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I wrapped up my second year of travel in a place I’m very familiar with – the airport. After ten days in Portugal, I’m stuffed full of olives and pastels de Nata, a little bit tan, and very much enamored with Lisbon.
Europe has treated me well, and now I’m heading back to North America to slow down a bit. I’m planning to do some local exploring and I might even add two new countries to my list: Mexico and Canada!
Nothing is set in stone yet – it rarely is until the last minute – but flying by the seat of my pants is something I’ve gotten (slightly) better at dealing with in the past two years.
Many things have stayed the same in year two.
I’m still packing in my (now slightly more worn) Kelty redwing 44L backpack, and I’m still a big fan of traveling on a budget.
I still talk about lizards way too much and make the best guacamole you’ve ever tried, and I still will happily nerd out about blogging for +3000 words to anyone who will listen (exhibit A).
Some things have changed.
The biggest thing that’s changed is that somewhere around Bali, I met a handsome surfer who I now travel with. I never thought I’d find someone who loved Mexican food, road trips, and booking one-way tickets as much as I do, so you could say I’m pretty happy with the arrangement.
If you’re new-ish to the blog, it’s so great to have you on this year two update post! In these posts, I like to break down my favorite travel stories and lessons learned. You can read last year’s update here.
Let’s dive into year two, shall we?
Favorite Destinations From My Second Year Of Travel
This year was fully of amazing travel destinations! Here are some highlights!
Even though Montreal is famously wonderful to visit in summer, it’s also an amazing place to visit in winter! Montreal is a super livable city, even in the heart of winter, which was a pleasant surprise.
Because Montreal is built for the cold, it’s a cozy and lively city even when the temperatures outside are enough to scare you back under the duvet and binge Netflix.
There’s an elaborate network of warm underground tunnels you can use to get to most places in the city, historical Old Port has French-style cafes and pubs to keep you warm, and if you’re feeling really brave, you can take a snowy hike up Mount Royal.
As a usual warm-weather creature, I was surprised by how easy it was to get by in winter even on the coldest days. Because even when it’s cold outside, the sun shines and the sky is bright. It looks beautiful – not dreary like winter in other cities.
I can’t wait to go back to Portugal.
You know when you see a picture of a place and it just looks perfect, and you wonder, “can it really look that nice in person?” Portugal does. In fact, Portugal is even more spectacular than the post cards.
Portugal, from the rugged cliffs looking out over the Atlantic to the moasic-tiled streets, was exactly what I hoped it would be.
And because the weather is pretty much perfect in the fall in Portugal, the bright sun made everything sparkle. The colorful houses popped and the shiny tiles lining the pedestrian streets twinkled like gemstones. If Portugal were a color, it would be a sunny yellow.
I hope to spend more time exploring this beautiful country in the future.
Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia
I’ve spent some time in Bali over the past few years and Uluwatu always stands out. Located down on the southern peninsula, Uluwatu is the best combination of beach and jungle.
The beaches around Uluwatu are spectacular, the surf is some of the best in the world, and you definitely won’t go hungry while exploring the land among the cliffs.
Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia
Located just next door to Bali is another amazing Indonesian island called Lombok! Some say that Kuta Lombok is what Bali was like twenty years ago. It’s quieter, less developed, and less touristy.
Life in Lombok was peaceful and beautiful. The restaurants and homestays were top-notch and the town wasn’t very croweded.
If you’re traveling to Indonesia, I’d highly recommend you take a trip to the hidden gem of Kuta Lombok too.
What’s life without a little adventure! These are some of my favorite adventurous trips from the last year.
Touring the Komodo Islands
I don’t know if I emphasize it enough on this site, but I LOVE lizards. Any giant reptile really. I think they are adorable and as a former lizard mom, I’ll always have a soft spot for these scaly creatures.
For a long time, going to Komodo has been a dream. And this year, it came true!
Picture this: you wake up in the morning in a beach hut on a private island to the sunrise. You eat breakfast with your tour-mates before boarding your wooden boat and cruising out into a landscape that looks alarmingly like Jurassic Park.
