Looking back at 2015…and forward to 2016
A lot of people hate the yearly recaps that travel bloggers come up with this time of year. I actually love doing them: year end posts are about remembering what we did in the year, how far we came in fulfilling what we hoped for, and remembering how we felt about the places we visited as well as where we are in life. After all, the main goal when I set up this website was to document our travels.
In this post you’ll see a summary of the different places we went, our favorites (we’ve been to a few places this year that we want to return to), as well as some thoughts on our lifestyle as full-time (slow*) travellers. I’ll also go over some of our plans for the coming year.
* For those unfamiliar with our blog: we are slow travellers, travelling and working at the same time. We like to stay somewhere 1-2 months, trying to fit in and getting to really know a place.
2015 was our first calendar year of full-time travel. Apart from 6 weeks back in Montreal taking care of some administrative things, we spent the whole year travelling. A few numbers: 13 countries visited (Thailand, Laos, Czech Republic, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Hungary, Romania, South Africa), 294 total nights stayed in a total of 14 Airbnb apartments, 11 flights (we tried to travel by bus and train as much as possible), 9 hotel stays.
Nong Khai, Thailand
We finished off 2014 in Nong Khai and stayed there until late March 2015. In last year’s recap I had mentioned that we had become disillusioned with Thailand after a few months in Bangkok and Hua Hin. Although our lodging options in Nong Khai were a little on the rough side, we loved this pretty little town on the banks of the Mekong River. Photo Essay on Nong Khai.
Vientiane is about 90 minutes from Nong Khai and we came here in January of 2015 (for 3 days) to renew our Thai visa. Most people have nothing good to say about Vientiane – well, they’re wrong. Vientiane is a laid back city with some interesting sights AS well as the most sophisticated café and restaurant scene in the region. We celebrated our wedding anniversary in a French restaurant and it was one of the best meals we had all year. Why Vientiane is worth a visit.
Prague, Czech Republic
We had stayed in Prague for 3 months in 2014 so we’re not strangers to the city. I’ll be honest: we were really happy to leave South East Asia for Europe at the end of March. Although it was still cool in Europe the first thing we did was take a 5 hour walk around the city. We stayed 6 days this time around and fell in love with the city all over again. Visiting Prague in Early April.
I had always wanted to visit Croatia. I chose Split as our base. We stayed a little over 2 months, using the city as a base to explore other places in the region. We loved it, it ended up being one of our highlights of the year. Reasons we love Split and why it is the perfect place for an extended stay in Croatia.
Below: there was actually a little bit of snow in the mountains behind Split when we arrived in early April.
Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Only 4 hours from Split by bus, Mostar feels like a piece of the Middle East transplanted in Europe. With a different religion and culture, as well as a tragic history, it was to be one of the most interesting places that we visited in 2015. We stayed here 2 full days in early May and wished we had stayed longer. The Pretty side of Mostar.
Dubrovnik is Croatia’s most popular tourist destination. We came in mid-May on a trip south that would also include Kotor. While Dubrovnik is stunning, it didn’t win us over. We stayed 3 days and enjoyed the city – but left knowing we will probably never come back. Highlights and Lowlights of Dubrovnik.
Kotor was for me one of the highlights of 2015 and the hike up to the Fortress of St. John (or San Giovanni) was among the most stunning hikes I had during the year. It’s a place I would like to go back to. Have a look at this post – it was my biggest compilation of photos on any post in 2015.
Northern Croatia & Slovenia
In early June, we left Split and travelled for 2 weeks through northern Croatia and Slovenia with stops in Zadar, Plitvice Lakes, Zagreb, Ljubljana and Piran before arriving in Venice (Italy). From there we would fly to Montreal. Although we saw lots of beauty, it was a stressful trip. “Fast” travel of this sort is no longer for us and the constant travelling and rushing around with baggage was no fun. We were exhausted when we finally arrived in Montreal. From now on we’ll stick to slow travel.
