3 Continents, 15 Countries, and 30+ Cities - My 2017 Travel Year in Review
It’s no secret - my passion for travel runs deep. I aim to get out and explore somewhere new at least once per month. It brings me a level of joy I didn’t know possible.
This year, I was fortunate to visit 3 continents, 15 countries, and over 30 cities/towns. Given I’m not a travel blogger, detailing each trip isn’t something I do often. So I thought it might be helpful if I share a summary of the countries I visited throughout the year along with some of the highlights! If you have any interest in visiting the countries below, this piece may be helpful.
Hong Kong (3x)
I plan to write a lot more about my travels in 2018, so below is just a high level narrative of the places I visited. Detailed posts on my favourites will come over the course of the next year as the summaries below don't do these countries justice!
Time of year: January to May, and August
This year was bittersweet as I said farewell to Hong Kong; my home for the last 3 years. To see more on my departure, view the post: Project Me where I detail my decision to take an indefinite break from corporate to travel, explore, and live out my purpose.
I left in the Spring, so going back multiple times was necessary to wrap things up! Hong Kong is still one of my favourite places on earth. It's a secret gem not many people know about. In my opinion, it is the most underrated major city in the world. Hong Kong is home to some of the most amazing views, landscapes, and nature you will ever see - all hidden behind a dense concrete jungle. The beaches are beautiful, the people are diverse, the nightlife is SO fun, there is amazing shopping, dining, and landmarks. And because it’s a major hub, traveling in and out is a breeze.
Hong Kong will always hold the most special place in my heart! I grew so much here and owe so many of my important life milestones to Hong Kong. I miss it dearly!
Time of year: January/February
Every year my girls and I do a trip to the motherland. Tanzania was our pick for 2017… and what a trip it was! Tanzania was glorious and completely unexpected. It's the largest county in East Africa and is home to Mount Kilimanjaro, amazing beaches, rich history, the kindest people, and some phenomenal wildlife (fun fact: it has the largest concentration of wildlife animals - per sq. km - in the world).
We flew into Dar es Salaam where we spent just a day and enjoyed a few meals. Our trip officially started in Stone Town and it was such a cultural delight. The ancient town has so much character. It was a major hub for the East African Slave Trade, so we spent much of our time exploring the islands fascinating history. Visiting Prison Island while in Stone Town was a definite highlight. It was also home to some adorable tortoises!
The food was in Stone Town was incredible - dining at the local joints was great, clean, and completely satisfying.
Another highlight of our trip was when we took a cooking class in this lady's home learning how to prepare traditional East African dishes.
We then made our way (via ferry) to Zanzibar, and Zanzibar wins for the prettiest white sand beaches I’ve ever seen! The weather was perfect, the food was delightful, and the gals and I treated ourselves to a bougie stay at a nice hotel!
While Zanzibar was BEAUTIFUL, Stone Town stole my heart. If I were to go back, I would spend most of my time there. And if I had more time, without doubt I would have tackled Kilimanjaro and explored the wildlife.
Time of year: February
This year, I added an item to my bucket list- to see all of the Great Wonders of the World (I realized, through all of my years of travel, I had never seen one!)
Thankfully this year I was able to check 3 off my list, all starting with The Great Wall of China. After living in HK for 3 years, and visiting China 4 times, it was finally time to check it out. So I headed to Beijing on a very short trip.
The major sites of Beijing can be done in a weekend, and I proved that! We arrived Friday night and Saturday we were off to sight-see. In one day we saw the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and The Great Wall of China. We even had time to stop and fit in a local lunch.
Having visited a number of times, I can say I’m not the biggest fan of China, but it was imperative I saw these monuments, as they’re so rich in history. Getting a guide worked for us. I’ve read a few books about the Mao regime so it was cool to see what I learned come to life. The Great Wall is just that - Great. It’s grand, vast, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
We walked around town Saturday night and then packed up to fly out Sunday. Living in HK it was a short flight and very doable! If you’re coming from further, you may wish to extend your stay, but for us, it was just enough.
February is COLD though, so wrap up. It was below zero, but we specifically chose that time as it was least busy (the weekend after Chinese New Year). During peak season, it can get insanely crowded…so if you hate crowds, wrap up and visit in the winter time (post-CNY).
