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As I write this, I’m sitting on a vegan cafe in Bacalar, Mexico. This morning, I paddleboarded across the Bacalar Lagoon to watch the sun rise. I feel whole.
2018 wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a year where the good news outweighed the bad, or where I flew through my essays like they were nothing. But it was a year full of adventure. And that, at the very least, is something I can look back on and be proud of. And I am.
In 2018 I travelled to 8 different countries on 2 contients: Austria, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Iceland, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In total, I spent 61 nights on the road in hostels, hotels, Airbnbs, and even glamping in a shepherds hut in the Lake District. I took 22 flights, 23 train rides, 17 long-distance bus rides, 2 ferry rides, and road tripped from Illinois to Cape Cod and back. Some of the trips I took solo, some with friends and family, and some with Daniel (and his family). And I had fun during (almost) every minute of it all.
So as I find myself in my first country of 2019, I wanted to take a moment to look back at everything I did in 2018. Here we go.
A few days into the new year, I flew from my hometown in Illinois, where I had been spending the holidays with my family, to Washington, D.C. to stay with Daniel and his family for a few days. While there, I was interviewed and approved for Global Entry (totally worth the money)!
Then, it was off to Costa Rica! Daniel’s family wanted to take one last family trip before his sister left for the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and apparently they liked me enough to invite me along. And like… I wasn’t going to say no.
We flew into San Jose, where we spent a singular night before a shuttle picked us up to take us to La Fortuna on Lake Arenal. We stayed at a resort with its own private hot springs (this trip was some serious luxury compared to what I usually do), hiked, went on a wilderness raft safari, and befriended the cutest street dog of all time while waiting in line for the ATM. Oh, and we saw TWO sloths.
I didn’t want to leave, but a few days later it was time to move to Monteverde. And let me tell you, this was one of the coolest travel days ever: we first took a shuttle down to the lake, then took a boat across, with some seriously awesome views of Arenal Volcano, and then another shuttle up into the mountains (on somewhat sketchy, hella bumpy roads, which was definitely less fun).
In Monteverde, we went on a less-than-stellar coffee tour, which was really a shame. But we also hiked across hanging bridges (well, Daniel’s mom and I did–the others are afraid of heights) and in the Monteverde cloud forest. It was lovely.
One week later, and it was back to St Andrews for the start of classes.
Back in November 2017, I saw an insane deal for flights to and a hotel in Prague and I booked them without telling Daniel. Not exactly something I’m proud of, but thankfully he’s used to these sorts of shenanigans by now and happily missed a day of class to visit a city we’ve both wanted to go to for a long time.
So, at the end of February we went to Prague for the weekend, and it was everything a weekend trip to Prague should be. We explored Prague Castle, watched the sun set from the Astronomical Clock Tower, took a quirky walking tour, and went to the Kafka Museum (a must for two almost-German majors). It was the perfect escape just as the semester was ramping up.
I also went to Edinburgh on my own for a day to explore all of the Harry Potter sights in the city. It was magical.
March is always an exciting month for travel for me because of spring break! Two blissful weeks where it generally costs less to travel around Europe than book a flight home? Count me in.
In Aveiro, I frollicked down colorful streets, stuffed my face with Ovos Moles, and took a boat tour down the canals of the “Venice of Portugal”. I was immediately cheered up by this off-the-beaten-path small town (I’m just really not a city girl), and finally felt optimistic about my time in Portugal. It was the beginning of me growing into my identity as a solo female traveler.
I was pretty sure the medieval walled town of Obidos wasn’t real. During the two days I spent there, I had to keep pinching myself because it was just so beautiful. There wasn’t much to do there besides wander and take photos, but that’s the kind of place that I think is perfect. I also splurged on a meal at Book & Cook Restaurant and it was freaking delicious and oh-so-ambient.
From Obidos I took the short, one hour bus ride to Lisbon where I spent a few days wandering the streets, going on a lot of tours, and setting out on a quest to find the best Pastel de Nata in the city. I also got sick so had to spend one day in bed, meaning that I missed out on taking a day trip to Sintra, which I’m still bummed out about. Oh well, just an excuse to go back!
