A Look at my 2016 Photos
At the end of each year, I always make it a point to write a post about the places I’ve been to as a way to reflect and look back.
2016 has been a crazy year of travel for me as I traveled to 21 countries (16 are new to me) on five continents. It’s clear that becoming a mother has not stopped me from traveling; in fact I’ve traveled more in 2016 than any other year.
Currently, my country count is 111, so I’m edging closer and closer to my goal of visiting every country in the world (197). I’m not in a rush though and prefer to explore new countries at a comfortable pace rather than whisking through them.
I’ll be sharing more about my mission to travel every country in the world, but in the meantime, here’s a look at where I’ve been in 2016:
We rang in the new year with my family in California and had a great time kicking back and enjoying the holidays. Alberto and I (along with Baby Kaleya) spent our first few days in Palm Springs, exploring its national parks and staying at some of the coolest villas we’ve ever seen. Then we spent the next two weeks in Fresno where my sister lives, taking day trips to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks that were beautifully covered in snow. We also took a short Trip to Lake Tahoe with family, staying at a ski resort and soaking up the festive atmosphere.
Read more: A Winter to Remember
January: Cape Verde
At the end of January, I headed on my first solo trip of the year to Cape Verde. I’d nabbed a cheap return flight from Lisbon to Cape Verde for just 100 euros and decided to go on a whim. Curious to learn more about the essence of the country and its people, I chose to explore Santiago, the biggest of all the islands in Cape Verde (instead of the more touristy Sal and Boa Vista).
I traveled with Cape Verde Experience on several day trips around the island: from the mountains of Sao Jorge in the south to the busy markets of Assomada in the center of the island and the quiet beaches of Tarrafal all the way up north. The diversity in landscapes and culture definitely impressed me and made me want to return for a longer trip next time.
Read more: 40 Photos of Cape Verde That Will Make You Want to Go There Now
In February, I went on assignment for Lonely Planet and Skyscanner to Transylvania, Romania. Having been named “Best Region to Travel in 2016” by Lonely Planet, the central region of Transylvania makes a great introduction to the country. It offers a plethora of medieval cities, Saxon villages, and fortified churches. It’s home to more than 100 castles (several of which are associated with the famous Dracula) and some of the highest peaks in the country. Several rural communities still hang on to lifestyles long-lost elsewhere in Europe.
Transylvania turned out to be everything I’d dreamt of — and more. It was like stepping into a kid’s fairy tale. Forbidding castles coated in snow and backdropped by majestic mountains; whimsical villages clustered with small pastel-colored huts, their gingerbread roofs and medieval spires tumbling down to pretty cafes; cobbled streets flanked by antique shops and medieval clock towers.
Read more: A Dream Trip to Transylvania
March: Singapore + Taiwan
For Baby Kaleya’s first birthday, I brought her to Singapore to celebrate with my family. My nephew Dominic was turning three as well in March, so my sister and Dominic also went to Singapore and we had a big party for the two kids. Going home was great fun as usual, and it felt like a real vacation. All we did everyday was swim, eat our favourite foods from Singapore and spent quality time with family.
From Singapore, I also took a short trip to Taipei with my best friends from home. It was a particularly special trip as Taiwan was my 100th country and I was thrilled to have my friends on the journey with me. Food was the main theme of our trip (my friends are huge foodies!), so we spent most of our time scouring night markets for the best street foods in town.
Read more: Visiting my 100th Country – Taiwan
Alberto had been to Poland several times and he loved the country, so we made use of the Easter holidays and spent a week traveling the country. Our journey started in the capital, Warsaw, where I was surprised to find a small and adorably charming Old Town that had been restored after World War II. Then we drove south to Krakow and feasted on some of the best foods I’ve had in Europe.
From Krakow, we made a detour to Auschwitz, the world’s biggest concentration camps. To end the trip, we headed further south to Zakopane, a ski resort at the edge of the Tatra Mountains, to catch the last bit of winter. Kaleya was so excited to see snow once again that she was literally rolling about on the white powder.
Read more: Easter in Poland
April: Ghana + Togo + Benin
West Africa turned out to be the most challenging destination I’ve been (solo), but that’s exactly what made my trip such an epic adventure. West Africa may not have major bucket-list attractions like the Big Five or Victoria Falls, but it is so under-explored that makes any trip there an adventure.
As I learned from my trip to Ghana, Togo and Benin, this region is not only safe to visit, it’s also packed with rich and long history as well as remote and untouched landscapes, world-renown music traditions, and intriguing voodoo culture.
On my trip, I visited the very spot where the trans-Atlantic trade route started (20 millions West Africans were captured and brought to Americas), retraced the footsteps of slaves on the Routes des Esclaves in Ouidah, wandered around a voodoo market where dead animals were on sale and even met a voodoo priest who predicted my future… West Africa blew my mind and made me even more curious about this part of the world.
Read more: My Journey into West Africa
In May, I took on the Lost Luggage Challenge with Money Supermarket and traveled to Budapest, Hungary without any luggage. I wasn’t allowed to bring anything except for my passport, phone, and some spending money. I did however bring my husband Alberto and baby Kaleya along as my cheering team.
Traveling with no luggage turned out to be quite liberating. I usually travel with my big SLR camera and laptop (essential tech gear for travel bloggers!) so it felt good to carry so little for a change. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel any withdrawal syndrome from not having all my electronic gadgets. Because I only had four days in Budapest, I only spent 50euros getting some essentials such as toothbrush, toothpaste and extra clothes.
Read more: Traveling with No Luggage in Budapest
May: Faroe Islands
Later in May, I traveled to the stunning, remote Faroe Islands on a press trip with the tourism board. In just four days, I went on short hikes on four different islands, weaved my way around dramatic landscapes by car, island hopped on the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and saw hundreds of sea birds including puffins on Mykines.