Time of year: March
The Philippines is actually my most visited country in Asia. I’ve been 7 times and will continue to make it a staple in my annual travel plans. This year, we were keen to visit Coron Island. There are over 7000 islands in the Philippines, and it is constantly pegged as having some of the world's most beautiful beaches. In my opinion, the Philippines is the most underrated country in SE Asia, so I highly recommend you visit if you haven’t been!
Coron was a visual delight. The water, scenery, and people were amazing. We stayed on an island that only housed our hotel. So it was the perfect quiet and serene getaway. The sunsets were magical, the weather was perfect, the water was crystal clear and the beaches were some of the best I’ve seen in Asia.
Like most hidden gems, It’s a trek to get to. So make sure you have enough time if you go! From the capital, Manila, it’s a plane, a car, and a boat ride. The total trip took us about 15 hours, and Manila is only 2 hours from Hong Kong! So, like I said, go if you have time. It’s remote, but totally beautiful and worth it. If you snorkel or scuba dive - this is the place for you!
Time of year: March
Taiwan is home to the nicest people I've met in the world. I’ve never felt more comfortable, safe, and welcomed anywhere else in Asia. So, visiting this country is always a delight. This was my 3rd time in Taiwan and the purpose was solely for a girls trip. It was a weekend getaway in Taipei - and the purpose was for my crew and I to have some fun! We did this amazing noodle making class and had the best time! We ate great food and just enjoyed the company of one another. It was the perfect girls getaway.
I love Taiwan for many reasons. The hot springs are incredible, the night life is amazing, the people are SO kind, the food night markets are some of the best in the world, it’s affordable, and while it’s a big city it has so much SPACE and low population density (i.e. it’s not overcrowded) - which is hard to find in Asia. And the south is home to some amazing landscapes and beaches. If I spoke Mandarin, I could easily live in Taiwan. That’s how much I love it!
Time of year: April
India has always been one of those countries I knew I had to visit, but was never really excited to see. It wasn’t until I saw a seat sale that my friends and I decided it was time to finally go.
There isn’t a country I couldn’t have been more wrong about. India wins as the biggest shock of the year. I LOVED IT. We only did the Golden Triangle (Agra, Delhi, and Jaipur), but it’s now at the top of the list of countries I need to revisit in 2018.
The Taj Mahal was the 2nd world wonder I visited this year, and it did not disappoint. It was the only monument I’ve ever seen that literally brought me to tears. It was magical for so many reasons - the sun shining on the glistening marble, the vastness of the structure, the love story behind it, and the sunrise all sent chills down my spine. Walking through the entrance gates was an out-of-body experience I don’t think I can accurately describe.
Delhi was a cultural experience to say the least. It was busy, crowded, and gave me serious stimulus overload. It was the only place I’ve ever travelled were I’ve shared the same road with tuk tuks, busses, cars, horses, cows, hogs, dogs, elephants, and goats Lol. Definitely something everyone should experience in their life. We spent time just eating in Delhi, visiting palaces, and took a trip to renowned spice markets.
While the Taj Mahal was the highlight of the trip, Jaipur was my favourite city. It was home to beautiful palaces, the pink city, and my favourite meals. If time allowed, I would have definitely explored more of the entire Rajasthan region.
THE FOOD in India deserves a paragraph of it’s own. Growing up in a predominately Indian city (Indians were actually the majority of the population in my home town), I thought I knew good Indian food. I was wrong. The cuisine in India was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. My taste buds were on an explosive high the entire trip. I easily put on 15lbs in just a week, and I didn’t regret a thing! After this trip, India made its way to my top 3 favourite cuisines in the world (behind Jamaican and Italian).
One of my bucket list items for 2018 is to do India WELL, so a more detailed post to come on this amazing country.
Time of year: May and December
Canada is where I grew up, and I usually go with the sole purpose of visiting family and friends. So this portion will be a short one lol.
Visiting family always fills my soul so I aim to do it every 6 months. This year, I had the pleasure of attending my best friend's wedding and that was the event of the year! The month was filled with so much joy and laughter. It was exactly what I needed before a summer of intense travel ahead!
