the Roo Rover.

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.

Posing at the Korean Tourism stall for ITB Asia.
Posing at the Korean Tourism stall for ITB Asia.
raffles singapore sling
Enjoying a pricey Singapore Sling at the bar that started it all – Raffles.

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.

That didn’t mean I didn’t have a few fun adventures. I spent a week in Sydney taking seafood cooking classes at the Sydney Fish Market, going whale-watching, and checking out another Escape Room.

centrepoint tower sydney
Got to love that Sydney skyline.
sydney escape room
Winners! We cleared the Escape Room with just a minute to spare!

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.

Christian rock band waterfall lombok tiu kelep bearded man
Jones Around the World, myself, and Tiki Touring Kiwi braved the water and gave a barbaric yawp in celebration.
lombok terrace farm indonesia
Look at that green!
sunrise airport indonesia
My most loved Instagram photo of the year was taken at Bali Airport before a 6am flight to Flores.
komodo island liveaboard sunset
Enjoying a Komodo Islands sunset from atop the crow’s nest on our liveaboard.

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.

gingerbread house parfait
Christmas morning – a bit of gingerbread and a breakfast parfait
rainbow christmas tree
Our Christmas tree this year was designed to celebrate marriage equality.

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.

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