Phew! Sometimes it felt as though 2016 would never end. With a stream of celebrity deaths and some seismic shocks in both political and geographic landscapes, there’s a danger of remembering last year for all the wrong reasons.
Personally I struggled a little last year too, mostly in the latter half of the year as I fought to understand my government’s determination to rob me of my rights as a European citizen thanks to a busload of lies and misinformation. This had a knock-on effect on my finances, where the drop in value of the GBP meant my rent and everyday living expenses increased dramatically. And it coincided with me trying to reshape my business, which meant a drop in income as I tried to build up my reputation in a different area. Messy!
In her annual workbook, Unravel Your Year, Susannah Conway asks the question ‘what you would call your year if it were a book or album?’ The difficult second album syndrome immediately popped into my head!
However while I found some areas of my life a challenge, I had another fantastic year of travel. 2016 was my fourth year in business and my second year as a digital nomad. I slept in twenty beds in fifteen cities, visited nine different countries (including the UK), three of which were new for me. I took ten flights, four train journeys (I’ve only counted long train journeys, not short trips to and from airports), and two ferry trips.
My highlights included finding a place to call home in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for five and a half months, returning to the Worldwide Festival in Sète for another memorable week of dancing in the sunshine to my favourite bands and DJs, getting my travel blogging head on in Stockholm, discovering the wine and wildlife of Slovenia, now one of my favourite countries, and connecting with my inner Lara Croft exploring the archaeological sites of Cyprus.
Here’s my review of 2016.
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
I didn’t set off on my nomad adventures until late January, as the Worldwide Awards in Camden are a fixture in my annual calendar (and the reason I’m sitting in the UK with cold feet as I type!).
I was delighted to arrive in Las Palmas in late January just my Airbnb host was heading to the beach. Exactly the weather I craved. However, I developed a love–hate relationship with the weather in Las Palmas. Sure, it’s a nice warm climate. But there’s a LOT of cloud, thanks to the infamous panza de burro (or donkey’s belly), low-lying cloud that hangs over the city. So much so, that it felt a little like a warmer version of the UK sometimes – in the almost six months I lived there, it was a surprise to wake up to blue sky. And it did start to mess with my mood after a while.
However I enjoyed Las Palmas as a city. I lived close to Vegueta, the old town, which is full of atmosphere and photogenic old buildings, and a short bus ride from Las Canteras, the stunning city beach.
I worked, and mingled with locals who arranged trips around this diverse island to see the variety of landscapes, scramble around archaeological sites, eat cheese, explore the lush, green interior, and pop over to Fuerteventura to chill on the sweeping Caribbean-esque beaches. I took Spanish lessons, joined a women’s entrepreneur group, and spent time swapping stories, discussing travels and making friends in Gran Canaria’s ever-growing nomad community.
My last days in Las Palmas were overshadowed by the disastrous Brexit vote, and I found myself desperate to escape the cloud that added to the feeling of heaviness. Yet the longer I’m away, the more I’m yearning to go back. It gets you like that…
Ah Sète. I almost didn’t head back to my favourite festival in 2016 because, as much as I’d loved Worldwide 2015 and as comfortable as I feel travelling on my own, I find it a struggle turning up at a festival alone. Billy-No-Mates syndrome. I’m not a natural at walking into a space where there are large groups of friends hanging out. I lurk at the periphery and feel kinda awkward and uncomfortable. So even though it’s a gathering of everything I love about music, I wasn’t intending to head back until I could drum up a group of friends to join me.
Then I was offered free accommodation by a nomad friend I’d met in Las Palmas who had an apartment there for a few months over the summer. So I bought my ticket (just in the nick of time, as they sold out pronto!).
And it was every bit as wonderful. And then some.
Sète is rosé wine and seafood. It’s long, hot days chilling on a beach as DJs spin next to the sea. It’s magical nights in the Théâtre de la Mer, where there are always musical surprises and moments of sheer brilliance. And all of this is shared with the friendliest group of music lovers you could wish to meet. There are no debates about 2017. I’m in. I have my ticket and I’ve already booked my accommodation. See you there!
2016 was the year I launched this travel blog, and I was keen to learn more about the business of blogging. Enter TBEX Stockholm.
This was rather bad timing for me, starting, as it did, only a couple of days after my marathon of 7 days and nights partying in the south of France. But it was a great experience.
