Thursday, 27 December 2018

Looking Back: My Life & Travels in 2018.

2018 was a big year for me travel-wise, I ticked off some pretty big bucket list destinations and activities (including the majority of my original 2018 travel plan list), and was really fortunate to travel quite a lot. I thought it would be fun to reflect back on my travels throughout 2018 and give you an overview of what I got up to!

I ended up taking 13 trips and visiting five new countries (bringing the current total to 42 countries visited), which I was super happy with as I try and aim to visit at least two new countries a year on top of visiting places I've already been to, to explore them deeper. I like having the balance between experiencing completely new cultures and destinations, and revisiting previously visited ones.

Dubai & Abu Dhabi, UAE

My year started with visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the first week of January. It was my third visit to Dubai, and first to Abu Dhabi. I spent the majority of my time in both cities napping and not particularly eating a lot, as I was unknowingly in the early stages of pregnancy and was constantly exhausted and having bouts of vomiting. I wasn't able to eat much due to the nausea and vomiting up any food I did eat, so didn't visit as many restaurants as my first time in Dubai, and Nigel was horrified when I rejected the 'best burger' in Dubai due to the smell of it. Because of the exhaustion I also wasn't able to handle the beach club this time, so we ended up in the family friendly Nasimi Beach at Atlantis.

But, on the plus side I finally got to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the Abu Dhabi Louvre (where I saw the famous Whistler's Mother from the Bean movie), and I also managed to eat the majority of a delicious and insanely expensive club sandwich at Emirates Palace!

It was also great seeing Nige and Kristina again and the 'softer' side of Dubai (although we still managed a night out, an epic house party, and brunch - I was just in bed before midnight on all occasions). 

Kuala Lumpur & Sabah, Malaysia

My visit to Malaysia had been planned for months, and it ended up being a welcome escape from the realities and heartache of my second miscarriage just weeks before my trip. For the first time since the loss, I smiled, I belly-laughed, and I felt somewhat 'normal' again. Jasiminne and her family made me feel so welcome and like one of their own, and we had a few days of just relaxing, exploring Kuala Lumpur and Sabah (aka, Borneo), taking part in Chinese New Year celebrations, and singing karaoke! It was my first time in Malaysia and I loved every minute!

Perth, Australia

I've made no secret of the fact I really struggled after the miscarriage, and especially with no family in Sydney to give me the TLC I desperately needed. My parents offered to fly out from the UK, but they were already visiting at the end of March so I felt two visits just a couple of months apart would be unfair on them. Luckily I already had a ticket booked to fly to Perth at the beginning of March, and it was a welcome escape from Sydney and my sadness.

I was in desperate need of the golden sandy beaches and beautiful crystalline waters. I needed that feeling of 'home', and Perth is the closest place within a reasonable flight-time that gives me that feeling of home. My aunty picked me up from the airport, and when we got back to hers we just stood in the kitchen hugging and sobbing for the losses that had occurred in our lives in recent months.

The weekend flew by but was one of friends, hugs, beaches, and iced-chocolates. It soothed my heart and it felt good to be back at the beach my ex-boyfriend and I used as our 'place' to remember our first baby. I watched the sunset and stayed there until the stars come out in the sky, and felt my heart start to heal.

Roadtrip from Sydney to Great Ocean Road, Australia

Finally my parents arrived! My mum visited back at the beginning of 2017, but Dad had never visited me in Sydney before. We'd all been to Sydney as a family for my 17th birthday, so almost ten years prior, but only for a few days. They stayed with Joe and I and I gave up my bed for them and slept on the sofa for a couple of weeks (thankfully the sofa was a VERY comfy sofa).

I took them to my favourite places, and then we did a roadtrip from Sydney to Melbourne, and along the Great Ocean Road. It was one of the things on my 'Australian Bucket List', so I was pretty happy to tick it off. We saw wild koalas in the tree, the Twelve Apostles on the morning of Easter Sunday, and then went to mass Easter Sunday evening n Bendigo and witnessed mass taken by a famous singing priest

Efate, Vanuatu

After a few months of no travel outside of Australia I jetted off to the South Pacific Islands with my Sydney friend Laura (who you first saw in my Dubai posts) in mid-May. In-between the Great Ocean Road trip and Vanuatu, I handed in my notice at my beloved media-agency job in Sydney, and got a new job working at Google in London. I was offered the Google role the day I left my other job, so naturally my leaving party was a little bit insane and my boss managed to capture me drunkenly falling backwards over a sofa in my favourite bar. Classy as always.

Anywho, Laura and I jetted off to Vanuatu the day after my leaving party, and had two days of staying in a luxury overwater villa, swimming in waterfalls, and drinking ALL the cocktails by the pool!

Viti Levu, Fiji

After Vanuatu we flew to Fiji, where we were treated like actual Royalty at the Royal Davui Island Resort! We were in Fiji for just two nights but it was a total whirlwind and so amazing! We even had a private picnic lunch on a deserted sand cay, which felt like an absolute dream. 

Upolu, Samoa

And finally it was on to Samoa! We had three nights on the tropical paradise island, where we stayed at the Sheraton Beach Resort and drove around the main island of Upolu, swam in the famous ocean trench, and visited Robert Louis Stevenson's home near the main town of Apia. We even had a wild night out in Apia and met a few of the locals ;)

Perth, Australia

After a few days back in Sydney (where I stayed at the BEAUTIFUL Langham Sydney), it was then onto Perth. As I took the taxi through the city of Sydney one last time, a message pinged onto my phone from my mum. My step-grandma had been taken to hospital and she would call me when I landed in Perth. My heart dropped, and as I said a bittersweet goodbye to the city that had been my mostly-happy home for eighteen months, I felt a longing to just get home and be with my family. I adored Sydney, and I adored my simple life and routine there, but nothing beats being close to family and being able to hug your loved ones during tough times.

