I was tossing up whether or not to write this summary of my year. Somewhere between the craziness of hosting 20 people at my house for Christmas and curating an Ultimate Experiences for 2019 article, I kind of forgot to take a look back on what I’ve achieved this year. I also generally tend to prefer writing travel tips and ‘how-to’ guides rather than personal updates. So this is something new for me.
After reading a few other bloggers' yearly recaps, it gave me the inspiration to sit down and write about my own year, and boy what a year it’s been!
In 2018 I visited a total of 12 countries, including 5 new countries I had never visited before. I took 42 flights over the year and with all that flying, it’s not surprising that I managed to achieve platinum status with an airline for the first time ever. Having spent 13 years working for an airline and always travelling on standby meant this was never achievable.
In spite of the fact that most of my friends and family think I travel all the time, I actually spent a total of 12 weeks overseas throughout the year. While I post photos from different countries daily on my Instagram feed, I rarely post a photo of the destination when I’m there. You’ll have to keep an eye on my Instagram stories if you want up-to-the-minute updates on my travels.
In fairness though, while I live in Brisbane, most of my immediate family are split between Sydney, Melbourne and the Blue Mountains so I definitely spend a good chunk of my year travelling within Australia to visit them.
Between all the travel and working from home, my life has become a little isolated these past few years. Most of my friends are settling down and having children at the moment and not travelling as much. My husband has two children from a previous marriage, who are now in their twenties. I met him during their pre-teens, so we’ve been through the stage in our life where our biggest focus was on our children and we now want to focus on his business and seeing as much of the world as we can.
Below is a summary of where each trip has taken me in 2018, including some takeaways and goals for the year ahead, so stay tuned until the end.
Some of My Highlights in 2018
- I launched this blog in February. It took me about three months to get the site built. Sometimes I read blog posts that tout “start a travel blog in just a few hours” and I laugh. Yeah, you could start a travel blog in a few hours on a small budget but it’s probably not going to be high quality and will require a lot more work overtime. I decided to put a lot more time into creating exactly what I envisioned for this site. And while it’s still a work in progress, I’m pretty happy with it and I’ve had some great feedback.
- My little niece was born in July and I finally got a chance to visit her in December. I can’t wait to spend more time with her as she grows into a young lady.
- I got two new fur babies in August – Cavoodles (King Charles Cavalier X Poodle), named Cheddar and Chilli, and they are certainly a handful. They make working from home a challenge, but they’re also very cute and lots of fun.
- I upgraded my camera set up and managed to take my photography to new heights. I even shot my first travel video when I was in Iceland.
- I explored 5 new countries, taking my total count of countries I’ve visited to 39!
- I travelled to Morocco to go on a tour with Travel Girls Getaways in November and met some amazing women from around the world whom I’m already making plans to meet up with in the future.
- I wrote several articles for We Are Travel Girls, a global female travel community, and by December I was officially accepted as a We Are Travel Girls Ambassador and Senior Contributor. Click here to read some of my articles.
My first overseas trip of 2018, which included a few new countries for me. We started our Europe trip in Copenhagen visiting our Danish friends Laura and Christopher. We met Laura in Australia a few years ago when she was backpacking and came to stay with us after she fell violently ill. I didn’t actually know Laura at the time, but a mutual friend asked for a favour as she was a young backpacker travelling solo, with very few friends in Australia. Through adversity we found a life-long friend in Laura and her mother even came to visit us later that year.
Laura was very keen to show us around her home city and we absolutely fell in love with the food, culture and attitude of the Danes. Our visit was timed with the recent passing of the Danish King, which meant there were many mourners around the Royal Palace sobbing and leaving flowers on the palace steps. We unfortunately didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of Australia’s only royal, Princess Mary. But it was wonderful to see such a great display of affection for the King of Denmark. Apparently, he was loved by many.
I’ve dreamt of visiting Iceland for years and it was possibly one of my favourite countries to date. So much so, that I’m hoping to make plans for a return visit sometime during their summer, so I can experience the midnight sun, puffins and take a road-trip up through the West-Fjords.
