2017 has been a year of transition and plenty of travels as we took a 3-month sabbatical off to Travel in the first half of the year, and moved to a new Country in the second half. This year alone, I traveled to 16 countries: of which 11 were with my husband and daughter. I actually covered more countries in 2016 but I liked my pace of travel this year a lot more.
Currently, my country count is 120, so I’m edging closer and closer to my goal of visiting every country in the world (193). I’m not in a rush though and prefer to explore new countries at a comfortable pace rather than whisking through them. Here’s a look at all the countries I traveled and experiences I had this year.
A Look at my 2017: Year in Photos
Having just returned from Oman on New Year’s Eve, I spent just a few days at home in Spain before heading to Ethiopia for two weeks with one of my best friends. I’d been wanting to go for years, especially after having to cancel my Trip there almost 10 years ago due to visa issues.
Ethiopia turned out to be nothing like what I’d imagined. It’s not a starving country for one: The country has a rich and vibrant culinary culture that easily rivals that of places like Spain or Thailand. Unlike other parts of Africa where meat is scarce and variety is limited, in Ethiopia I feasted on delicious curries and diverse selections of foods everyday.
Not just that, Ethiopia also has a rich history and it’s home to plenty of historic monuments and buildings that have witnessed the test of time (unlike in many parts of Africa where they were destroyed by colonial forces). It’s got a culture unlike anywhere else on the continent, and its climate is polar opposites to the deserts surrounding the country.
READ MORE: 50 Pictures of Ethiopia for a Look into This Misunderstood Country
February: Singapore + Laos
A few weeks after my trip to Ethiopia, we embarked on our three-month journey around Asia. Alberto had taken a sabbatical from work for us to travel with Kaleya before she turned two (when her airfare is no longer free!). First we celebrated Chinese New Year in Singapore with my family, then we spent two weeks traveling all over Laos.
We’d traveled all over Southeast Asia, but it was our first time traveling Laos and we found Laos to be a pleasant surprise. The thing we loved most about Laos was its slow pace and laid back and calm atmosphere. With the government shutting down the party scene in Vang Vieng, it felt like a place that allowed us to experience Southeast Asia of the yesteryears. Laos is truly one of the most underrated countries in Southeast Asia.
READ MORE: Traveling Laos with Children
March: East Timor
From Laos, we moved on to East Timor or Timor-Leste as it’s officially called. I was first drawn to Timor-Leste by its tumultuous history and odd mix of cultures (Portuguese meets Indonesian). The country was colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century and was invaded and terrorised by Indonesia until it gained independence in 2002. Today, UN troops have officially withdrawn, but Timor-Leste is still on its road to recovery.
Traveling Timor-Leste with a kid was truly an adventure, as tourism was still in its infancy, and it was challenging at times. In general, East Timor didn’t quite feel like Southeast Asia — it reminded me more of the Pacific Islands. It was also shockingly expensive, since the US dollar ($) is the legal tender in East Timor. Because of the limited infrastructure, it was very expensive and difficult to travel beyond the capital Dili so we ended up staying in the city and didn’t quite enjoy the country as much as I expected to.
READ MORE: East Timor Travel Guide
In March and April, we made Bali our homebase as we didn’t want to moving around too much (not easy with Kaleya) and I wanted to experience living in Bali as a digital nomad. We’d traveled Bali several times and loved it, despite how touristy it’s become. Luckily, we found that the ‘real Bali’ still thrives and permeates every corner of the island. The unique culture of Bali is resilient, persistent and very much alive, not only in its small villages, but also in the towns and cities, where ancient traditions blend with a burgeoning global lifestyle.
It’s easy to travel Bali with kids and there’s no shortage of family hotels in Bali. It’s is also one of the cheapest places to live; we go by on around US$30 a day per person, including accommodation, meals and transport. You can easily find beautiful villas backdropped by an infinity pool and surrounded by green rice paddies for half of the price you would pay elsewhere.