Both Lissette and I have lived 25+ years in Montreal and we were curious about how we would feel coming back after having been away for a year. I wrote about that here. We spent 6 weeks, taking care of a lot of administrative things – and then were happy to leave again.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
While in Montreal for 6 weeks, I took a week off to visit my Mom in Mexico. I’ve increasingly enjoyed these yearly trips, Mexico is one of my favorite countries. It’s also always great spending time with mom.
Lissette and I left Montreal in early July for Budapest. It would be our base for 2 months. Budapest marked the official beginning of our 2nd year of full-time travel.
It was a bit of a strange time. The migrant crisis was just starting up and it didn’t take long after our arrival for it to become big news around the world. Although we were only a 20 minute walk away from Keleti train station where everything was happening – and although we saw scenes from the train station on the nightly news – there really was no evidence of what was going on when walking around Budapest.
The crisis would however change our travel plans for the rest of the year. We had originally decided that we’d travel to Romania, through to Bulgaria and on to Turkey where we’d stay a couple of months. Those plans would change radically over the next few months.
Our feelings about Budapest were also a bit strange. I honestly didn’t enjoy Budapest that much in the beginning. But it is a city that really ended up growing on us and by the time we left it had made it on our list of favorite cities. Lissette especially loves Budapest which sort of reminds her of New York. This post compares it to Prague (another favorite city) : Prague or Budapest: which to Visit.
In mid-September we took a vacation in Eger, known for 1) its spas 2) the surrounding wine region and 3) Eger Castle – famous for the defense of the town in a 1552 siege by invading Turk forces. In Hungary, in the summer of 2015, it just seemed that everything revolved around the ‘new’ Arab invasion from the east. But you don’t have to look hard in Hungary to see remnants of past history between Hungary and the Muslim world.
Romania is still an off-the-beaten-path kind of place. But it, especially the Transylvania region, is getting more popular among travellers. It recently showed up as Lonely Planet’s Top Region in the World to visit in 2016.
But how was it living there for 4 weeks in October of 2015?
I wrote about it here: Our no-fluff thoughts on staying in Brasov an extended period of time. Honestly, although we were happy to have seen Romania (and we did get to feel more comfortable as we spent more time), it’s not a country we would want to spend more time in. A month was fine.
Although we didn’t love Romania, it had one superb highlight: Peles Castle. One of the most beautiful castles we’ve seen anywhere. It was the most impressive historical/cultural site that we saw in 2015.
The Ankara bombings in October basically sealed our decision. We decided to cancel our travel plans to Turkey. So, last minute, we changed our next destination to:
Cape Town, South Africa
We arrived in South Africa in late October. It is where we are ending 2015. It is fitting really: going into 2016 we have a goal of challenging ourselves more. We’ve already done that: I’ve paraglided over Cape Town, hiked up Table Mountain, and driven 2000 km through the Garden Route and Karoo (including over some of the most famous mountain passes in the world). Lissette has bested all that with an extreme activity of her own (we’re still negotiating whether that will show up on the blog). South Africa is one of the most beautiful, yet complicated places we’ve been to. I’ll be writing about that in the next little while as well.
Really, we did very well with all the destinations we visited in 2015. There are none that we regret visiting. We had unique experiences everywhere we went. One of the benefits of the way we travel (ie. slow) is that we are almost forced to give a place a 2nd or 3rd chance. We might not love a place right away but it is surprising how, with a little time, your perspective can change. Romania was probably the country where we felt least comfortable staying for a prolonged period – but even there we became more comfortable with time and actually finished up the last few weeks on a high note. I think it all has to do with meeting a few people and making connections. I really think that’s the key to feeling comfortable somewhere and actually starting to enjoy a destination. At least for us and the way we travel.
But if you asked us what our favorite destinations were in 2015? For Lissette it would be Split (Croatia) and Budapest (Hungary). For me it would be Split, Kotor (Montenegro), and South Africa. These are the places that most took our breath away in 2015.
So, what’s in store for 2016?
