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It’s time for our 2016 travel review. This was the year that saw Andy and I realise our dream of leaving the UK to travel, and live and work abroad. It’s been an exciting roller-coaster of a year with lots of ups and a few downs.
In addition to my daily four hour round train commute to work and Andy’s driving all over the UK for work, we also had a very busy year with travel and preparing for our big adventure. The only months with no travel at all were February and May.
Between us in 2016 we’ve visited 10 countries (7 new ones), in 4 continents, taken 23 flights, 11 train journeys (excluding commuting); 18 boat trips; and many other journeys by taxi, bus, mini-van, rickshaw, tuk-tuk, motorcycle, e-bike, bicycle, foot and ox and cart. We’ve also eaten over 100 curries and lost count of the number of beers consumed.
Here’s a month by month review of our travels and travel preparations from 2016.
2016 Month by Month Travel Review
2016 started with a bang (literally) with 3 friends in Bratislava the capital city of Slovakia. We joined the locals in their New Year celebrations at an open air dance party in Hviezdoslav’s Square, with plastic glasses of vino vierne (mulled wine).
The new year was welcomed in with a spectacular firework display over the River Danube, whilst the youngsters set off firecrackers everywhere.
New Years Day a very hungover group of us set off on the train to Vienna, the Capital of Austria. It appeared to be a charming city steeped in history, but in our post-party haze we just couldn’t do it justice. This has been added to the list for a re-visit at some point when we’re feeling a little bit fresher!
The rest of the trip was spent back in Bratislava sampling traditional Slovak food such as hearty meaty soups and stews with dumplings.
February was a quiet month on the travel front, except for a cheeky girls trip to London to see Eddie Izzard for a friends birthday. Other than that it was full steam ahead with the planning and preparations for our big adventure. We began to think about how we were going to get to Cambodia, and more importantly, we brainstormed and made some decisions on how we were going to fund the trip and what we would do with our house.
Andy completed a 120 hour TEFL Certificate, to enable him to teach English abroad. His YouTube Channel ‘GOING NOMAD…aka pigs on bikes’ was also born (his first vlog was a review of his TEFL course), and I began to create this blog.
In March two friends and I jetted off for an excellent 10 days girls holiday in The Gambia. Our jam-packed itinerary included a three day tour with Ecotours Gambia to see The ‘real’ Gambia, which consisted of ferry crossings, Wassu stone circles, river trips to look for hippos, crocs and birds, trekking around rice paddies, a visit to a fortune teller and slave house, and listening to a griot (musician and storyteller) perform in Janjanbureh (Georgetown). We also stayed in a couple of lovely eco-lodges.
After the tour we had a few days Jinack Island in a very rustic beach lodge, then ended the holiday with some relaxing beach time at Kololi Beach Club.
Andy spent the long Easter weekend camping and rock climbing in the Peak District with several friends (aka Norwich Pensioners Climbing Club)!
In April I had another girls trip to London; this time to see Buenavista Social club, one of my all time favourites. The second weekend I took my Dad to Liverpool to watch the Grand National horse race.
We ended the month with a long weekend break to the cold, colourful and expensive city of Bergen in Norway ‘land of the Vikings’ for our friends 40th birthday.
The highlight was the ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ tour. This included a scenic journey to Voss on the Bergen Railway, a drive to Gudvangen by bus, a fjord cruise on Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord to Flam, a spectacular train ride on the Flam railway through snowy Norwegian landscape to Myrdal and finally a second journey on the Bergen Railway back to Bergen.
I topped up my existing 40 hour TEFL Certificate (20 hours classroom and 20 hours online grammar course) to a 160-hour Certificate to refresh my memory and give me more opportunity to teach English work whilst abroad
May was another quiet month on the travel front, with not even any trips in the UK. Instead we got our heads down and spent many a late night and weekend (in fact all our spare time) finishing the renovations on our house in the hope to raise some equity in order to buy another.
Following our brainstorming session back in February, we’d decided to rent both out to give us some security should things go wrong with our big adventure plans.
Everything started to fall into place in June; I handed in my 3 months notice at work and renovations were completed on our house. As we’d hoped we realised some equity on the house and remortgaged it to enable us to buy and decorate a second house in Lowestoft.
It also wouldn’t have been a travel year without my annual tradition of walking part of the Camino del Norte (Camino de Santiago) in Spain. I’ve walked a section of several of the Camino de Santiago routes every year for the last 8 years and am a bit addicted to it.
This year I returned to Asturias to walk from Piedras Blancas to Ribadeo and, as always loved doing this, even by myself. It gives you time alone with your thoughts, without having to worry about anyone else but you. After the walk, I spent a couple of days in the city of Gijon.
July was pretty quiet on the travel front with just a short camping trip to Waxham Sands on the North Norfolk coast with a friend and our two Godsons.
At the beginning of July we found tenants for our new house in Lowestoft, and also started to make a concerted effort to sell all of our furniture, clothes and other crap we’d accumulated over the years. These both brought us another step closer to being ready to leave the UK.
The only August travel was a long weekend of partying in Bristol (one of my favourite UK cities) with friends.
