Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, “It will be happier”. – Alfred Lord Tennyson
In case the title didn’t give the game away, this is my obligatory year-in-review round-up post you either love or you hate to read. I love them. I’ve read about twenty in the last two days alone and know that I ain’t gonna be stopping any time soon. Although this site has existed in some sort of form since 2013, last year was the very first time I rounded the year off with a nice “look at all the cool shiz I did!” and I enjoyed writing it so much that hey, look, it’s back!
| Related: 2016 Year In Review
It’s been an odd year. A very odd year indeed. At the time of writing this (fingers crossed and praying to the high heavens that I won’t be squeezing in any extras in the last few days!) I’ve been to four funerals and a wedding in 2017. As much as I really would like those figures to be in reverse (for obvious reasons), I won’t pretend that I didn’t feel a weird sense of satisfaction when I realised that I am basically that film, only inside out and back-to-front.
In fact, I got so excited that I hurried down the stairs and proudly announced it to my stepfather who responded with “Well, I’ve been to four funerals and a… nope, just four funerals”. What a way to shoot me down, Steve-o.
Preluding what is supposedly a happy-go-lucky and ever so self-indulgent post with a monologue about funerals is probably a little morbid, I know, but for those of you who haven’t been here before, Death played a vital role in my life this year. Death broke me, and it built me up again. It made me lose myself, yet at the same time taught me exactly who I am.
But we’ll come back to that.
Pierogi, Game of Thrones and a Spanish Fiesta
Having spent the majority of 2016 waltzing around the world like I was a real life adventurer of the Charles Muntz variety, experiencing one new place every month was something I was keen to continue into the new year. Although it ended up being nowhere near as jam-packed with exotic locations and foreign languages as the previous year, I did manage to squeeze in a few trips into 2017.
The start of the year saw a short break to Krakow, Poland with one of my friends, the main purpose being to stuff our faces with pierogi, making January the eleventh consecutive month in a row I visited somewhere outside of the UK. Beyond pierogi and the unbelievable cold feet that Poland gave me, Auschwitz is somewhere I’ve always felt drawn to visit, and it proved to be one of the most harrowing yet necessary places I have ever been. In a very strange way, it resulted in being one of my main travel highlights of the year, in the lowest possible way.
February took me first to Berlin, where I spent a miserable 24 twenty-four hours walking around in the torrential rain, retracing the footsteps I’d already made twice before and eating vending machine food for dinner because I couldn’t find a restaurant open after 8pm (?!). So why go to Berlin? I hear you ask. Well, because I could get £15 flights to Berlin from London and then €10 flights from Berlin to Montenegro as opposed to forking out £150 to go direct from London. Bargain. Which, of course, brings us on to Monenegro, a country I fell in love with at first sight and which provided the perfect introduction to the Balkans (now my favourite European region so far). All I did there was climb a nice hill and look at some stray cats, but it was such a beauitful place that even the cats were alright in small doses. Coming from one of the most pro-dog, anti-cat person on this planet, ‘alright’ is the highest of praises.
| Related: Pictures of Perast
The end of February and beginning of March was spent in Croatia, scouting out Game of Thrones locations and just walking around constantly having to pick my jaw up off the floor because the whole country (or what I saw of it) is so damn beautiful.
All of my 2017 best nine on Instagram are photos from Croatia, so either it’s the most stunning place on this planet or I’m a really awful photographer everywhere else. You decide. And for any fellow bloggers out there, it would seem that the key to the elusive and mythical beast that is “organic Instagram engagement” lies buried deep underground, somewhere between the walls of Dubrovnik and the fortress of Klis.
Don’t believe me? The top left photo of Lovrijenac is currently at 1900 likes. Small fish to some Insta bigwigs out there, but when you consider the fact that at the time of posting I only had around 1800 followers, it’s quite a figure. So take my advice: save your money on all those How To Be Insta-Famous $9.99 courses offered by the “experts” and book yourself a flight to the Adriatic coast instead. You’ll thank me.
Immediately after Croatia, I headed to Slovenia for a short but sweet few days to take in Bratislava and the fairytale-esque Lake Bled before flying back on yet another dirt cheap budget airline flight. Because do you really need the ability to wiggle your toes in-flight?
| Related: Lake Bled, A Real Life Fairytale
This is where things died down a little (or a lot), along with my bank account. I booked a return flight from Stansted to Edinburgh for only £5 (!!!!!!) in April, but promptly forgot about it, missing out on that trip. I also booked a return flight to Timisoara, Romania for June, but by that point my finances were so dire that only a fool would even think about doing anything other than work, work, work. So I had to let that one go too, *sob*.