Destinations: without getting into specifics at this point, we expect to be in Eastern and Central Europe February to June. Much of what happens after that will be determined by our condo in Montreal and our current tenants. But all things going well, we’d like to be in Western Europe (Spain/Portugal) in the 2nd half of the summer. There are a lot of gaps in our itinerary though and we might throw in a few destinations at the last minute: Iceland, Ireland and Russia are a couple of places that have piqued our interest over the last few months. The thing is that we can travel/work anywhere as long as we have internet – so everything you read above could change if we are suddenly inspired. Any suggestions??
Healthy Lifestyle. One of the things we were determined to do when entering our 2nd year of travel (back in July) was to get back in shape. So we decided 1) to make work less of a priority (ie. knowing when to shut the computer down) and 2) going to the gym regularly. Since July we’ve joined gyms in every place we’ve been. Not only do we feel better physically and mentally, we’ve met a lot of really nice locals in every place we’ve gone just by going to the gym. It’s a great way to connect and we will continue working on getting in shape through 2016. Expect a swimsuit/bikini shot that you’ll be impressed with by year end 🙂
Being more adventurous. I’ve alluded that we’ve wanted to challenge ourselves more going into 2016. It’s not just about doing adventure sports, it’s about focusing less on work and more on doing different activities. I’ll be turning 50 this year and Lissette is only a year behind. We want to slowly get into more of a retirement mind-frame and spend more time doing things we enjoy.
Personal & Professional Projects. One of the professional projects we’d like to develop more is this blog. Traffic over the last 12 months has tripled to almost 20,000 unique visitors per month. We’ve never participated in blogging circles, it’s not our style. But we would like to get a little more professional about our blogging in 2016. Maybe it’s time to take a blogging course or show up at one of the Travel Blog Conferences (they have one in Stockholm in October). It’s not about making tons of money from the blog. But when you enjoy doing something you should always want to improve. A personal project we continue to think about – and will continue thinking about in 2016 – is a more long term base for ourselves (it’s no longer Montreal). We love travelling and want to travel as much and as long as we can but we sometimes also think about having a base somewhere that we can call home a few months of the year…and where we can park some of the beautiful furniture we have sitting in storage in Montreal. We’re still processing all that, but after 16 months of continuous travel it is something that is starting to cross our minds from time to time.
Whatever happens, we hope 2016 will be as good a year for us as 2015 was.
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I love reading how your initial feelings about a new country often change because you’re there long enough to get to know it properly. We don’t have the luxury of being slow travellers and whilst at the moment I kinda enjoy the frenzy of short blasts of travel, I often leave a place feeling I’ve not given it a fair chance to worm it’s way into my good books. I guess it shows perseverance pays off. And can’t believe you’ve managed all that with only 11 flights! Hats off to you both 🙂
I think the thing about slow travel is that you embed yourself somewhere, not knowing how you’ll end up liking it. With a bit of time things get easier, but how much we end up liking it often depends upon the people we meet along the way as well as how a place grows on us. Like a new job or relationship. Once you’ve gotten the more superficial stuff out of the way you can start judging how much you really like a place. We’ve had hits and misses along the way but we love this way of travel.
Thank you for the nice comment Heather 🙂
Thanks for sharing your adventures
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
WoW ! what a year! and new adventures are around the corner:)
Thanks for reading Tanja 🙂
Nong Khai Silverback
What can I say? The two of you didn’t do a single interesting thing after leaving Nong Khai. No, EVERYTHING you did was interesting and Macky and I are green with envy. You’re clearly on a roll and all we can do is encourage you to keep-on-keeping-on. We’d love to see you at Macky’s Riverside Kitchen at some point during 2016. Wishing You the Very Best, Bart and Macky
Thank you so much Bart! I get a longing for Nong Khai sometimes and the thing I miss most is the food and vibe at your place, especially on a Saturday night. Things still hopping?