I rubbed shoulders with other travel bloggers, from the new and inexperienced to travel blogging royalty, I learned a ton about the business of travel blogging (though there is much, much more to learn), and I met many interesting people from all over the world.
TBEX and Visit Stockholm provided each of us with a 48-hour pass to explore Stockholm, so after the conference I had a whistlestop tour of this intriguing Swedish city and a glimpse at the inner archipelago. Although I barely scratched the surface, it was enough to convince me to return for longer another time.
After a handful of weeks chilling, dancing, networking, learning about the business of travel blogging, and generally not doing any client work, I needed to head somewhere quiet for a couple of months to recharge and catch up. Maribor was perfect.
I fell in love with Slovenia. After just over two months it became one of my favourite countries. Maribor is the second city and I found an ideal flat with excellent wifi and a balcony with a stonking view down the river. Surrounded by green spaces, where I spent many a happy hour wandering amongst trees seeking woodpeckers (I finally saw a black woodpecker – a magnificent bird – and got SO excited) and presided over by the mighty Pohorje ski mountain, it’s a quiet and fairly modest place. There are a handful of attractions and plenty of places to walk and inhale clean, fresh air. Oh and wine. There’s lots of wine. And a stunning restaurant, MAK, which I will write about soon…
I was sad to leave Maribor, but excited to head to the capital, Ljubljana, for a few days to meet friends.
We only had a handful of days in this tiny capital – the first of which was decidedly soggy – but it was enough for me to start thinking about returning for a longer stay. Ljubljana is a gorgeous city, small, friendly, and walkable with lots to explore and an excellent food and drink scene (special mention to the amazing teashop, Čajnica Gallus, I found on the riverside with an impressive selection of teas – which pleased this Brit – and some delicious cakes too!).
The view from the castle is well worth the climb, and I squealed with excitement while walking around the city park when I heard the now-familiar call of the black woodpecker, which landed in a tree above my head.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
While in Ljubljana, we managed to slip away to the Julian Alps to see if Lake Bled was worth all the fuss. It was late September, so the main tourist crowds had dispersed and lake-swimming season was over. But holy moly, what a stunning place!
In less than 24 hours, we rowed to the island, ate creamy homemade ice cream with traditional Slovenian flavours, scrambled up a slippery, muddy track to find one of the viewpoints looking over the lake, and wandered along the trail at nearby Vintgar Gorge, a real fairy glen (disclaimer: I can’t guarantee you’ll see fairies) where mossy rocks and tangled branches fringe the emerald-green water, as it rushes towards the waterfall at the gorge end.
Some tourist spots are over-rated; Lake Bled isn’t one of them.
I headed to Pula in luxury. I booked a GoOpti car, a Slovenian start-up that specialises in transfers, and I got lucky, booking a flexible transfer between Ljubljana and Pula where I was the only passenger. So I had a private transfer, in a VIP car, practically door-to-door, for a ridiculously small amount of money. And my chauffeur was a delight, giving me a guided tour and even stopping to show me the Slovenian coast.
I spent a month in Pula. It didn’t capture my heart in the same way as Split and Zadar, but it was an enjoyable month nonetheless. I had a relaxed, arty Airbnb apartment midway between town and the Stoja Peninsula, with a suntrap of a balcony that faced a group of trees where I saw hawfinch feeding and, as dusk fell, was often treated to my own starling murmuration, the noise of their wing beats drawing me to the balcony.
When I wasn’t working, I spent my days exploring the Roman ruins – Pula has an amazing Roman amphitheatre where I wandered for hours imagining gladiators fighting and taking hundreds of photos – sampling Pula’s restaurants, and taking a dip in the silky Adriatic waters. I had a day trip to beautiful Rovinj when a friend came to visit, where we ambled around the narrow streets and climbed up the scariest cathedral tower imaginable (much worse than the one at Split – think narrow, worn wooden steps, slippery bannisters, and one big drop!).
As darkness started encroaching into day and temperatures began dropping, my thoughts turned to warmer climes. So I finished my nomad travels for 2016 in Paphos, Cyprus.
Despite the temperature I didn’t immediately warm to Cyprus. I had internet woes, the old town was one gigantic building site as Paphos gears itself up to be European Capital of Culture 2017, the archaeology museums were closed for renovation, and the harbour area was a bit touristy for me. So it took me a while to find the real Cyprus.