The summer passed by without so much as a day trip to a different city. I worked, I worked, and I worked some more, and then in September flew out to Spain for the weekend for my friend’s wedding. She got married in the most gorgeous of settings in Pals, just outside of Girona, and it was an absolute dream of a wedding! I wish I’d taken more (or any) photos, but always feel weird snapping away at other people’s festivities, especially when there are professional photographers there, so other than a few blurry shots of my friends in a golf cart, I have zilch.
Return to the Homeland
India is 100% not my homeland. I was born here in Wales, and the most exciting my family tree’s immediate history gets, location-wise, is Somerset. There’s also the brother of my grandfather’s great-grandfather (I think) who once went off to Australia on a boat and didn’t come back. He didn’t have any kids though, so there are definitely no Australian relatives floating about.
| Related: My Love Affair With India
Anyway, despite my less-than-exotic heritage, going to India always feels, in an odd way, like going home. But to a different home, kind of like when you’re a kid and your parents split up so you get two Christmases. Which is why it gets its own little section here and isn’t bundled up with pierogi etc. In November I spent two weeks in India, and it was the best two weeks of the year. I laughed, I danced, I ate too much ice cream and drank my body weight in Appy Fizz (which I will one day stop mentioning, promise), and it was the best. Although I am a wee bit sad about some of the places I didn’t get to visit this year, the fact that I was able to go back to India again more than makes up for it.
I Lost The Most Important Person
This is where the morbid funeral talk begins to make sense. On the 30th of January 2017, I lost my mother. Not the ideal way to bring in the new year, I’m sure you’ll agree. She’d been sick for a very, very long time, and if I’m to be completely honest with myself, and you guys, I’d partially come to terms with losing her years ago. She’d become a shell of herself, but even so, losing that shell, that physical part of her, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. She was two weeks shy of fifty (an age she would’ve hated!) and, had she been healthy, would have had so much to live for.
And so this is why death has shaped me this year. It made me question everything. My purpose on this planet, her purpose on this planet, the stars’ purpose out in the universe, why we wear shoes, everything. At one point, Death made me lose faith in everything. Existence, the God I wasn’t even sure I believed in in the first place, and myself. But almost as quickly as I lost it, I regained it all, stronger and more forceful than before.
Finding Gratitude in Grief
From the beginning of my “journey with grief“, I’ve been completely open and honest with everything, frank in what I say, and the way I share things on here, and it’ll continue that way into 2018. So when I say I’m grateful for how things worked out, I mean it. That’s not to say that I’m happy or thankful for my mother passing – holy moly, quite the opposite – but I’m grateful for the domino effect it had on my life.
| Related: Letters to Dead People | Six Months
In her passing, I found a new reason for living. And that reason is just to live. To live, to be present and to love. I used to live, and work, to meet deadlines. I’d have a goal in mind, a specific date I was working towards, normally in the form of some trip or another. I’d work 72-hour weeks just to meet my financial goal for this deadline, I’d enjoy myself for a week or two, and then it’d be right back to the grind.
That’s often how we all live. We concentrate so hard on the end goal that we forget to live for the moment, we forget to laugh and we forget to love. These days, I laugh hard. I love furiously. And I don’t wish my life away, not one single day.
Becoming A Hashtag GirlBoss
If words and phrases could be picked up and blasted out of space, never to return again, #GirlBoss would be the first to go. Of course, I love what it stands for in principle, the whole independent girl boss doing her own thang and bringing in the dollar like it’s nobody’s business, but I hate what social media has twisted it to perceive.
Nevertheless, this year has been pretty darn good in terms of my girlboss-hood. Meaning I’ve finally started to get a stream of decent income from my freelance work, which has absolutely delighted my itchy feet and the wandering part of my soul! I’d like to say I’ve worked really hard to get the work I’ve been offered but, to be honest, I’ve just been lucky. I happened to check my emails at the right time and it all snowballed from there.
2017 was not the year I hoped it would be, travel-wise. I didn’t visit a new place every month. I didn’t see much more of Europe or even my own country, let alone the rest of the far-flung corners of the globe I’d dreamed about. Guys, I didn’t even go to Cardiff Castle for the twenty-somethingth year running, despite it being almost literally on my very doorstep and being eligible to gain free entry for a year. What can I say? I’m a schmuck.