The one thing keeping us from Nong Khai is the short-term apartment situation. If ever we came back we’d like to be centrally located but have our own kitchen…and they sure could use airbnb there! 🙂
Thanks for the wishes, hope all the best for the two of you for 2016! Say hi to Macky for us.
Not there atm. Hopefully get back this year or next.
Had some family probs to deal with.
Sorry about the Tom…hope all ok now.
Whereabouts are you in Thailand if I may ask?
Happy new year! Keep up the great work.
Hey Tom!! Lissette was just asking me the other day ‘what happened to Thailand Tom’? You’ve been very quiet and I hope all is well with you.
All the very best for 2016!!
amazing. How did you get so many visitors? 20,000 a month? Wow. That’s twice what I get in year. nearly. Here’s to 2016 and new destinations and adventures!
Thank you very much Andy. I remember reading that you don’t have much travel planned this year but that you’re planning to buy a house. That’s exciting too! Wish you a great year and as always you can count on me reading your stories!
Wow! Definitely an impressive list of amazing destinations and good times!
I’ve always wanted to try paragliding–never thought to try it in Cape Town. Perhaps I will when I go there. I was soooo very close to going last year but it didn’t work into the flow of my travels well enough.
Anyway – great photos! And well done on living life to the fullest in 2015! Good luck with all your adventures in 2016!
Thank you Rikka! Yes, South Africa a little far from everything – but we’ve loved our stay and all going well we’d like to be back in early 2017. It’s really worth the visit.
I love year end recaps. It sounds like you had an amazing year. Although we’re still in short-term travel mode, we know that if and when that changes, we will want some sort of home base too. I hope you find something that works for you. Have a great 2016!
Thanks for commenting Karen! I’ll make sure to check out your blog. All the best in 2016 🙂
Alex of Wanderlust Marriage
Congratulations on a great year that you documented so well!
Croatia is one of my favorite countries, and I’ve spent some time there, but I’ve actually never been to Split or Dubrovnik. I loved Zadar, the Plitvice Lakes and renting a friends apartment in Zagreb for 3 and 1/2 weeks a few years back allowed us to make even more friends and appreciate that town. We also love slow travel, but unfortunately our lives at the moment don’t permit this. Hopefully one day again soon though 🙂
I’ve had to go to the gym more and exercise myself because I was enjoying food and drink a little too much, lol. Traveling healthy is really important. Anyways, have an awesome 2016 and I look forward to following your new adventures!
Thank you Alex, much appreciate! Wish you great travels in 2016.
Looks like a great year of travel! You visited a couple of my favorite places, and several places on my to do list! Safe Travels!
Thank you 🙂 All the best to you and your travel plans.
Dee (Dee's Butterfly Garden)
You’ve visited so many beautiful places last year! My favorites were Split Croatia and South Africa. I’ve got to see the world through your eyes! I love the tours you do with a local tour guide and the practical information for those who may travel there in the future. I remember the post from Thailand when you visited the outdoor market. Next to the Monks shopping for religious statues, was a table full of very large vibrators, hilarious!
Thanks so much Dee for the kind words. I guess you’re like me, going for the more picturesque places. Fantastic geography in both places.
All the best for 2016!
What a gift you gave yourselves – a year of travel in 2015 with so many options for 2016. Options are great, aren’t they?
We had 1 week in Prague and it was no way enough time, especially, since we were both taken down by an airplane bug that stole 1 1/2 days from our week. Except for the whole eastern European smoking thing, we fell in love with Prague and we would love to return one day. I know there is so much history to take in and learn about. We spent our days just aimlessly wandering and came across the most special places.
Continued safe travels, I look forward to what 2016 will bring to all of us!
Thank you so much Patti!
I didn’t put Prague as one of our highlights in 2015 because we only spent 6 days this time around – as opposed to the 3 months we spent in 2014. But it is a fantastic city and a sentimental favorite of ours because that’s where we started our life of full-time travel.