What made the Faroe Islands so special to me was just how rugged and wild it is, and yet it’s just a 1.5-hour flight from Copenhagen. The country is largely covered by wilderness and even the largest towns on the island have populations in their hundreds. No matter where you go on the Faroe Islands, you are never more than 5 km from the coast.
Read more: Faroe Islands in Photos
June: Belgium + Jamaica
For our summer holidays, we spent two weeks traveling Jamaica with Kaleya, in search of some genuine Caribbean experiences. We drove all over the island, exploring every nook and cranny, stopping at empty beaches, swimming in waterfalls, eating streetside jerk chicken, and watching the sun set over the mountains.
Although Jamaica’s long been discovered by big hotel chains, we just had to venture a little off the tourist trail to find quiet, empty beaches and get authentic, local experiences.
Read more: Traveling Jamaica with Kids
July: Gran Canaria + Murcia + Cadiz, Spain
Summer is our favorite time to be in Spain, so we spent most of July and August in our home base while exploring nearby beach towns. Our weekend in Murcia was very relaxing — we stayed on the shores of Mar Menor and had long strolls on the beach and watched Kaleya play with sand.
We also took a short trip with Alberto’s family to Gran Canaria, the biggest of the Canary Islands in Spain. One of the highlights was visiting the Maspaloma sand dunes that were enormous mounts of sand right by the sea.
In September, I headed to Kyrgyzstan for the World Nomad Games, a six-day event held in celebration of the nomadic heritage of the Central Asian nations in the form of sports and cultural displays. I’d first heard about it from my friend Stephen Lioy (who lives there) on my first trip to Kyrgyzstan. This year, I was really lucky to be able to return with the help of Discover Kyrgyzstan and USAID.
The World Nomad Games was probably the coolest event I’ve ever been — More than 1,200 people from 62 countries participated in traditional games such as horseback archery, stick wrestling, and dog hunting. They also showcased their nomadic culture in the form of costumes, food, song and dance. The setting of the event itself was also spectacular: with over 300 yurts set up on the Kyrchyn jail (pasture) surrounded by the imposing Ala-Too Mountains.
Read more: World Nomad Games 2016
October: Georgia + Armenia + Azerbaijan
My October trip to the Caucasus was extremely fun as I was accompanied by one of my best friends from home. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years and have traveled together several times before. We had the best time goofing around, talking about silly stuff, seeing new things and exploring!
I found the Caucasus to be intriguing and absolutely stunning. It’s strangely not very popular among travelers, despite being affordable and easy to reach (from both Europe and Asia). Standing at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the whole region is a compelling blend of different cultures and heritage, packed full of stunning, natural landscapes that can rival that of neighboring Central Asia.
Most people who have traveled the Caucasus like Georgia best, and I can see why. In general, Georgia is more European. It has retained its historical heritage rather well, with lots of beautiful churches and monasteries everywhere. But Armenia was my favorite country of the three. Perhaps because of my propensity for unconventional places or my interest for places with a tragic past. Regardless, Armenia won my heart despite the short amount of time we spent there.
Read more: Caucasus Travel Guide
December: France + Luxembourg
At the beginning of the month, I went on a short trip to the Alsace region of France and Luxembourg with Alberto and Kaleya in tow. The trip was part of a campaign for TripVerse, an offline planning tool that can be very useful on the road. (Read my TripVerse review.) I basically planned out our itinerary on the TripVerse app, then used it to navigate our way around Strasbourg and Luxembourg.
We’d been to France three times, but this was probably the first time I actually fell in love with it. We stayed at a cool Airbnb in the tiny village of La Petite Pierre, and it was all covered in white frost during our stay. The city of Strasbourg was just as beautiful, filled to the brim with beautiful Alsatian architecture and winding canals. The Christmas market in town is the oldest in Europe and it was packed with people selling gluhwein, chocolates and cakes. This trip definitely set us in the right mood for Christmas!
December: Dubai + Oman
I’ll be celebrating the festive season in Dubai and Oman, with Alberto and Kaleya. We’re spending just two days in Dubai – it’s our first time there even though we’ve flown through Dubai countless times. Then we’ll spend Christmas in Muscat, the capital of Oman, before driving to Nizwa, Jebel Shams (the Grand Canyon of Oman), then onwards to the desert of Wahiba Sands and the famous oasis Wadi Bhani Khalid, before finishing off in the fishermen’s town of Sur.
We’ll be back in Spain for the Three Kings Day (Epiphany Day on 6th January) which is even more celebrated than Christmas. It’s going to be Kaleya’s first There Kings and I’m pretty sure she’ll be going crazy over the presents.
That’a wrap for 2016. Hope you enjoyed my 2016 photos!
2017 looks set to be an even better year in terms of travel for me. I already have lots of exciting travels planned for the first half of the year, including a trip to Ethiopia with my best friend, a tour of my own to Tibet (more details to come!) and a three-month jaunt around Southeast Asia.
From February onwards, we are going to be traveling Singapore, Laos, Indonesia and East Timor. Alberto is taking a short sabbatical from work for us to travel with Kaleya before she turns 2 (and we have to start paying for her airfare!). We plan to use Bali as our base, from which we’ll explore the region.
We’ve both been to Bali several times and love the temples, the rice paddies and beach vibes there. None of the “Eat, Pray, Love” crap though — we just want to spend some time with Kaleya, relax in a place that’s affordable and do some diving and surfing.
Can’t wait for the new year to begin!
Here’s wishing all a fantastic 2017! May it be full of happiness and travels for you too.
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