But I got there. My Airbnb host installed fast, reliable wifi and there was a swimming pool at the apartment where I took a brisk, refreshing swim most mornings. I spent hours merrily scrambling around the Tomb of the Kings and Paphos Archaeological Park, where I marvelled at the beautiful, well preserved mosaics, and found a coastal pathway with stunning views along the coast and an abundance of birdlife on the neighbouring scrub. I hired a car with a friend and headed out to explore the Akamas Peninsula, sunbathe on a beach next to Aphrodite’s Rock, scramble around the Kourion archaeological site, and head into the Troodos Mountains where we gazed at the green landscape, sought out one of the UNESCO frescoed churches and hiked to a waterfall. And I crossed the border into Nicosia, North Cyprus, to wander the labyrinth streets of the old town and clamber to the top of the St Hilarion Castle for a magnificent view along the coast.
The archaeology nerd in me was sated, I’d had my fix of warm days, and I felt ready to head back to the UK for Christmas with my family.
Did I Meet My 2016 Goals?
Hmm, looking back on this I was a bit slapdash with my goal setting last year. I didn’t exactly set measurable goals, so some are a little difficult to judge. But anyway…
Stay in one place longer
Yup, I spent five-and-a-half months in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and left with lots of happy memories of the island and a bunch of good friends. I also spent two months in Maribor, Slovenia. This style of travel suits me much better, though it’s nice to break it up with a few shorter trips as well. Some places don’t merit longer stays, plus I like a change in tempo.
Visit three new countries
Yup. Sweden, Slovenia and Cyprus.
Be a better planner
How the hell do I measure that? I had a few definites in my diary at the start of the year and a rough idea of how I wanted the year to pan out. But I was no master planner.
Establish my travel blog
You’re reading it! I still have a lot to learn about the business of blogging though.
Specialise in travel writing
Hmm, I got a couple of new travel clients, but it wasn’t the rebrand I had in mind.
Become a social media wizard
Hahaha! I did concentrate on Instagram this year and loved it. My Twitter account is still pretty sporadic though, and I haven’t set up a business Facebook page yet, nor got started with Pinterest. So I can’t really claim to be a wizard yet…
Be more organised/productive
Again, not the most specific of goals… I tinkered with my morning routine, but I don’t think I can claim to be any more organised than I was last year.
Start making £3k a month
Hahahaha! I hit this one month out of twelve. In general I had a slightly worse year financially. This was partly due to trying to change my focus and get my travel blog up and running, which isn’t yet bringing in any money, instead of marketing for new work. Which is why I wasn’t particularly well equipped to cope with the drop in value of my currency. Sigh!
Health & Lifestyle Goals
Too vague! I did more walking this year and swam most days in Cyprus (until the December chills put me off) but I’m no lean, mean, fighting machine.
Meditation, thanks to the excellent Headspace, has become an important part of my daily routine and I hit the target most days, save a few long travel days.
Get into nature more
I definitely saw more nature in 2016, after spending much of 2015 in major cities. And I was happier for it.
Gain confidence in Spanish
I’m still not fluent, but my Spanish did improve after almost six months in the Canaries. I’m definitely less worried about making little mistakes and I finished the Duolingo Spanish course.
Improve my photography skills
I took a photography course last year, the wonderful Photo Meditations by Susannah Conway, and finally bought Photoshop. I’ve begun to gain confidence with my photography and editing skills and, more importantly, I adore it. (Still not a measurable goal though, Jo! Ahem!)
Take more photos of me
Build a community
Again this is a bit difficult to measure. I’ve met more people this year, both travellers and locals in the places I’ve lived. But I haven’t really thrown myself into online nomad and travel blogging communities as much as I wanted to. However, I did get a lovely warm glow on my birthday in December when I had messages of love and good wishes from around the world from friends I’ve met on my travels. Aw!
In general, I did much better on my personal goals than on my business ones in 2016. I was beating myself up about this at the end of the year, but looking back I realise that I was simply more focused on personal goals, and travel of course. Although my business and finances aren’t exactly where I’d like them to be, they’re not so far off, and my head feels a lot clearer and ready to focus on business stuff in 2017.
I’ll be back within a week or so with my goals for 2017. I have a feeling they’re going to be a lot more business focused, and more specific too!
Here’s to a wonderful year of travel and getting my business into shape. Bring it on 2017…
How was 2016 for you? Did you meet your goals for the year?
Huge thanks to my good friend and fellow digital nomad, David Webb, for the header pic on this blog post.