After a morning on the water, you stop at Rinca island and walk through the protected landscape searching for Komodo dragons relaxing in the shade of trees or sleeping under ranger stations.
Some of the dragons are longer than you are.
You’re hot and sweaty, so when you get back to the boat, you start looking for a good snorkeling spot. Did I mention that Komodo has some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world?
You see the telltale flip of a manta fin and gently climb down the slimy ladder into the warm sea. With your snorkel gear secured, you dip your head under and the just a few feet in front of your face, two mantas twirl and dance together, equally curious about you as you are them.
You swim alongside them for a while until they lose interest in you and glide away.
And all this happens before lunch. That’s why you should go to Komodo.
Ha Giang Motorbike Loop
Another highlight was driving the Ha Giang Loop on a motorbike. Ha Giang is a mountainous northern area of Vietnam. The loop is a scenic road through the most beautiful parts of the area.
Our route took about four days and the roads are considered some of the most dangerous in Vietnam, but man, it was worth it.
For four days, the landscape got more and more intense and impressive. We flew through relatively untouched villages of northern Vietnam with no service, only paper maps.
We drove on roads that were less than a meter across with steep drop-offs on one side, hiked to lookout points so high on the hills we could see into China, and tried delicious Vietnamese food, homemade with love.
If you’re visiting Vietnam, take a few days to make it up to Ha Giang. Especially if you have a knack for adventure, you won’t want to miss this one.
Ireland Campervan Roadtrip
After spending some time in Dublin, we were curious to see the rest of the country. A good friend of mine from Ireland once told me that “Dublin is my favorite city in the world… and Dublin is my least favorite part of Ireland,” which is some pretty high praise for the Irish countryside.
For five days, we rented a campervan and drove around the Irish coast. This trip focused on a part of the coast called the Wild Atlantic Way, a 1500mile stretch of coastal roads from Donegal to Cork.
We camped on the beach, found cliff lookout points, and explored cute towns along the way.
You can’t win them all, folks. Travel isn’t always sunshine and roses. Here are a few travel fails for the books.
Braving the Hanoi Heatwave
The climate in Southeast Asia is known for being toasty, but I got to experience another level of heat when a wicked heat wave passed through Hanoi.
I’m pretty good at handling myself in the heat. Growing up in Atlanta and spending June and July at a summer camp with no air conditioning prepared me for pretty much any sunny, sweaty, humid scenario.
But I wasn’t prepared for the Hanoi heatwave. That kind of “still sweating even when you’re in a cold shower, physically can’t eat any warm food, will fall down if I leave the house during daytime hours” heat is something few will ever experience, and it took its toll.
During that trip, we were even staying in a hotel, but the air-conditioning was no match for 9 floors of rising heat and the unrelenting sun.
My friends from The Uncommon Pursuit were staying in the same hotel and we would sometimes meet in the lobby, just to sit on the cold tile floors in front of the one oscillating fan and talk about ice cream cones and swimming pools and booking a trip to Antarctica to pass the heat of the day.
You can’t tell from this picture, but we are 90% sweat at this point.
Getting Food Poisoning in Bali
I’ve been pretty lucky with travel illness. I rarely get sick while traveling, even when eating pretty much anything that looks appealing in a street food stall, so I can’t complain too much.
But in Bali, I got a round of food poisoning and it knocked me down good. Luckily, I was visiting some friends at the time and they helped get me to the hospital when things took a turn for the worst.
They also took such good care of me and made sure I had plenty of electrolytes and saltines and Netflix while I was a sweaty, shaky, mess for days.
It took a while to feel back to normal after that and my diet consisted of just plain white rice for weeks, but I’m so thankful it happened while I had friends around to keep an eye on me.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Honestly, this might be one of the best novels-inspired-by-real-events I’ve ever read. Shantaram is the story of an Australian convict who escaped a maximum-security prison and fled to India to start a new life.
