Sitting down and dreaming about my travel wish list for the coming year has become one of my favourite end of year jobs. It was a tricky task for 2014 because I was living in the shadow of a year of travel burn out, but this year I have a lot more clarity.
I’m going to spend 2015 exploring more of Europe.
Why Europe? Why Now?
Why? I doubt there are many people who wouldn’t understand the “why” of visiting Europe. The culture. The diversity. The history. The sights. The people. The food…oh, the food. The why is simple.
But why now?
Ever since I unshackled myself from the title of lawyer and set out wandering the globe, Europe has been so far down on my travel wish list it’s barely been present. Sure, there was that time I spent three months living in a cave in France in 2012, my month-long sojourn to Italy last year and my month in Andalusia this year, but other than that, I’ve always maintained that I’m saving Europe until last (retirement).
Not only is it so close to home that I could visit it any time, I’ve always considered Europe to be one of the least challenging places for me to travel (compared to Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, for example).
So, what’s changed? Why move Europe up the priority list? The answer isn’t one specific reason, it’s a number of reasons…
…because sometimes an urge seizes you – and you should always follow your heart
For my entire life I had no desire to visit India and I explained this to a fellow traveller who replied, “Don’t worry. One day the urge will take you.” She was right. One day I woke up and India suddenly intrigued me. Nine months later I went.
Sometimes some places just suddenly and inexplicably rocket up your interest list. Call it instinct, call it impulse or call it something else, but in the past year my interest in visiting Europe has grown dramatically.
….because the people I’ve met have inspired me – and we should make more time for good people in our lives
Since I started full-time travel in 2010 I’ve made hundreds of new travel friends from all over the world and in 2014 I was lucky enough to meet a number of those travel friends again. From a random, chance encounter in a bar in Berlin to people I’d previously met in Mexico, Seville, Hawaii and Thailand, I was reminded that I have a long list of open invitations to visit people throughout Europe. And there is nothing more inspiring than spending time talking travel with fellow travellers.
…because we shouldn’t wait until we’re old and grey – in two words: carpe diem
Without wanting to be too morbid, none of us know that we’ll have the luxury of waiting until we retire to go somewhere or see something. What I do have right now is the luxury of being able to travel. So many times I’ve wholeheartedly lectured people on not delaying their dreams. Well, guess what, I’ve realised I was preaching rather than practising. Time to change that and seize my own day instead of just telling other people to seize theirs!
…because the extent of my travel in Europe is abysmal – and we should understand our nearest neighbours as much as those from far-flung locations
For someone who has visited over 50 countries across six continents, there’s an embarrassing number of places in Europe I’ve not been to. Why, when I’ve spent time on Palawan, the Final Frontier of the Philippines, I’ve not been to Belgium, one of my closest neighbours, is hard to fathom. Austria, Poland, Denmark, the list goes on. And if I’m forced to confess it in hard stats, the truth is that out of 49 European countries, I’ve only been to 15.
Next year I’m going to get to know my neighbours better.
….because I want to join the Travelers Century Club – and there’s nothing wrong with a bucket list
A lot of people sneer at the idea of bucket lists and country counting but in my view there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition (with yourself) on the travel front. Having a list of places you want to visit can inspire you squeeze that extra stop on your trip or help you choose a new destination instead of returning to the same place you’ve been before. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a balance to be had. This year, despite travelling for most of it, I only added two new countries to my travel resume (Holland and Colombia) and I have no regrets about that – the rest of my travels were a mix of new locations (cities, towns and states) in previously visited countries and a couple of return visits (San Diego and New York to name two).
However, I have to confess that I harbour a deep desire to join the Traveler’s Century Club, an exclusive club you can join when you’ve visited 100 or more of the countries and territories in their directory. It’s a more distinct and longer list than the UN list of sovereign states and at the moment I’m at 71 territories. It wouldn’t take a huge amount of travel in Europe for me to hit 100 territories and once a member you get access to the club’s travel tips as well as member-arranged travel to some of the world’s most hard to reach destinations. Sounds like my kind of club and with my 40th birthday looming the year after next, it’s fun to have a goal.
…because I’ve been travelling too fast – and we all know slow travel is better
During the last leg of my travels in the USA I reached one stage where I’d slept in 16 beds in 25 nights. At my lowest point I landed in Washington DC after a delayed flight. I crawled into my hotel bed at 3am and my alarm dragged me awake at 7am so I could haul myself onto a bus to Virginia. I mucked up bus timings, hotel bookings and at one worrying point my calendar pinged me a reminder that I was due in New York…when I was still four states and two weeks away from that destination.
For six weeks I didn’t have time to unpack anything beyond the top layer of my bag and a three night stay in any city was a luxury. I was travelling too fast, I was exhausted and I wasn’t seeing a fraction of what I wanted to.
In 2015 I’m going to do things differently. Instead of bouncing from place to place, I’m going to look at renting more apartments and travel from there. It worked well for me when I lived in France for three months and I’m going to try it again. France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Croatia are high on my “to live” list so if you know anybody renting out a place in any of those countries next year, let me know!