We spent the majority of our road-trip in the Southern region of Iceland, which is the most popular part of the country. It can get quite crowded at times with many tourists and it’s much harder to find off-the-beaten-path places. But there is a reason why it’s so popular. This is where you’ll find some of the most picturesque waterfalls, black beaches, glacier lagoons and of course, the iconic Blue Lagoon.
Related Post: First Timers Guide to Visiting Iceland
Skiing in Switzerland
We arrived in Switzerland to temperatures around -24 degrees C (-11F). Remember that cold front that swept through Europe last year and dumped a freak snow shower in London and Rome and other places that rarely ever see snow. That happened the day that we arrived in Switzerland and we certainly felt the full force of that cold front in the mountains.
Coming from a country that’s know for heatwaves and tropical cyclones, we were a little concerned about how we were going to cope with this weather. We certainly had to rug up while we were skiing and as soon as the sun disappeared behind the mountain at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, we quickly retired to our chalet to sit around the fire, drinking wine and eating fondue. Pretty tough really.
Hamilton Island & The Whitsundays
My French friend Faustine (@FaustineHug), who I met when I attended a Bali retreat with Travel Girls Getaways, came to visit me in Australia and desperately wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef. Her time was short, so we managed to squeeze in a quick 24-hour trip to Hamilton Island and took a helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef.
I managed to find $258 return tickets to Singapore through SecretFlying.com, so I headed there with my step-daughter for a brief 3-day jaunt. I also managed to get all our hotel accommodation for free (I only paid taxes), simply because I book most of my hotel accommodation through Hotels.com. It was a very cheap trip indeed!
We spent three days wandering around the Gardens by the Bay, visiting the Future of Us Exhibition at the Art Science Museum, eating amazing food in Chinatown, soaking up the vibe of Haji Lane and relaxing around the rooftop pool of our hotel.
Related Post: 20 Most Instagrammable Places in Singapore
The Blue Mountains, Australia
I have a soft spot for this beautiful part of Australia. It’s where I grew up. I headed back there in April to spend Easter with my family. We managed to squeeze in a quick hike at Govett’s Leap, one of my favourite viewpoints in the Blue Mountains and not as crowded as some of the touristy view-points.
The Great Ocean Road, Australia
While I’ve visited the Great Ocean Road before, I had never actually seen the Twelve Apostle until this trip. My family rented a house in Lorne for a few days, so my husband and I decided to rent a car and drive to the iconic rock formations at sunrise. A lot of people don’t realise that the Twelve Apostles is actually around 4-5 hours’ drive from Melbourne. Lorne is located around halfway there.
Related Post: Great Ocean Road: Ultimate Road Trip Guide & Itinerary
Vivid Festival, Sydney, Australia
I spent a weekend in Sydney visiting my Brother, sister-in-law and my little nephew and timed it so that we could see Vivid Festival. If you’ve never heard of Vivid, you should check it out. It’s a festival of light and sound, featuring sculptures and interactive artworks, set around Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House. Even though it is held in the winter-time (June), I highly recommend planning a visit to Sydney around this festival.
At the end of June, I spent a beautiful week on the North Shore of Oahu with my husband, step-children and their partners. We rented a house right on the beach. We hiked up Diamond Head, swam with dolphins, checked out the famous Hawaiian food truck scene, jumped off cliffs into turquoise blue waters and simply relaxed as much as we could.
Related Post: A Foodies Guide to Oahu’s North Shore
The Blue Mountains, Australia
In early August I took a 12-hour road trip back to the Blue Mountains in my new car (and nearly hit a kangaroo). I stayed at my parents’ house and brought along two of my best friends from university for some girl time. We visited the Jenolan Caves, spent an afternoon at a Japanese Bath House and drank champagne overlooking the lake. We’ve all moved on to different lives and different cities nowadays, so it was wonderful to have a much-needed catch up every now and then.
