Wow. 2016 was an unexpected year.
While politics and new parenthood taught me a lot, travel, after all these years, still had plenty of lessons to throw my way.
Why? Because there is power in experiencing something for yourself. In feeling that subzero temperature hit your lungs, seeing stone-faced mosques ripple in the heat of an Arabian midday. Hearing the sound of the Adriatic wash against a boat seemingly powered by moonlight and realising, on your own, that there’s no one else here to help you. That it’s up to you to fix this situation and to somehow work to sort things out.
So as a new year rolls in and another horizon rolls out, let’s stop and pause for breath.
Here’s looking back at what travel taught me in the increasingly distant past.
And here’s what I learned this year.
1 – That what seems impossible can be fixed by a change of clothes.
And tyres, massive cloakrooms, windscreen wipers and more…
Travel to the Arctic Circle in Sweden had taught me about husky sledding, ice hotels, the Northern Lights and how to carve an ice sculpture with my own two hands. What I hadn’t twigged til 2016 was how people actually managed to live at deep sub-zero temperatures.
And live lives surprisingly similar to mine. A walk through the streets, a yoga class in an art gallery, a sneaky trip to a design-soaked library. All more than possible when you live life at minus 27 degrees in Seinajoki.
2 – That Rome has a stunning skyline that’s easy to see in one go. Colosseum – check. Vatican City – check. Stare at the city for hours while the sun sets? Check, check, check.
3 – That travel while pregnant requires a few tweaks and tips. And occasionally, cancelling everything altogether. In fact, doing anything while pregnant is a curious affair. Some things carry on as normal. Others change beyond belief. Even if you’re not pregnant and have no intention (or biological possibility) of ever being that way, I’d recommend you read this: 23 things travel during pregnancy taught me.
I wish I’d read it before I’d travelled with pregnant friends ;-)
4 – That Wales has a tropical castle.
With an American saviour. Take a stroll through the stone corridors of Aberglasney in Carmarthenshire.
5 – That the world can still surprise me.
No, we’re not back at those election results. At least not yet.
I’m talking about discovering the unusual and beautiful. The remarkable. The exciting. The kind of things that make you glad to be alive.
And after all these years of travel, I love to discover just how many new things there are to find. Like…
6 – Popcorn cockles in Wales
7 – A friendly alien in Austria
8 – A treehouse for grown ups
9 – Spiky red rocks in Madagascar and…
10 – The enduring power of peace.
11 – Even places I know well have plenty more to reveal. Take Galicia, the salty sea dog of the north in Spain, which offers up the world’s oldest working lighthouse, the birthplace of Franco and fresh swordfish and seafood galore.
12 – And my home nation of Wales, with its Roald Dahl legacy, rustic cottage houses and unusual things to do in Europe’s youngest capital.
13 – That dark history can take place in beautiful places as I retraced steps to the first atom bomb drop on the golden lit landscape of Utah.
14 – That Italy really does have some of the world’s best food (sorry France, sorry Japan.)
15 – That cranberry bogs can be surprisingly pretty.
16 – That Australia is proud of its convict past.
17 – And on that note, that travel leaves me with memories that may take me a year or two to write up on this blog…
18 – See also the deep red, thick red, blood red sand dunes of the sweeping Namib desert.
19 – And the (insert American accent) awesome musical heritage of Detroit.
20 – That my readers can share the most inspiring stories of kindness.
21 – And that if you look hard enough, you can spot the faces of Hitler and Mussolini in a respectable stained glass window.
22 – That taking part in a lost luggage challenge for fun will inevitably lead to the subsequent loss of your luggage.
23 – And that a town in France is suing the Queen of England for being a pretender to the throne.
24 – That Oman remains one of my favourite countries to visit.
25 – And that it still has one of the world’s best spas.
25 – That Shakespeare had a contemporary in Cervantes in Spain (author of Don Quixote.) And that Cervantes had decidedly better digs.
26 – That a walk in a muddy field can teach you almost everything there is to know about the pursuit of happiness.
27 – And that there is such a thing as a luxury igloo for snuggling on down in with champagne to watch the Northern Lights.
28 – That I still can’t count when it comes to writing up these lists!
29 – Because I love this crazy planet so much.
30 – And that I love my new daughter more.
31 – That I could write and write and write and write. But I’ll call it a day right now because the New Year is almost here.
Happy New Year everyone! Thanks for tuning in, for travelling, dreaming, thinking, chatting, discussing, encouraging and more.