Time of year: May
For the same wedding mentioned above, we did a bachelorette trip to Atlanta. I’ll admit, I don’t know the US very well (I've only visited 5-10 states in my lifetime). Reason being - I just figure it's so close to home that when I settle one day, I'll have the opportunity to explore more.
We obviously partied our asses off as Atlanta’s nightlife scene is insane, but, we still managed to experience some of the city. We visited Martin Luther King’s house, church, and neighbourhood. We also experienced some southern food, hospitality and charm.
Overall, while the intention for the weekend getaway was to party, I was able to see some of the city and it left a fabulous impression.
Time of year: May, June, and September to November
In May I left the corporate world, so decided that summer 2017 would go down in the books - and it did not disappoint. The summer of travel started with my second favourite island in the world - Bali (closely behind Jamaica).
Bali is my happy place for many reasons, so it was no shock that my summer of full-time travel would begin here. It was also a bit of a trial run as I knew in my heart I wasn’t returning back to Hong Kong and thought Bali could be my new base. After 1 week there, I knew it was going to be my new home eventually.
I spent the month in Bali getting to know people, finding a town that I liked, and exploring more of this diverse island. This was my 5th visit to Bali, and I found myself still exploring places for the first time. The island is full of so many areas to explore, and is home to some of the most genuine people in the world. Bali has Asia's most beautiful temples, the beaches are pristine, the surf is incredible, and the expat community is welcoming and amazing. One of the reasons I love Bali most is due to the affordability factor - especially for quality of life you receive. It's unlike anything I've seen in the world.
Bali is one of those places that will get a detailed post this year, so I won’t go into too much detail. But know that it’s literally one of the best places on earth!
The upcoming section will be a high level overview of my summer in Europe. I outline more of this amazing journey in detail here: My Summer in Europe
Time of year: July and August
Italy wins as my new favourite country in Europe (bumping Spain to #2). That’s because it is truly the most diverse country I’ve ever visited - every city feels like a new and completely different country. I was fortunate enough to explore Milan, Rome, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Naples, Amalfi, Sicily, and made a quick stop in Bologna for some bolognese pasta. Every single city felt completely new and had something different to offer.
We did a lot of touristy things: The Colosseum (my 3rd world wonder of the world!), the leaning tower of Pisa, the wineries of Tuscany, and drove the Amalfi coast. I enjoyed pizza in Naples, the gondolas in Venice, the shopping in Florence/Milan, and the beaches in Sicily.
I spent about 3 weeks in Italy, and my favourite times were spent roaming the streets, people watching in cafes, and enjoying a good meal with a glass of wine. Italy is another one those countries that will get a detailed post in the new year as it's one of my favourites, so stay tuned!
Time of Year: July
My time in Greece was split between Santorini and Athens. With houses stacked to the sky, beautiful sea views, glorious sunsets, and buildings painted primarily in blue and white - Santorini was a visual delight. It was as if I walked into a movie set, every corner and block turned was so beautiful. The downfall of Santorini was how pricey it was! I know traveling Europe in the summer is never cheap, but Santorini felt exorbitant. So much so, we only spent 3 days here. The highlight was definitely Oia - while touristy, busy, and expensive, the beauty is something everyone should witness.
Athens was refreshingly affordable. It was also a bit of “downtime” for me because at this point I had been traveling non-stop for 11 weeks while living out of a suitcase; my body was craving a serious break. So admittedly, I spent the first 2 days in Athens in the hotel, sleeping LOL.
Once I peeled myself out of bed, I was able to explore some of Athens. Being the country's capital, it was filled with historical sights and was so rich in history. I'm not huge on Ancient Greek Mythology but the architecture was stunning and the sights were amazing.
Overall, the highlight for Athens was the food (haha it feels like I'm always saying that) but it was so delicious! From the freshness of the greek salads, to the well seasoned gyros, my palette was smiling from ear to ear.
And for the ladies - the men in Greece were gorgeous!
Time of year: July
Croatia was one of those places I heard so much about that I had to go and see it for myself. It did NOT disappoint. The yachting town of Hvar is one of the most popular islands in Croatia so we decided to spend most of our time there. My favourite experience was renting a boat and exploring the surrounding islands, the crystal clear waters, and the beautiful scenery. The seafood in Croatia was the best I had all year!
