We could coin any number of overused-to-the-point-of-being-meaningless phrases to describe our 2016 – “an emotional rollercoaster”, “the time of our lives”, “a life changing experience”. But actually more than any of that, the past 12 months simply feels like a turning point.
It’s been a year in which we’ve grown both as individuals and as a couple and even added a new element to our relationship, business partners.
A year where we’ve started to try and pare down our lives to their real essence.
To think about our futures and how we can shape them rather than continue to be swept along on the tide of life.
And we’ve not even mentioned the travel yet!
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We started as nervous, never travelled before novices, unsure of what the road would bring and whether we’d even enjoy it. And along the way we found we have a real passion for travel and now can’t imagine it not being an integral part of our lives.
Over 2016 we have visited 13 countries across 2 continents, taken endless flights, endured countless bus journeys and had dozens of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. And it was an absolute blast.
Here’s a rundown of some of the highlights and lowlights of 2016 as well as a glimpse into what we’re hoping to achieve in 2017.
Our 2016 Highlights
One question that everyone has asked us since we arrived back to our home of the UK is “what’s been your favourite country?”. This is a tricky one to answer because each place was so different and had many things that we loved about each of them. At a push we’d probably say Colombia and China were our favourite countries but these are some real highlights that stand out from 2016:
This one was straight off the bucket list. We walked the original Inca Trail to the ancient mystical city of Machu Picchu. It was the first time we’d done anything like it and through it we discovered a real love of trekking!
Another one from the bucket list! The world famous Rio Carnival was a welcome surprise for us. We thought we were going to miss it as we’d mixed our dates up, but as it turned out we got to enjoy 3 days of this crazy, colourful party. We were so sad to leave midway through and will definitely be going back to party in Rio again at some stage - next time with flamboyant costumes to boot.
LOST CITY TREK
We’d not heard about this before arriving in Colombia, but having fallen in love with trekking, the Lost City was an obvious choice. Once a fabled city high up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of Colombia, it was actually discovered to be real by looters who plundered its gold in the 70s. It was a challenging but magnificent trek through the jungle to these archaeological ruins.
Bolivian Salt Flats
These are absolutely mind-blowing and the 4 day journey to reach them took us through stunning scenery full of beautiful wildlife. Riding over the vast white plains on the top of our jeep was an insane experience and we got to take some pretty cool warped-perspective photos too!
Our First Scuba Dive
During our stay on the charming island of San Andres (off Colombia’s Caribbean coast) we decided to try our hand at scuba diving. Though we weren’t 100% taken with it, the experience was truly memorable thanks to the high visibility, the wide variety of tropical fish we saw and one of our friends running out of oxygen while we were 10 metres down!
100 people are rumoured to die climbing Mount Huashan each year, making it a worthy recipient of the title “the world’s most dangerous hike”. The “highlight” was undoubtedly the plankwalk, a narrow wooden walkway installed along the side of the mountain 2000ft up. Properly nerve wracking and something that was hard to appreciate until we were safely back on to firm ground – not sure we’d do it again but it gave us a real adrenaline rush.
The Great Wall of China
Simply the most incredible man made structure ever created. We were having difficulty navigating our way there before being rescued by possibly the kindest kid in China, but it was all worth it for the spectacular views atop a lesser crowded section of the wall.
Trekking in Laos
We diced with death on our most extreme trek to date when we had to cross a raging river that had grown from a stream overnight due to heavy rainfall. Even one of our guides wanted to turn back rather than risk being swept away in the violent current. As terrifying as it was, we’re still here to tell the tale and can look back with humour at the night we spent sleeping in a pool of water with creepy crawlies in the thick jungle.
The biggest and most spectacular caves in the world are found in Phong Nha and we spent a few days exploring them. Some were gigantic glistening caverns, others were dark, mud filled crevices, but all were mind blowing. To cap off this experience James had recently learnt to ride a motorbike and so we were able to explore the area independently with complete freedom.
One of our favourite pass times was trying all of the weird and wonderful food that each country had to offer. From discovering the simple joys of real Japanese ramen and freshly caught Cambodian crab to eating scorpions and tarantulas in Thailand, we really embraced everything on offer and loved it.