Bali is slowly becoming our second home. We’ve visited so many times now that we almost feel like locals. We’ve actually started to get to know some expats who have made Bali their home.
We spent a week in Ubud, waking up to earth tremors every night. We arrived just after a devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Lombok and the aftershocks could definitely be felt on the island of Bali. I’m not gonna lie, it was kinda scary. When one tremor threw us out of bed one evening, we seriously considered flying home. But we stuck it out and headed to Canggu to catch up with my new Instagram friends @BeckyVanDijk and @JetsetChristina for dinner, drinks, beach club days and avocado on toast!
Tokyo & Kyoto, Japan
In October, I was supposed to visit Japan with my husband, but unfortunately, he had to cancel a few weeks before, so my French friend @FaustineHug booked a last-minute ticket to come with me. It’s great having at least one friend who is willing to drop everything and say yes to a last-minute girl’s trip to a foreign country!
Although I had visited Japan in Autumn the previous year, this trip was different. I felt so much more comfortable with travelling around, speaking the little Japanese I remember from four years of studying it in high-school and navigating my way around the Japan Rail system. Although we did get a little over-confident and ended up getting lost on our way to Mount Fuji (it’s actually not that easy to get to Mount Fuji).
I’ve never actually been to Japan during any other season, but I highly recommend people to visit in Autumn. The foliage at this time of year is stunning, apparently just as spectacular as Cherry Blossom season (Sakura), but it is less crowded. We even made a special visit to the Hitachi Seaside Park, so that we could see the spectacular Kochia plants turn red.
Related Post: Finding Relaxation in Hakone, Japan
My second big Europe trip this year, a mean feat for us Aussies who live 30-hours plane ride away. This one kicked off with a visit to Amsterdam to see my cousin and her two girls, whom I’ve never met. I also met up with my friend Jules, another travel buddy I connected with through the Travel Girls Getaways Bali retreat I attended in 2017.
We booked a canal boat ride through Airbnb for a more authentic experience (don’t bother with the large tourist boats). Our boat tour was operated by a local guy who supplied beer, wine and nibbles. By the end of the boat trip we’d made friends with a few other American girls, who we hung out with over the next few days. We also found quite possibly the best Airbnb I’ve ever stayed in. Our host, Ilse, looked after us so well, made us gourmet breakfasts every morning and kept our rooms looking spick and span.
Pro Tip: For anyone wanting to see the I Amsterdam sign featured in the photo above, unfortunately, this sign was removed from in front of the Rijks Museum in early December for political reasons.
Lucerne & Interlaken, Switzerland
After Amsterdam, Jules and I flew to Switzerland to do some hiking. However, it turned out to be raining and windy as hell for the majority of our visit. We worked out that November is not the best time to visit Switzerland. There’s too much snow to go hiking and too little snow to ski. Most of the tourist attractions were also closed for maintenance during the off-season.
So what better way to spend a rainy day than at a Swiss-style spa resort! We decided to take a day trip to the Spa at Burgenstock Resort in Lucerne and, oh my gosh! It was the best spa I’ve ever experienced. I’m definitely staying at the resort next time I visit.
This was my fifth visit to Paris, and even though I have been so many times before, Paris is always a good idea. Enough said!
The real reason I made the epic trip to Europe was to get to my 38thcountry, Morocco. It’s not easy to get to Morocco from Australia and I found the best route option was via Dubai and either Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid.
In Morocco, I was meeting up with @BeckyVanDijk to join her for another one of her amazing Travel Girls Getaways. There were eleven girls in total and we spent 10 days exploring Chefchaouen the blue pearl, the riads and souks of Marrakech, the UNESCO town of Aït Ben Haddou, souring over the Atlas Mountains in a hot air balloon and glamping in the Sahara.
I have to say, my experience in Morocco was not quite what I expected. The photos you see on Instagram are stunning, but the reality of this country is much different. Yes, it is a beautiful and picturesque country, the food is sensational, and Becky had put together the absolute perfect itinerary for our trip, taking us to the BEST places in Morocco and even including activities that helped support local women who have endured abusive relationships or families.