If you're looking to party - Vegas style - Hvar will definitely appeal to you. In the summer, it's a popular destination for many Europeans so the social scene is incredible! During my travels this year, Croatia is where I met the most people simply looking to have a good time. It was refreshing!
We only flew in and out of Split so all I can speak to are the meals we enjoyed ... which (surprise, surprise) were amazing! Haha.
Time of year: August
Can you believe, prior to this year, I had never been to England? I knew it was a must see this summer, especially because I have so many friends that live there. Because London is filled with monuments, I spent much of my time exploring the major sites - and it was such a beautiful city. We pranced around Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament & the Horse Guards, and the London Eye - all on foot.
I stayed in the Shoreditch area (a hipster's dream) and explored the amazing cafes/restaurants, shops, nightlife, street art, and GREAT coffee.
The downfall of London was the weather. I'm a gal who follows the tropics so a cold August is not my scene. London's amazing museums, entertainment, and food definitely made up for it - But I'll need to pack warmer clothes the next time I visit!
Time of year: August
PORTUGAL has always been on my list of places to see. So it was awesome to spend about a week here this summer. I split my time between Porto and Lisbon, and it's definitely on the list of places to revisit in the new year!
Porto is a coastal city in the North and is the birth place of Port Wine! It's Portugal's second busiest city and did not disappoint. I loved the local charm and the people were so inviting. It's a walkable city, so we spent our days just walking around exploring while getting lost. Definitely would recommend the Ribeira district - it was filled with ancient houses, narrow cobbled streets and numerous family owned restaurants, cafes and bars.
Lisbon (Portugal's capital) was about a 3 hour train ride from Porto. I loved Lisbon - so much that it was the one city I visited in my European adventure that I could see myself living in! It was the most affordable of all cities, yet I did not have to sacrifice quality. From the red roofs of the Amalfa and the historic neighbourhood of Belem, to the DIVINE desserts and amazing coffee - Lisbon took a piece of my heart and I'll surely be back in 2018.
Time of year: December
After about 16 weeks of intense travel, I craved stillness and decided to base myself in Bali (view details of that that life update here ); so I didn't travel much for the Fall. I spent September and October exploring the many surrounding islands of Bali and had a great time. But come November, I was ITCHING to get out and travel. Thankfully we had a pre-planned family reunion/vacation to the country of my roots - Jamaica.
Call me biased, but, Jamaica is the most incredible place on earth LOL. This country will get a very detailed post in the new year, but know that this was the trip of a lifetime! It was special for so many reasons.
For one, I was able to spend a few weeks there. Spending quality time with loved ones was something I could never do in the past due to work obligations. So I was present the entire time and took in everything this amazing island has to offer. We took an unforgettable trip down memory lane, I was able to see the house my mother grew up in and where she went to school. I saw the chapel my parents got married in and the movie theater they used to frequent for date night. I spent much of my time visiting family in various parishes. By the end of the trip, my soul was overflowing with gratitude and joy.
Jamaica was the perfect ending to a perfect year. I'm blessed and grateful.
Whats in store for 2018??
I have a feeling this upcoming year may be my last in Asia. I’m craving to be closer to home & family, so I think at the end of 2018 I'll look to base myself somewhere closer to home. I'm also craving a new continent I can settle into and explore the heck out of (really thinking about Europe or South America).
That being said, there are a few items on my Asia bucket list that need to be crossed off. I need to visit Myanmar and Laos, and see more of the Philippines, Thailand, and India. While on this side of the globe, it also makes sense to do Australia once more and visit New Zealand.
I’ll also aim to do my annual girls trip to the motherland - this year we’re planning Ghana!
The summer goal is to to spend another month or two in Europe! I’d like to explore new countries in the east, as well as see the Scandinavian region. And Italy and Portugal NEED another visit. I also have a wedding to attend in Spain, so thankfully I’ll get there again.
Lastly, we're in the midst of planning another family reunion! So the Caribbean will definitely see me again.
I say all this, but life is so unexpected for me. While I love dreaming of the places I will see, I love going with the flow even more.
The world is my oyster, I’m flexible and ready to head wherever the wind takes me!