All the best in 2016, we always enjoy reading your posts 🙂
What a terrific year! I found your blog while looking for not your-usual-guidebook info on Croatia – your posts and impressions have really helped me plan for my trip this year – so thanks for that! As far as slow travel goes, you two seem to have it down. Every time I think about a few days here or there, I have to remind myself to slow down. Happy New Year and keep doing what you LOVE!
Are you saying we are unusual Rebecca!? 🙂 I don’t know if you’ve been to Croatia but I hope you get there.
Thank you for the kind words.
You guys had such an eventful 2015! I need to read your Croatia and Montenegro posts since those are some of the European destinations at the top of my list. I didn’t really like Budapest when we visited in 2014, but as you suggested, maybe we just needed to spend more time there. I’m definitely willing to give the city a second chance. Looking forward to following your new adventures this year!
I really think that the thing about Budapest is that it doesn’t hit you visually the way a city like Prague does. Prague is magical, Budapest is not. But if you go to the different thermal baths, go drinking at the ruin bars, or get to know the Hungarians you get a whole other appreciation for the city. Its the culture and the vibe of the city. So I really think that for a short trip go to Prague, for a longer, more in-depth trip go to Budapest.
I think you’ll love both Croatia and Montenegro. Same coastline, both visually stunning.
Sarah (Jetsetting Fools)
What an amazing year! We love reading your posts – go figure, we seem to like traveling to many of the same places.
Impressive numbers on your blog, congrats! Instead of joining blogger courses maybe we should just be talking to you! 😉
We, too, have considered attending a conference, but not sure it’s really for us.
Cheers to an awesome 2016!
Thanks Sarah – but there is a lot of room for improvement. Hey, how is that on-line blogging course you were taking coming along?
You probably don’t learn much at conferences but it’s a good way to rub shoulders with people in the industry while also meeting fellow bloggers. We might consider it if we are in the area – nothing lost right? Plus Stockholm a nice place.
Thanks for the wishes, all the best to you and Chris for 2016.
Sarah (Jetsetting Fools)
The online course is just OK. It’s basically teaching me a few things (albeit sort of major things) I should have been doing all along. I find it a little frustrating and I thought I would be able to get a lot more help when I have questions – which has not been the case at all. Still, it was probably worth the investment. We have a few more things to update and then I’ll be back in the land of the living – and traveling – instead of 10+ hours a day on my computer!
If we do go to a conference, it would be for the sole purpose of meeting people – I do think they are good for that! Would love to go to Stockholm, but it’s a bit out of our price range 😉 We’ll have to wait for one in a more affordable locale! haha.
I’m a bit cynical about courses from self-professed experts. I see a whole bunch of these guys who give all this bullshit advice and make money off the backs of novice bloggers. And I also see some big bloggers (I won’t name names) who now give ‘coaching’ courses. It’s easier I guess making money off new bloggers who want to learn something than to make money from traditional advertising. Rubs me the wrong way though.
I’d love to take a course but I’ll only do it if someone tells me that they really felt that it was totally worth it.
Enjoyed re-visiting your year. So many great places and memories for you guys. Love, love, love reading about your adventures. I’m looking forward to see where this year takes you 🙂
Thank you so much Paula! I know 2016 will be a quiet year for you, but you must be excited for 2017 when you become a full-time traveller? So many great places to visit!
Wow- you visited a lot of great places last year! Ditto to your goal of being more adventurous. That’s also one of the things I’d like to accomplish this year. I’m hoping to visit some places and try some activities that are outside of my comfort zone and a little harder to travel around than my beloved Europe.
Sure, it’s also good to get the adrenaline going! Sometimes you just have to try different things as a traveller.
All the best in 2016 Rhonda!
Love your recap, the photos are amazing! It’s always great to reflect on the past and look forward to the future, don’t know who could hate something like this.