However, there were a few things about this country that I struggled with; namely, the treatment of animals, the sheer number of stray cats and dogs begging on the streets and the harassment I endured as a blonde, fair-skinned female.
I’ve travelled in third-world countries before, so I’m no stranger to such realities. But this was the first trip to a third-world country where I hadn’t done much planning or prepared myself with pre-reading information about safety as a female. Instead, I spent far too much time using Instagram as my research tool prior to arriving, and thus, I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality behind the ‘gram. I’m planning to write a blog post soon to offer advice to other women travelling to Morocco for the first time.
In saying that, I will be back. Hopefully a little more prepared next time. And probably with my husband, who will help to curb the harassment issue. There’s so much more of this country that I would like to explore.
Related Post: 8 Luxury Experiences Not to Miss in Morocco
I have been dreaming about visiting Portugal for years. And given it was only a short one-hour flight from Morocco, what better opportunity was there for a quick stopover. Abby, one of the girls I met in Morocco, joined me for four days exploring Lisbon, the castles of Sintra, Porto and drinking wine in the Douro Valley before Abby flew back to the States and I made the 30-hour journey home to Australia.
Four days was definitely not long enough in Portugal. But I was really after a little taster to see if I wanted to come back and visit with my husband. I’m now planning to do a 2-week road-trip around Portugal, possibly in 2020, as they have some of the best roads I’ve ever seen.
My last plane trip for 2018 took me to Melbourne to visit my sister and meet my gorgeous niece for the first time. She was actually born in July, but between my hectic travel schedule and my sister's schedule of visiting friends and relatives, we couldn’t make it work until December. So, I booked a ticket just before Christmas and spent a few wonderful days hanging out with my sis, visiting the beach, playing with little Tilly and drinking wine together (well, I drank most of the wine).
Related Post: Where to Find the Best Laneways in Melbourne
What are My Plans and Goals for 2019?
2018 was my biggest year of travel yet, and while there are many countries I want to tick off my bucket list in 2019, I have decided to take a slower approach to travelling in 2019. Seeing fewer countries but spending more time in each destination. I currently have plans to visit Jordan, Finland, and Namibia. I’m also hoping I’ll get a chance to visit Sri Lanka, Austria, and Greece, but we’ll have to wait and see if that happens.
I’m also currently working on a few opportunities to start working with clients and doing a few press trips within Australia.
On the blog front, 2018 was all about testing the waters and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I think I have a fairly good idea which articles you (my readers) love to see and so I’m going to focus on developing similar content in 2019. I also have so much content still to write from my 2018 travels, so slowing down a little will help me to get more travel guides up on my blog. As an Ambassador, I’ll also be contributing 1-2 articles per month on We Are Travel Girls blog.
For those of you who have stuck with me this year, and for anyone who may be new, I hope that I’ve managed to provide you with some helpful tips for your future travels and inspired you to find the time in your busy lives to plan a trip (or two) to some amazing new destinations in 2019.
Related Post: My 2019 Travel Blogging Year in Review
Planning a trip soon? Here is a list of the websites and resources I use for booking everything from flights, to accommodation, tours, and more:
- Skyscanner for booking the best flight deals
- Booking.com | Agoda | Hotels.com for booking the best hotel deals
- Airbnb | Stayz | VRBO for home rentals
- Rentalcars.com for quick and easy car rentals
- Luxury Escapes for luxury package holiday deals and tours
- Get Your Guide for a great range of day tours
- Tourradar | Intrepid for multi-day experiential and adventure tours
- Priority Pass for airport lounge access in hundreds of locations around the world
- Skyroam to stay connected to WiFi everywhere I go
- iVisa for processing entry visas for many countries around the world
- Covermore for the best worldwide travel insurance coverage (Australians & New Zealanders only)
About the Author:
Amanda Twine is the founder and creator of Fly Stay Luxe – a luxury travel blog sharing informative travel guides, food guides, hotel reviews, itineraries and tips about how to make luxury travel more affordable.