READ MORE: 20 Cool Things to Do in Bali Beyond Kuta
Just two weeks after we came back to Spain, I set off on a very special trip. It was my first ever WildJunket tour, and I was beyond excited (and nervous) about it. This trip to Tibet turned out to be one of the best trips of my life — and I’m not saying it because I organised the trip. I went there with no idea how it would turn out, but it turned out to be everything I’d hoped, and much more.
What made the trip so special was the great group of people who joined me on this journey. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to travel with. Some of them are my personal friends, some follow this blog and others simply saw this on social media and wanted to join the adventure. Regardless, everyone hit it off right from the start and we all felt a strong connection. Traveling Tibet with them was so much fun and we learned a lot from the fantastic guide we had as well!
READ MORE: Highlights of My WildJunket Tibet Tour
July: Iceland + Greenland
Next, it was time for my much-anticipated media trip with Visit Greenland. I don’t go on media trips as often as I used to (by choice) but I chose to go on this because Greenland was a place I’d been dying to go, especially after traveling Svalbard and Antarctica. On this press trip, I spent a week learning about Greenland’s history and culture in its capital city Nuuk, and really got to know the cool little city pretty well. I also went cruising into the Nuuk fjord system, one of the biggest fjord system in the world. Stretching over an area of 2,000 square kilometres, the fjord system is home to floating icebergs, cascading waterfalls, carving glaciers, and secret coves.
READ MORE: 10 Cool Things to Do in Nuuk
Since my flight to Greenland was out of Iceland, I made use of this trip to revisit the land of fire and ice with Alberto and our two-year-old Kaleya. We spent a week driving the Iceland Ring Road, and it made us fall head over heels for this country once again. It was obvious that Kaleya too absolutely loved the country— she was amazed by the whales, waterfalls, glaciers and all that nature.
Iceland is a perfect travel destination for kids, in every sense of the word. There may not be any themed parks or kids-oriented attractions in Iceland, but the whole country is an adventure on its own with its wide-open spaces, wildlife and science projects brought to life. Kids can hike up glaciers and waterfalls, go horseback riding and whale watching, or take a Super-Jeep to the top of an active volcano— there’s so much to see and explore that I can’t imagine any kid getting bored here!
READ MORE: Traveling Iceland with Kids
August: Dominican Republic + Haiti
Right after Greenland, we headed all the way to the Caribbean for an actual holiday (no work involved!). I’d found some promo airfares on Iberia and paid only 200 euros (US$220) for a return ticket to Punta Cana. We spent time relaxing on the beach, and also drove all over the country to explore. It was the perfect summer trip: with a dosage of sun and sea, a crash course in history and culture of the Dominican Republic, and some adventure in its under-explored neighbor, Haiti.
It turned out that the Dominican Republic is a lot more than just beautiful beaches — the country is also home to an impressive trove of colonial cities, mountains, rainforests and waterfalls on the second biggest island in the Caribbean (sharing with Haiti). Beyond the capital, much of the DR is distinctly rural: driving through the vast fertile interior, we saw cows and horses grazing alongside the roads, and trucks and burros loaded down with fresh produce.beyond the all-inclusive resorts.
READ MORE: Postcards from the Dominican Republic
From DR, we crossed the border to Haiti and spent a few days in the northern area around Cap Haitien. My brother-in-law is originally from Haiti, so I’d always wanted to learn more about his country and culture. Chronic instability, dictatorships and natural disasters in recent decades have left it as the poorest nation in the Americas.
Even though Cap Haitian was practically wiped out by the Haitian Revolution and the 1842 earthquake, King Henri Christophe rebuilt most of the French colonial architecture. Today, the buildings from yesteryears still stand strong and the beauty of the city is evident from their aged facades and crumbling structures.
READ MORE: What to See in Cap Haitien
September: Austria + Liechtenstein
In September, I headed to Kitzbuhel in the Austria for Social Travel Summit, a conference on travel blogging and new media. Alberto and Kaleya came to join me for the post-conference tour to Kufsteinerland in the Tyrolean Alps. Known as “the wild west”, the region is home to more than 500 peaks over 3,000m, and over 600 glaciers along the main alpine ridge. There was plenty of nature but also family-friendly activities and festivals. We were lucky to be there for Almatrieb, an annual cattle-driving festival. Traditionally cows were brought up to the mountains to graze, and then herded back to their farmsteads in the valley every autumn. Over the years, the event has evolved into a festival, with the addition of Tyrolean traditions, handicrafts and culinary delicacies.