Have you thought about visiting Poland during your Central Europe trip? It’s not an obvious destination for many travellers, but there are some very fascinating places out there and we can provide you with some hints and tips if you decide to go 🙂
Some people think travel bloggers are self-indulgent assholes when they write about themselves and what they’ve done during the year 🙂 But as I say, we set up the blog primarily to record our memories so once in a while it’s good to look back…honestly, it feels like some of the places we visited at the beginning of the year were so long ago that it feels like a few years back. So looking back keeps things in perspective.
Actually Poland IS a place I want to visit. More specifically Krakow as it’s an easy trip prom both Prague and Budapest…we have some vacation time in February and will be taking a little winter holiday. Haven’t figured out exactly where (might be Germany) but visiting Krakow crossed my mind. I will definitely write you for more info if we decide to go that way.
Thanks for taking the time to comment Agnieszka!
Paul and Carole
Really enjoyed your round up, what an interesting year you have had! So right about places growing on you, the beauty of you being able to slow travel. Split has been on our radar for a while now so we must get a trip booked! Thanks for sharing and we look forward to following your travels in 2016!
Thanks Carole! Yes, we’ll be back in Croatia sometime this spring, still lots of places we haven’t visited. I hope you get there, its a beautiful country and we find the history fascinating.
I LOVE this post and I’ve really enjoyed following you two this year! I didn’t realize you spent time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico! That’s one of my favorite spots. I have family in Mexico and spent a few months there many years ago. You should check out Dolores Hidalgo and Guanjuato on your next visit. I also loved learning that you returned ‘home’ and were excited to leave again 🙂 Just proves that you’ve found a good fit living this lifestyle. Cheers to more adventures, guys! Still hoping our paths cross somewhere around the world!
Thanks so much Andrea! Yes, have been back to San Miguel a few times…but my highlight in the area is indeed Guanajuato. Haven’t been to Dolores Hidalgo yet. Further south we loved Puebla and enjoyed Oaxaca as well. Love Mexico.
All the best in 2016 Andrea!
That must have been an amazing year for you! I’ve also visited Slovenia in 2015, when I look at the photo of Piran, it brings nice memories of summer 🙂 You were lucky to be able to escape winter in South Africa 🙂 For 2016, I hope to visit some of those places: Lofoten in Norway, Greenland, Patagonia in Argentina and Chile (with the Eastern Island), Belarus as well as South Africa and Namibia.
You’ve got a couple of ‘outdoorsy’ locations there that interest me. Would love to see both Namibia and Patagonia one day…and we will come back to South Africa, most likely next winter (thinking Feb 2017).
Look forward to reading about your adventures Tomasz!
You know, l kept reading this and nodding my head the whole time at the end. I sent you an email by the way. I also feel refreshed finally and want to take the blog to the next level as well. I guess we are ssssuuuppppeeerrrr slow travelers as a year plus is the norm for us, or has been. We were trying to decide about renewing our lease in March or if we wanted to find another base. I like the suburb , but feel disconnected from Seville the city, but knowing that if we move there, l would hate it with the noise and tourists..We want to be in Seville or a place with a bigger airport :-). We love having the base though, so l can understand how you feel. Your 2016 travel plans sound good..except for Iceland ;-). Has never appealed to me no matter what l hear..
I guess it’s human nature to think of having a home. We’re happy travelling and don’t want to settle anywhere right now, it’s more thinking of the future and MAYBE emptying out that storage and moving it somewhere. We even thought it would be cool setting up an Airbnb apartment somewhere…but at this point it is just something we are thinking about and we’ll have to do more research as we progress…
Thanks for the comment Kemkem! 🙂
I love these year end recap posts. Well not all of them, but I really enjoyed reading yours. Looking forward to the next year with your blog!
Thanks so much Natascha!
Wow you both made it to so many places in 2015! That is impressive. I also can’t believe how much we have in common with our goals for 2016. We plan to focus on health, develop our blog, and become more professional in how we manage it. We also started off blogging our travels for fun and now want to take it to the next level. We look forward to following your adventures in 2016 and wish you both the best!
Thanks so much Elizabeth! I always have a good time reading your blog 🙂 All the best this year, hope you have some exciting travels!