2016 in Review

By Aussie on the Road on  23 Comments
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Not All Doom and Gloom

At the start of this year, I hadn’t exactly set myself especially lofty goals.

I wanted to return to China as part of my ongoing role with Shadows of Africa. I wanted to maybe do a little more travel, date a bit, and focus a bit more on my writing.

Despite these modest goals and the general shit show that was 2016 for most of the world, I somehow find myself looking back on the year as one of the best of my life.

I got to travel to ten countries, including three new countries.

I returned to my home away from home in Nanjing, China and made a bunch of new friends.

Highlights of my year in travel included trekking with gorillas in Uganda, living the life in The Maldives, an unforgettable farm stay in Malaysia, safaris in Kenya, falling in love with Taiwan, wandering an isolated stretch of the Great Wall with a pretty girl, and a five week US road trip that will forever remain one of my most cherished travel memories.

So while 2016 might have been doom and gloom for politics and most of the world’s celebrities, it will go down as one of the best years I’ve ever had.

The Great US Road Trip

It’s almost hard to believe that my five week San Francisco to New York road trip is how I started my year.

With the top down on a bright red Mustang, my mate James and I made our way through San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, Austin, New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New York in one of the most fun, exhausting, and boozy experiences of my life.

Some of the highlights of the trip were hiking in Muir Woods, falling in love with San Luis Obispo, a drunken Super Bowl house party in San Diego, exploring Austin’s bars with Nick’s Travel Bug, taking a New Orleans bike tour, drinking our way through Nashville, visiting Atlanta’s oldest strip club, and exploring New York with a local guide.

Along the lengthy drive we drank a lot of coffee, listened to a lot of Stone Cold Steve Austin podcasts, sang along with a lot of David Bowie and Queen, and had a hell of a lot of fun.

I’ve still yet to complete writing about some of the zany, fun experiences we had along the way – so keep your eyes peeled for future updates on the Great US Road Trip.

A Singapore Return

I’d barely put my feet back on Aussie soil before I was being whisked off again for another adventure.

After being underwhelmed by Singapore during my 2015 visit, I was invited by Far East Hospitality to return to Singapore and give it another chance. Accompanied by a motley collection of journalists from all walks of life, I’d spend three nights at two properties to get a better feel for Singapore.

Over the course of a delectable Singapore food tour, a Peranakan cultural tour, and entirely too many bottles of wine, I came to better appreciate the charms of the city-state. While it’s pricier than my usual haunts, there’s certainly a lot more to Singapore than the Marina Bay Sands and shopping.

Exploring the New England

The autumn months found me back in the sleepy little New England village I grew up in, and I made the most of my remaining time with my family. With my return to China imminent, it was time to do all of the New England things I’d always put off.

Accompanied by Jacky from The Colourful Movement, I made the scenic walk from Ben Lomond to Glencoe and paid a visit to the beautiful Dorrigo National Park to take in the rainforest and the waterfalls.

I also attended the Australian Celtic Festival for the second year in a row.

These mightn’t seem like the most exciting activities, but I really appreciated some time to get to better know my nephews and niece – whom I seldom see when I’m on the road.

Returning to China

May saw me making my long-awaited return to China after almost two years away from my home away from home.

When I first moved to Nanjing back in 2012, I wrote about the reasons I loved expat life in Nanjing, and many of those still held true upon my return.

Sure, I was no longer at the mercy of a Chinese school for my income or my hours, but I still had a fun circle of friends, I still had access to a lot of western conveniences, and I still enjoyed having the chance to immerse myself more thoroughly in Chinese culture.

Accompanied by friends such as Doreen, Ting Ting, and Corinne – I explored neighbourhoods I’d never seen during my first visit. I took Chinese lessons. I joined a trivia team. I threw myself back into Nanking Nation.

I also (gasp) tried my hand at dating local girls with limited success. Wonders will never cease!

Falling in Love with Taiwan

My one year tourism visa requires me to leave China every 60 days, so I decided to make my first ‘visa run’ one I’d remember by finally checking Taiwan off the bucket list.

After being told by friends like Lauren from Neverending Footsteps and Richelle from Adventures Around Asia what a fantastic country it is, I planned myself a thirteen day Taiwan itinerary that included Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Taroko Gorge on the east coast.

I immediately fell head over heels in love with Taiwan. It has the cultural elements I love about mainland China without the pollution, rudeness, or general headaches that I’ve come to accept as a frustrating and unavoidable part of life behind the Great Firewall.

I spent a fantastic day in Taipei, went on a mouth-watering Taipei food tour, took a dip at Cijin Beach, explored the historic sites in Tainan, visited Jiufen of Spirited Away fame, and got just a taste of what makes Taroko Gorge so popular.

My thirteen days weren’t nearly enough time to do Taiwan justice, but I left with the distinct feeling that not only will I be back – but I might just need to call Taiwan home someday.