My friend Madison joined my in Lagos where we spent four days doing things two accident prone people probably shouldn’t try: kayaking the cliffs of Lagos, hiking on top of those same (un-
Madison and I flew back to Scotland on the first day of April, and from there it was a month without travel. Sad face 🙁
In between the end of classes and the beginning of exams, we had two weeks for studying. Which, in my professional opinion, is way too long. So Daniel and I decided to take a quick, five day study break and made the trek down to the Lake District in England for a romantic four days of hiking, glamping, and buying Daniel a rain jacket (Yes, he had been living in Scotland for two years at this point. No, he had not bought a rain jacket prior to this trip. And he only bought one because it was half off at Mountain Warehouse and he had forgotten to bring any sort of jacket at all. Smh.)
My absolute favorite part of the entire trip was taking the bus to Hawkshead on the other side of Lake Windermere, where we visited the Beatrice Potter Museum and it took less than half an hour to explore the entire town. Oh, and there was a no-entrance-fee cat cafe.
Being disconnected for a few days was also really, really nice. Listening as the rain beat down on the sides of our cozy shepherds hut while I worked on my knitting and Daniel read Game of Thrones was one of the most relaxing things I did all year.
After exams were done and dusted, Daniel and I jetted off on another adventure: this time to Vienna to visit friends Astrid and Leoni.
In Vienna, the most important thing we did was immerse ourselves into the culture as deeply as we could by having Kaffee und Kuchen every. single. day. Daniel one-upped me by also having Schnitzel every day. What can I say? We’re just culture vultures.
When we weren’t gorging ourselves on cake and coffee, we took a great free walking tour, visited Schönnbrunn Palace, and checked out the Kunsthistorisches Museum. We also visited Salzburg on a day trip, which was a major effort but totally worth it.
Then, it was back to Scotland for just two days to finish packing up my flat and hop on a plane back home for the summer! Where I spent exactly one full day before my dad, brother, and I set out on a cross-country road trip to Cape Cod, where a family friend had rented a house for the summer and we spent a few days.
We stopped at Niagara Falls on the way there–my second time but my brother and dad’s first. Unfortunately, my brother didn’t bring his passport so we couldn’t go over to the Canadian side. And having now been to both sides, I can confirm: the Canadian side is better.
Once actually at Cape Cod, we didn’t do much besides chilling, reading, and working on our personal passion projects (it’s a shared trait in my family). For me, that project was launching the website for my own graphic and web design business(!!!) which I had been working on starting for several months at that point.
Then, it was another 18 hours back home, this time broken up by a stop at the Corning Museum of Glass, which I never thought would be as cool as it was. If you’re ever in the area, definitely stop by!
At the very beginning of July, I flew up to Minneapolis, where I spent a few days with friends sampling the beer (something I keep doing despite the fact that I know I hate beer), walking through fancy neighborhoods, and checking out the Walker Art Museum. Oh, and we made a quick stop at the Mall of America because I needed to pick up some solid conditioner from Lush (p.s. making the switch to solid toiletries this year has made traveling carry-on only so much easier!).
Then, we all caravaned up to Bemidji, Minnesota for staff orientation for the German immersion camp we all work at. I spent the Fourth of July watching the fireworks over Lake Bemidji with friends new and old, finally got to try the beer at the famous Bemidji Brewing (yay for finally being of legal drinking age in the US!), and tricked my friends into thinking I was a Japanese prodigy (I’m not, I just took a semseter in high school).
After a week hanging out in Bemidji, we moved into the woods where we started six weeks of hanging out and teaching kids German. This is always a highlight of my year because this camp is not only where I grew up going every summer, but it’s where Daniel and I met and where I get to hang out with some of my closest friends in the world (who also happen to live all over the world, meaning free couches to crash on! Like in Vienna with Astrid and Leoni). The past two summers I’ve also been able to live with the high school credit campers, and getting to see them grow into such independent and amazing young women has been truly rewarding.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it through the entire summer this year. As rewarding as working with kids 24/7 is, it’s also seriously stressful, and I was struggling with some major anxiety issues (like, multiple panic attacks in one day major anxiety issues). So I had to go home two weeks early.
It was bittersweet, because I never want to leave my favorite place in the northwoods of Minnesota, but I also knew that I needed to for my own mental health. And knowing that I had a group of coworkers and bosses who were aware and supportive of this just made the place all that more special.