Related: 2016’s UK Travel Wishlist
At the beginning of the year, I was naive and totally unrealistic with my plans for the year ahead. I wanted 2017 to blow 2016 out of the water in all aspects of my life: personal, professional and, above all, travel. Looking back now, I can honestly say that I was so unbelievably deluded and wish I had a time turner so I could nip back and slap myself. If you’d asked me this time last year what I wanted, I would have told you that I was going to visit a hundred and one places, buy seven hundred and nine pieces of professional kit to take the blog to the next level, pay off all my credit cards, rent my own place and eventually become a fully-fledged digital nomad, all on a waitress’s minimum wage and zero-hour contract.
Maybe we should hire a bus to go back in time, so you can all come along to the past and join me in slapping some sense into myself?
What the year lacked in terms of money (man cannot live on zero-hour contract alone, ya know), travel and material possessions, it delivered tenfold in life lessons and realisations about who I am and what I really want in life. Cliche as f#%&, I know, but true. Last year, I was already a bit of a “do it now or forever regret it” type person. I molded my life around silly decisions made on impulse, but losing my mother at such a young age (because despite my many complaints about being too old, 24 is way too young to be motherless) really solidified that carefree aspect of my personality.
2018 – The Year of Happiness
I’m more sure of myself, who I am, and what I want in life now than ever before. In 2018 there’ll be no I hope, I want or I wish, only I will.
I will achieve so many great things, big and small. I will see so many magical places and make so many memories with loved ones. I will bite the bullet and reach out to meet online friends. I will reply to my emails sooner than I do now (3 months, not good). I will take and publish more photos of myself, and others. I will make the move to the other side of the world to spend some time with my best friend. I will earn enough income from my freelance to go fully digital nomad when that time does come (okay, so this one is more of a half I will and half please, universe, be on my side) and I will take the blog to the next level (WE’RE TAKING LOGOS, BABY!).
And you know what? I will be happy.
We spend a lot of time worrying about other people’s happiness that often we neglect our own. I worked my ass to the bone this year, juggling a full-time job, a part-time job and freelance work alongside this blog, my family and non-existent social life. It wore me down, and it was all because I didn’t want to disappoint other people. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the part-time job in which the colleagues had become like a family to me because I didn’t want to see the sad look in their eyes. And this unwillingness to let other people down had a detrimental effect on my own well-being, my own health.
Incidentally, it all ended up being for nothing as despite working 80-hour weeks, I wasn’t really seeing any of the extra money. I was some sort of permanently exhausted halfling, too tired to walk or cycle to work, so taking advantage of a nice little collection of taxi firms instead. It also left me too tired to cook, meaning a huge portion of my extra earnings was being plowed straight into Kati Wok or Yan’s Fish Bar.
Excuse the cliche (again – two in one post, wowzer) but this year I’ll be working to live as opposed to living to work. I’ll be doing less of what makes me miserable and more of what makes me happy. We’re talking less late nights getting angry over chicken korma, and more cinema trips, more reading, more writing, more travelling. More pub quizzes (I love me some pub quizzes) and dinners with friends. More following my own heart, even if it leads me 11,000 miles away to Hobbiton.
Leaving The Past Behind
If I happened upon a magic lamp on my way to work tonight, and a genie popped out, offering me the chance to go back in time to this day last year, I’d accept in a heartbeat. I’d go back and I’d tell my mother I love her because Lord only knows I didn’t tell her enough. I’d tell myself to call in sick for work, to see the New Year in with family just one last time before five become four. I’d make sure I knew, going into the new year, to ALWAYS splash out on the more expensive cookies in Sainsburys, as I cottoned onto that one way too late in the year. I’d tell myself to start training for that half marathon right away because I am an egg with no upper or lower body strength, and running a half-marathon straight after a 12 hour night shift on very little training was not my brightest idea.
I’d also tell myself to get an eff-ing job before booking a bunch of flights to cities I’d never heard of.
Despite all of the above, and the insight I wish I’d had this time last year, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and there’s some sort of divine plan for us all – if it’s meant to be, it will be.
Which is why, despite 2017 arguably being the worst year of my life so far, I’m always going to look back at it and smile. I’m going to head into 2018 with a heart filled with love, a head bursting with ideas, and incredibly restless hands and feet, ready and raring to go.