READ MORE: Traveling Kufsteinerland with Kids
On this trip, I also took the opportunity to travel Liechtenstein, my 118th country — but the reason behind my visit wasn’t just to add another stamp to my passport; I was genuinely curious about what made a country as tiny as Liechtenstein that wealthy and influential.
Set in the Rhine valley, the landlocked alpine country is mainly mountainous, making it a winter sport destination. With a population of 37,000 and 160 square km, it’s one of the smallest countries in the world. Despite its size, Liechtenstein enjoys one of the highest standards of living. Economically, Liechtenstein has one of the highest gross domestic products per person in the world.
READ MORE: What to Do in Liechtenstein
Next was supposed to be the trip I’d spent five months planning: my Iraqi Kurdistan tour. Sadly I had to cancel the trip at the last minute due to the closure of air space in Kurdistan following the results of the independence referendum. Most international flights to Kurdistan were cancelled and airports closed; even land borders were facing impending closure, so I decided to cancel it with everyone’s safety in mind. The trip was actually fully booked and it looked set to be a real adventure. I do plan to run it again from 3 to 10 March 2018, but hopefully things would have calmed down by then.
My friend and I had planned to spend a week in Lebanon before Kurdistan, so we went ahead and continued with that plan. Beirut turned out to be a really cool and vibrant city filled with character and history, Tripoli was interesting and complex, and Baalbek ancient ruins were spectacular — but other than that, the rest of Lebanon was a little disappointing in my opinion. I was expecting a country that felt like “a phoenix that has risen from the ashes” and yet most places were rather tame and unexciting. Food was incredible though, we definitely had a great time eating the freshest hummus, baba ganoush and tabouleh.
November: Andorra, France, Belgium, Netherlands
At the end of November, we made the move to Amsterdam! After living in southern Spain for over seven years, we were ready for a change. A new job opportunity came up for Alberto so we decided that it was time to pack up and leave.
We only had a week to get here, but we still made a mini road trip out of it. Our first stop was Zaragoza in northern Spain where we only had time for a nice dinner before continuing on to Andorra (my country #120). We had a full day to explore Andorra la Vella (the capital) and Encamp, a beautiful ski town where we stayed at. From there, we continued heading north to France and stopped for another night in Orleans before driving through Belgium and ending in Amsterdam.
We’ve been in Amsterdam for just over a month now, and I’m loving Amsterdam a lot more than we’d expected to. I used to think of Amsterdam as a gritty and sleazy city where people came to party and smoke weed. But I’ve come to realize there’s a lot more to the city than the red light district. There are plenty of green spaces, beautiful canals and pristine nature within the city, which is something that’s important to me. The best thing is that we get to enjoy the perks of living in a big city, and still feel like we’re living in a town.
In two weeks, we’ll be flying back to Granada to celebrate Christmas with family. I know we literally just left, but somehow it felt right to go home for the festive season. Plus flights are really cheap and Alberto can work from home, so why not?! I’m looking forward to hanging out with my good friends, drinking lots of wine and stuffing my face with festive sweets. It’s definitely going to feel like a real holiday!
2018 looks set to be a year of even more travels. I’ve already planned quite a few trips for the first half of the year, including a tour to Socotra, a ski weekend in Slovakia, a short jaunt to Ukraine and a Caribbean cruise for just Kaleya and myself, and trips to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland in summer and Japan in fall.
Can’t wait for the new year to begin! Here’s wishing all a fantastic 2018 filled with lots of travels.
How was 2017 for you? What were the highlights?
Interesting in reading more?
2016 in Photos
2015 in Photos
2014 in Photos
2013 in Photos
2012 in Photos
2011 in Photos
2010 in Photos
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