Hello Sabah

My next ‘visa run’ was of an entirely different variety, as I took part in the Sabah Tourism Board’s #HelloSabah promotion as one of five bloggers invited to explore the Borneo portion of Malaysia.

The campaign was something very unique as far as press trips go, as each of us was sent on our own custom built itinerary. As an adventure and culture blogger, I got to do things such as white water rafting the Padas River, overnighting in a traditional longhouse without power or WiFi (gasp!), and taking a day tour through Kota Kinabalu.

By far the highlight of my trip was a Sabah farm stay with Kiulu Farm Stay. I went into the experience dreading it, but came away with a newfound appreciation of Sabahan culture and hospitality. Over the course of two days we hiked through the jungle, plucked fresh fruit from the trees to munch on, cooked our own food, drank rice wine, and I even found myself with a marriage proposal!

Malaysia now joins a growing list of countries I need a lot more time in. I don’t even feel like I did Sabah province justice!

A Maldives Escape

As if my year hadn’t already featured enough amazing experiences, I somehow found myself whisked off to The Maldives for an eight day work trip.

With Shadows of Africa now selling The Maldives, I joined a foursome of Russian travel agents for a whirlwind tour of four amazing resorts: Conrad Maldives, W Maldives, Park Hyatt Maldives, and Outrigger Maldives.

I’ve yet to get around to writing about my experience as a single guy in one of the world’s most romantic countries, but I enjoyed my time sleeping in over-water villas, scuba diving beautiful house reefs, drinking free cocktails, and generally experiencing a life I’ll likely never be able to afford for myself.

Solo Travel in The Philippines

October saw me returning to one of my absolute favourite countries in the world: The Philippines. I’ve written before about why I love the Philippines, and when I learned that TBEX Asia would be hosted in Manila – I was super excited!

The conference itself was a lot of fun, as I got to reunite with old friends and make new ones across the weekend of talks, after parties, and hungover lunch breaks.

Once the chaos had died down, I went on to have an underwhelming week on Boracay before following a good friend’s advice and visiting Moalboal to scuba dive the sardine run and go canyoning, before finishing off with a relaxing week on Siquijor.

It wasn’t quite as much fun as my previous visit to the Philippines with my siblings in 2014, and it was perhaps exacerbated by the fact I was busy with work and didn’t have the best time traveling on my own – but I came away from it with some fun memories.

A Month on Safari

From the Philippines, it was straight to Africa!

Shadows of Africa’s yearly trips to Africa have become one of the absolute highlights of my life, and this year was no different. A three week fam trip with my co-workers Jake and Marjeta saw me on safari in both Uganda and Kenya, gorilla trekking in Uganda, overnighting on the shores of the mighty Nile, re-visiting the heart-wrenching Kigali Genocide Memorial, and finally settling down in my former home, Arusha for a few weeks of training.

My role as a salesman, content writer, and social media guru for Shadows of Africa has become not only my primary source of income, but also my passion. I’m loving my role with the company, and I can’t wait to see what new adventures 2017 holds for me.

A New Romance

Speaking of new adventures, 2017 also saw me finally re-enter the world of relationships!

After reading her post on How Travel is Ruining My Love Life, I got to talking to her about life on the road and our travel dreams.

Two whirlwind visits to Beijing, a few days in the Philippines, and a hell of a lot of conversations on WeChat later – we’re Facebook official and preparing to head on an adventure to Sumatra together in less than a month’s time.

After three years of being single and countless years of dating people who didn’t really want the same life of travel, location independence, and creativity as I did, it’s been refreshing dating somebody who is on the same page as me.

Family Time

Topping off a wonderful year of travel, I’ve been able to make it home just in time for Christmas with my family. Christmas in Australia is something I’m always eager to make happen if I can, and these holidays are only getting to be more special as we all grow up and have lives (and families) of our own.

We also managed to make a family holiday to Green Valley Farm happen, with fourteen of our fifteen member brood (my youngest brother had work) making the trip over to the unorthodox amusement park for two days of waterslides, board games, BBQs, and good times.

My time at home also comes with an exciting announcement, as my brother and his young family will be joining me in China when they relocate to Beijing later this year! They’ve even started Our Travelling Circus to document their adventures as young parents on the road!

What About 2017?

2017 is already shaping up to be an exciting year. In addition to a new romance and the adventure of having my brother and his family with me in China again, I’ve got some exciting plans.

The new flame and I are off to Sumatra over Chinese New Year for ten days of orangutan trekking and scuba diving, and I’m really excited to see a different side of Indonesia to the waterfalls of Lombok and the komodo dragons that I tackled in 2015.

Beyond that, I’m aiming to continue building my brand, continue my growth as a salesman for Shadows of Africa, and do plenty of travel!

Your Say

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What were your highlights from 2016?

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