…because I miss my family and friends – and local travel is easier and more affordable
I’ve been incredibly lucky keeping hold of my friends despite being absent for the past four and a half years. (Tip: suggesting nice cocktail bars for reunion drinks can help). I’ve also been very lucky that my friends and family have come to visit me in various spots around the world. But next year it will be nicer if I’m closer to home and with Europe’s low-cost airlines and my ninja skills at booking cheap flights, I’m hoping my family and friends will find it easier to come and see me.
…because I’m going to write that damn book and press un-pause on my biggest dream
You may find it hard to believe, but I consider myself a writer first and a traveller second. Long before I packed up a bag and left the UK, I was spending my evenings and weekends writing fiction. I told myself that absent my full-time job as a lawyer I’d be much better able to squeeze writing into my lifestyle but it hasn’t worked that way.
Running this website and my freelance travel writing have taken priority along with my actual travels and, as a result, my fiction writing has dwindled to nothing. Yet, it’s my biggest dream.
So, in 2015 I’m prioritising that dream. And by travelling slower and taking more rental apartments in Europe instead of bouncing from hotel to hotel, I should be able to squeeze in more writing time.
In fact, I’ve made a personal pledge (aka threat to myself): if I don’t finish writing my fiction novel this year then in 2016 I have to burn my passport and return to being a lawyer – and we all know how little I want to do that!
So, there you have it – why next year is going to be a Europe year.
But what about where I want to go? With so many countries to choose from, picking 15 was tricky, but these countries are at the top of my travel wish list for 2015 (and, yes, a couple are outside Europe but knowing my wanderlust I’m going to need to escape the continent at least once or twice next year).
My Travel Wish List 2015
In alphabetical order…
Is it wrong to want to go to a country for its coffee? No, I don’t think so either. Sure, I’ll check out the sights, too, but in the main I’d be buzzing around Austria and Vienna on a caffeine high.
I can take a Eurostar to Brussels in just two hours. If I really put my mind to it (and fixed my inability to get out of bed early in the morning), I could take a day-trip to Belgium just to try the frites and mayonnaise for lunch and chocolates for an afternoon snack. Due to its proximity, Belgium is the country I’m most embarrassed about not having visited. Fortunately, Helen in Wonderlust has written a great guide for what to do in Brussels so I’ll start there.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
The picture above – that’s Kravice. It screams “SUMMER” and I want to jump straight into those waters (even if the average temperature is about 8ºC year round!).
I’ve reached the tipping point of having met so many fun and friendly people from Denmark that I simply have to go.
I hate the cold. In fact, my mum calls me a ‘delicate greenhouse flower’ – in other words, if I don’t have warmth and sun, I rapidly wilt. It’s true and for decades I’ve put off visiting any of the Scandinavian countries through fear of dying of cold. However, having just survived the arctic snap in the USA and also having it logically pointed out that I could visit during the summer, Finland has finally made it onto my travel wish list.
Greece isn’t a new country for me but I’ve somehow failed to make it to Athens. Yes, yes, I’ve heard many people tell me that the Acropolis is disappointing, but I heard the same thing about the Pyramids of Giza and I’ve never seen anything more spectacular. It’s something I definitely have to see for myself.
If my travels through Europe are limited, then my experience of Eastern Europe is so thin it’s almost translucent. Hungary not only looks beautiful, the inventor of the Rubik’s cube hailed from the country…so I’d like to go in search of the secret of completing the cube in under 2 years (other than peeling the stickers off, which never really worked for me).
So, Morocco may not technically be Europe but you can see it from Europe (in Tarifa). This country has been on my travel wish list for years and after getting so close this year (in Tarifa), I’m hoping to go the extra miles and set foot on some Saharan sand in 2015.
History, nature and cool cities, there’s definitely lots to explore in Poland but above all I have a fascination with the food. Perhaps it’s the increasing presence of Polish food in the supermarkets in England that have piqued my curiosity but I’d like to go to Poland to eat.
Is it possible that there’s a part of Europe where cheese is still made by hand and sold on the roadside by farmers sat on their horse-pulled cart; where folk music is more popular than electronica? I believe so – in the countryside of Romania.
The idea of visiting Russia causes me conflict. Putin and I don’t see eye to eye on many matters but do I want to visit a country that spans 9 time zones and has architecture as crazy as the St Petersburg Church – yes, of course I do? It’s a debate I’ve been having with myself for years but the fall of the Ruble might make 2015 the year I get to Russia.
Inexpensive, full of adventure and perhaps as culturally different as you might find in Europe, Serbia promises a change of scene in my European year.
Even before I quit my job to travel, Slovenia was on my travel wish list. I’m frankly disgusted with myself that I’ve not be able to squeeze in even a long weekend to see Lake Bled with my own eyes.
Judge me all you like but Sweden has an ABBA museum. If that’s not reason enough to go, I don’t know what it?!
I’ve had a couple of cheap and cheerful beach breaks in Turkey but rolling from beach to buffet to bed does not mean I’ve seen the country. Absolutely not. And Istanbul – where the east meets the west intrigues me the most.
Well, that’s my 2015 travel wish list. It’s promising to be an exciting year.
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Have you got any travel plans for 2015? Where’s on your travel wish list? Let me know in the comments below.
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