One thing that makes travelling so fun for us is the endless number of generous, interesting, inspirational people you meet. We can now say we have friends in every corner of the world which is amazing. Before we travelled we were a little unsure how we would connect through different languages and cultures, but we can genuinely say that we were shown real kindness in every country we visited and it’s something we are grateful for.
A individual highlight for Sarah was the 6 days she spent at Hariharalaya Yoga Retreat in Siem Reap in Cambodia. Learning the principles of meditation and deepening her yoga practice (as well as basically just chilling out for a week and detoxing on yummy healthy vegan food) was simply an incredible experience.
Cambodian Island Life
We spent an unforgettable few days on a small undeveloped Cambodian Island called Koh Ta Kiev with some new wonderful friends of of ours. Sleeping in hammocks on the beach, getting lost exploring the jungle, eating freshly caught fish for lunch, hitching a ride back with a fisherman, drinking rum on gorgeous beaches whilst watching beautiful sunsets and skinny dipping in the sea at night amongst luminescent algae was an experience we'll cherish forever.
This year we lost our hitchhiking virginity as we caught rides and trekked around Thailand's huge Khao Yai National Park. From gigantic waterfalls to rain forests to cheeky monkeys and camoflagued crocodiles we saw some seriously impressive natural highlights and met some overwhelmingly kind and generous people.
Our 2016 Lowlights
Before we set off we were worried about staying safe, getting robbed, missing flights etc. but we’ve been lucky enough not to have had many negative experiences. These are the few that stand out.
Chinese Visas Fail
Naively, we’d booked flights from Colombia to China before we even set off from the UK with the misguided belief that we would be able to obtain visas for China from their embassy in Bogota.
After a real battle with the embassy we were soon faced with the reality that we may have to lose over a grands worth of flights and not even get to enter China! Fortunately, we managed to get it sorted, but it was undoubtedly one of the most stressful episodes for us in 2016.
That Piss-related Incident on the Bolivian Bus Journey
Getting urinated on has to be a low point in anyone’s life. This certainly was. Not much more to add.
The Art of Airport Sleeping
Due to various delays and airline incompetence, we ended up spending two consecutive nights on a cold, hard airport floor. In South America, the rules on airline compensation are very different to Europe where we would have been given a food and drink allowance as well as a hotel to stay in at no cost to us. In Colombia we didn’t even get a bottle of water.
Being Sick Sick Sick in China
Sarah had felt her stomach starting to gurgle as we disembarked an overnight sleeper train from Chengdu to Xi'an. Then during the journey to our hostel she promptly began being sick at various intervals along the side of the road. Shaking and pale, she made it to the hostel only for her illness to peak as she projectile vomited all over the hostel reception.
It was not a pretty sight but thankfully the only time during 12 months of travel that either of us came anywhere close to being seriously ill.
A Year of Change and Plans for 2017
We’ve come to the realisation over the past year that our previous lifestyle was not necessarily making us happy.
We were uninspired and stressed out in our jobs, worried about things that we couldn’t affect and felt we had no time to do much about the things we could.
Travelling has given us the time and motivation to begin making those changes.
One major decision is that we are going to continue travelling, as there are so many more places we want to see!
Starting this blog has also been one of the best things we’ve ever done. We have both discovered a passion for writing and have each embraced different aspects of the behind the scenes stuff it takes to keep the blog running smoothly. From web design to social media, we’ve learnt loads of new skills and enjoyed doing it.
Through the blog we’ve realised that there are limitless opportunities out there for us, it’s really just a case of seeking them out and grabbing them with both hands.
We’ve started writing for other publications and have decided that this is where we are going to focus most of our efforts. And we’re not going to go back to our old jobs - instead we’re going to try and forge full time careers that we can do from anywhere in the world.
So as the sun goes down on 2016, we're looking forward to starting 2017 in England but also hoping to be able to get going again as soon as we’ve established a solid work base. Where? We’re not sure yet. But one thing’s for sure, we’re extremely excited.
Happy New Year to you.
What are you waiting for?
James & Sarah x
Do you think we’re crazy? What changes have you made in 2016? What are your big plans for 2017? Tell us about them in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!