This blog was finally launched after 5 months of hard work and teaching myself how to use word press from scratch. Sh*t Just Got Real was my first post, which reflected that suddenly our upcoming adventure was becoming a reality
Andy handed in his notice at work and we finished selling, giving away and storing our belongings, and put our Norwich house up for rent. We also spent hours working through our exit plan to ensure we had all loose ends tied up in The UK, a rough idea of our route to Cambodia and that we had the relevant visas sorted out.
I also spent much of the month caring for my Mum after she’d badly broken her arm falling off her bicycle. All in all, it was quite a very busy and quite stressful month. At the end of August, it was time to start saying farewell to our friends and family over a string of goodbye catch-ups and one final big leaving party. All great fun but also tinged with sadness!
At long last we left the UK to travel, and to live and work abroad in early September.
It started with a weeks villa holiday near Santanyi in Mallorca with my family, including my two little nephews. It was a gorgeous villa with a pool in a picturesque setting a bit out in the sticks. We had some time relaxing at the villa and a couple of day trips out to nearby beaches and towns. It was lovely to have that week with my family before we left Europe for the foreseeable future
The rest of September we travelled through India starting in bustling Mumbai which assaulted our senses. We also had some rainy days and a cow attack in South Goa, some Ganesh Chaturthi (Elephant God) Festival submersion ceremonies, took a train journey from Mangalore to Mysore and discovered a beautiful pristine beach off the beaten track in Someshwara.
India highlights were seeing a leopard and elephants on safari in Nagarhole National Park whilst staying at the amazing Kabini River Lodge, an alternative Kerala backwaters experience on a canoe day trip, and some time in the hills amongst the tea plantations.
I think it’s pretty safe to say we ate our weight in curries in those 3 weeks, delicious, and got well and truly templed out…sooo many temples in India.
The first week in October we were in Bangladesh, flying straight down to Cox’s Bazar – the longest unbroken stretch of beach in the world we, had a couple of days exploring there and the surrounding area.
Bangladesh’s highlight was a slightly risky jaunt by fishing trawler out to Saint Martin’s Island.
The last couple of days we found ourselves back in Dhaka, which we pretty much spent holed up in hotels as we felt really unsafe, something I’d never experienced anywhere before even when travelling as a solo female. We treated ourselves to a bit of luxury the last night in The Westin.
Next stop was Myanmar, which got off to a shaky start with a seven hour delay on our flight to Yangon, Myanmar. We decided to slow our travel down here and spent nearly a week each in both Bagan and Inle lake and the surrounding areas. We whizzed around the pagodas of Bagan by e-bike and navigated Inle Lake by boat, witnessing the colourful Paung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival.
At the end of October, we flew into Siem Reap, Cambodia which was to be our home for the next year. The rest of October we started to get settled into house and pet sitting for our friends and also into getting into the swing of relief managing Rosy Guesthouse for them whilst they returned to the UK for a visit.
We were kept very busy throughout most of November looking after the Rosy Guesthouse, which was a great experience and helped us to meet lots of other expats and start to make friends here.
Our favourite part of this month has to be the 3 day Water Festival. Rosy Guesthouse overlooks the river and Royal Gardens, meaning we had a prime position for watching the dragon boat races. Cambodians love a good party and it was all pretty crazy in the streets near the river.
We both started Khmer lessons and moved into a big wooden Khmer Style house on stilts which we love, even if it is a little dark inside.
I also secured a part-time job using my marketing, data and analysis skills to add value to a luxury tour operator and Andy started to volunteer a few hours with Plastic Free Cambodia.
December was pretty much a continuation of November as I got settled into my new job and Andy continued work at Rosy Guesthouse.
We took a couple of bicycle rides out towards Tonle Sap Lake through rural villages and lotus fields but apart from that, it was mostly pretty quiet until Christmas week (not counting, of course, the usual Siem Reap socialising).
Christmas was wonderful as we spent it with Siem Reap friends old and new. A lot of eating, drinking and partying was involved. Then five friends from the UK arrived for a two week holiday and to see in the New Year. It was fantastic to see some familiar faces and a great time was had by all.
Our main goal for 2017 is to replace the pot of money we started with and to save some extra to enable us to continue to travel, live and work abroad.
I’ll continue my part-time job but also hope to branch out into freelance/ remote work utilising my marketing and data skills and TEFL Certificate and to continue to grow this blog on my days off. Andy literally just today secured a full time TEFL job teaching children.
Other than that we’re keen to explore more of Cambodia and it’s surrounding countries and to undertake some volunteer work, myself in wildlife or conservation and Andy in Development.
A personal goal for me is to run, walk or crawl my way to the finish line of the 16km (17.1km) of the Angkor Ultra marathon. I’m running this to raise money for Volunteer Build Cambodia.
Towards the tail end of the year it will be time to start thinking about where we’ll travel, and live and work next. I’m sure 2017 will present us with more exciting times, and of course challenges. We can’t wait to see what it has in store for us.
Where did you travel in 2016 and what are your goals for 2017? We’d love you to share these with us in the comments below.