After a few days of sleep, I spent the rest of August going to my favorite coffee shop at home and working on my two passion projects: my design business and this blog. Of course, the one day I didn’t go was when Obama showed up. Nope, I’m not kidding.
In September, it was time to fly back to Scotland to start my third year of university. The biggest event of the month though? Moving in with Daniel. After three years of dating, it was a step we were excited to take. And I’m glad to report that we kind of love living together. And, like, love each other. I know, it’s gross.
Third year also marked the transition from Subhonours to Honours at university, meaning that I started taking classes exclusively in my major (Social Anthropology). Getting to really delve into a subject that I love was awesome (though also, like, a lot of work).
Getting adjusted to my new workload was a major part of the first half of the semester, so I didn’t do any traveling in October.
It wasn’t until the tailend of November that I finally started to travel again. After I turned in my last essay, I flew back to Vienna for a Thanksgiving gathering with loads of friends from camp who live in Europe, and it was truly amazing.
After that, I made the trek over to Hallstatt and spent a day exploring the Insta-famous town. Takeaways?
- Yes, it’s just as beautiful in person as it is on Instagram
- In low season very few restaurants are open. I paid €15 for what I’m pretty sure was a frozen pizza. Go to a grocery store before you get there if you’re visiting in the low season (and tbh probably also in the high season, where I can only assume all of the restaurants are open and way overcharging all of the tourists.
December was a HUGE month for travel for me, which was very exciting after several months of not really traveling at all. Just a week and a half after I got back from Austria, I was on a plane again. This time, my ex-flatmate Megan and I were bound for Copenhagen. You know, for a study break before exams.
In Copenhagen, we went on the hunt for Hygge, took a day trip to see some castles, and stuffed our faces at ALL of the Christmas markets. It was my second time there, and I loved it just as much as I did the first time around (it was also just as expensive as the first time around).
Then, after a few short days back in Scotland (for those pesky exams) I was off to Iceland for the most magical birthday trip of all time. I explored Reyjavik with a hostel friend (hostel friends are always an accomplishment for introverted me), took day trips to the Golden Circle, South Coast, and Snaefellsness Peninsula, and went for a dip in the Blue Lagoon (touristy and expensive, but like, I had to). On my birthday, I saw the Northern Lights. My guide Agnes (who had also been my guide a few nights before when we didn’t see them) and I danced (just like the lights!!!) in celebration and when I told her that it was my birthday (I didn’t want to jinx it) we danced some more. I really couldn’t believe it. It was a dream trip.
I don’t have much content for Copenhagen (or any at all for Iceland) up yet, but it’s all coming–promise!
Then, it was back home for Christmas, where I spent time with family and friends and sang Christmas carols on Christmas Eve at the same party my family has gone to since my dad was a kid. I baked cookied from my Grandmother’s recipe. It was perfect.
I rang in the New Year with my brother and his roommate playing a computer version of Risk (the rest of my family were travelling or had better things to do). I set an alarm on my phone so we wouldn’t actually miss the new year because we were so engrossed in the competition. We almost did anyway. It was perfect.
LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE
I honestly can’t tell you how excited I am for 2019. All I see is potential.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m currently spending two weeks backpacking around Mexico (and my mom is joining me for a few days starting tomorrow!). But other than that, I don’t have that many travel plans.
In March, Daniel, I, and two friends will all be going back to the states to spend a few days with Daniel’s family in DC and then time with more friends who are doing the two year St. Andrews/William & Mary degree program in Williamsburg. Then in May, Daniel and I will finally be visiting Italy. We have a whole week to explore Rome and Florence (where another camp friend will be studying abroad for the semester) and I CAN’T WAIT. Italy has been one of my dream destinations for the longest time, and I am so excited that I am finally going to make it there. Hopefully, we do it justice.
Aside from those two trips, the field is wide open when it comes to travel. Once I actually have my class schedule later this month I’ll start planning weekend trips. I’d love to explore a bit more of Scotland and the
In the summer, I’ll be conducting my anthropological fieldwork for my dissertation. No idea yet what or where that will be, but I am so ready.
Then, in the fall, it will be back to Scotland for the fourth and final year of my degree (!!!). And, of course, more weekend trips.
What was your favorite memory of 2018? Do you have any exciting travel plans for 2019? Tell me all about them in the comments down below!