Whilst living in Sydney I'd had regular trips back to Perth, as well as the six weeks I spent there before moving to Sydney. This would be my final trip back to Perth for at least a year and a half, which felt very strange after having it so close by for so long. I spent my few days there soaking up the brunches, beaches, and friends. Eating my favourite foods and just driving around and visiting my favourite places.

And then my Dad called on my last morning and told me not only did my step-grandma have days or weeks to live, but my Grandad had also been rushed to hospital and I had to get home ASAP to say goodbye to him. I raced to the shops to buy a tupperware container, and then to the river to collect sand to take back to my step-grandma in England. She'd lived in Perth for years and every time I visited she told me 'say hello to the Swan River for me'. She loved it, and I wanted her to feel the sand between her fingers one last time before she passed away.

Dubai, UAE

I was originally supposed to spend a week in Dubai, but due to my flight change to try and get home to say goodbye to my Grandad, I had just eight hours. I left the airport and got in a taxi to Nige and Kristina's, had a shower, and then we went for dinner. They helped take my mind off everything and gave me lots of hugs before I left for the airport again to take my First Class flight with Emirates, that I'd booked using all of my airmiles a couple of months prior.

Although I didn't get home in time to say goodbye to my Grandad, I had two weeks with my step-grandma and she was able to feel the sand and take deep breaths of the awful river-smell it emitted after days of it stuck in a tupperware box. Seeing her delighted smile as she inhaled that terrible river-smell made me realise in my heart that my move back to England was the right one. Australia will always be there for me to visit, but being close to family is far more important.

It was the first time in my life I'd really had the chance to say goodbye to someone I've lost, and it was an unusual experience seeing someone waste away before my eyes. It very much made me contemplate how my own life could end at some point. We so often forget that we are not invincible, and seeing her struggle to take her last breaths and holding her cool hand made me realise how precious life is.

Valencia & Costa Blanca, Spain

The week before the joint-funeral my family and I flew to Spain for a week of sunshine and relaxation after a stressful few weeks. We rented a villa in Moraira, in the Costa Blanca region, and spent the week lazing about by the pool that looked out over the hills, swimming in the warm Mediterranean sea, eating paella in Valencia, and eating ALL the ice lollies! It was just what we needed to rest and recuperate together before the emotional few days that followed our return.

Paris & French Riviera, France

Between my trips to Spain and France I had a great couple of months back in London settling into my old life. One of my best friends from Perth came to visit me in London for a few weeks, and while she was here we had a weekend trip to Bath, and then a week in France. Ever since we were 16-years-old we'd been planning to do a big Europe trip, and finally, over ten years later, we were finally doing the place at the top of the list; Paris. We'd both been to the city before, but never together. We had a weekend staying in the famous Shangri-La in Paris, and just did all the touristy things and had the best girls weekend in Paris!

We then flew down to Nice and picked up a hire car, and began our French Riviera adventure. It's a trip I've been wanting to do for years, and we decided to do it to mark the due date of my lost baby. I tend to go on holiday on difficult dates (I wrote about this for Refinery29 recently), and always go away at the end of May on the anniversary of the loss of my first baby. Sometimes I go far away, other times it's close by and just somewhere peaceful and beautiful. But anyway, we were in Monaco on the date itself, and spent the day by the swimming pool at Hotel Metropole, eating mountains of ice-cream, and then sipping on champagne and cocktails at Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo whilst looking out over the Côte d'Azur.

After two nights in Monte Carlo we drove to Cannes via Cap Ferrat, had two nights in Cannes, and then drove to Nice via Antibes before flying back to London. It was the perfect week and we had the best time roadtripping the French Riviera!

Marrakech, Morocco

After years of dreaming, I finally made it to Morocco! Jemima and I spent 48 hours in Marrakech exploring the souks, eating lots of tagines and baklava, and staying in the beautiful La Sultana. I'm now desperate to go back for longer and explore more of Morocco! Next on my list is the Atlas Mountains, Fes, and Casablanca.

Bologna, Italy

My final trip of the year was Italy, for lunch. Yep, myself and nine friends flew to Italy to have lunch at the Best Restaurant in the World; Osteria Francescana in nearby Modena. We decided to make a weekend out of it and had a wonderful weekend eating all the pasta and cheese, visited the Lamborghini AND Ferrari museums, dranks A LOT of cocktails, and we even managed a Bologna night out! I'll be writing about it all very soon, so keep an eye out for those posts ;)

I've made no secret that 2018 was not kind to me. In travel I was fortunate, but in general life it was without a doubt the hardest of my life after the 2010/2011 debacle. I lost so much - a second baby, one of my closest friends, two of my grandparents - and went through so much emotional trauma and heartache, that I really struggled through the year and just took each day as it came. But it has also taught me a lot about life and being grateful for what you have.

I have lost so many people in my 27 years, and the loss of my two babies especially has made me understand the fragility of life and how every single one of us is a miracle. So much can go wrong in pregnancy, and so many tiny things have to happen for us to be created, that the fact we are living and have choices and emotions should make us strive to live our very best lives and be kind to everyone around us.

So, go to the places on your bucket list, fly somewhere for a meal in a great restaurant, and do everything you have wanted to do but put off. Life is far too short and precious to not do the things that make us happy.

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