He settles into Bombay in the 1980s and this story covers, in beautiful writing, what happens next. Especially if you’re interested in traveling to India or have been there, you need to read this book. And if you’re not interested in it yet, you will be after reading.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
After seeing Mark Manson speak at TravelCon, I wanted to read his life advice book. I would classify myself as a “Type A” person who freaks out easily and is rarely chill. This book is all about caring less about the insignificant things in life so we can care about what really matters.
As you can tell from the title, there’s a bit of language in this book, and it took me a few chapters to really get into it, but throughout Manson offers good advice. For anyone who sweats the small stuff (raises hand), this is a good book to help keep things in perspective.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This was another book inspired by TravelCon. After seeing keynote speaker Cheryl Strayed talk about her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail and as a writer, I wanted to check out this book.
I had heard of Wild before. I knew they made it into a movie too. But reading it really made me understand the hype.
After losing her mother and losing her way in life, Cheryl decides to hike the PCT, a trail that runs the length of the USA from Southern California to British Columbia, solo. This book is the story of what happened along the trail and the healing she went through to cope with loss and rebuild her life into something beautiful. This book will get you in the feels, but it’s worth a read.
Biggest Blogging Updates
Attending TravelCon in Boston
This year I went to my first ever travel blogging conference! How fun is that?
TravelCon is an event specifically designed for travel blogging organized by Nomadic Matt.
TravelCon was three days of travel bloggers nerding out about blog things, so you could say I was in heaven. It was in Boston this year which was a new city for me to explore, and within a day I had met some amazing travel blogging friends who I still keep up with even now, months later.
Every speaker I saw was excellent I learned so much about the industry. My favorite speaker at the event was a blogger named Glo and she writes The Blog Abroad.
First off, when I saw her speak, I swear the whole room filled with sunshine. You know how some people just have that “it” factor? That charisma that makes everyone around them feel loved and special? Glo has that.
After the talk was over in the meet in greet line, she gave me the biggest hug like we were best friends. She took the time to ask me about my site and I had the biggest smile on my face all day. She treated everyone with that much warmth, even after meeting hundreds of us.
Guys, Glo’s blog is one of the best. Her work has gotten her into Forbes, and Essence, and Oprah Magazine. She’s kind of a celebrity in our world. And seeing her quietly going above and beyond to support all us little people was such a beautiful thing to experience.
Here’s the main thing I took away from meeting Glo and seeing her talk. If you make it big at anything you want to do, give generously to those who are still in progress. Give love, encouragement, and advice. Give freely and joyfully. There is room for everyone to be a success, and that support means the world to those that are on the way.
Advanced SEO course
After getting all fired up at TravelCon, I was eager to dig deeper into some “advanced blogging” stuff like Search Engine Optimization. I’ve followed Digital Nomad Wannabe for a long time and I’ve always been impressed by her blogging tips and her focus on working smarter not harder.
I’d been toying with the idea of signing up for her Advanced SEO Course for a while, and in September I finally did it.
That’s the reason last month was a bit quiet on the blog. I’ve been reorganizing my site and updating old posts and taking a break from creating new content while I get my strategy together, and the course has been a big part of that.
I’m only about halfway through the course now, and I’ve been very happy with it so far.
Thailand Nerd Retreat
In May, some friends and I met in Thailand for an impromptu “blogging nerd retreat” where we basically ate pounds of mango sticky rice and brainstormed what we wanted to do with our websites.
It was an inspiring week and I left with a notebook full of ideas and memories with some of my favorite people. It was also a good reminder of the importance of community, especially when you’re chasing an untraditional lifestyle.
If you’re building something, a blog, an online business, anything, find your people to help build you up and keep you accountable. Look in Facebook groups, on Instagram, in coworking spaces, at conferences, anywhere, but find them.
Find people that get what you do, inspire new ideas, and refuse to let you give up when it gets hard.
Launching My Etsy Shop and Youtube channel
Want to know the two big brainchildren from my Pad-Thai-fueled nerd retreat? Launching my Etsy shop and finally starting a Youtube channel!
Launching the Etsy Shop was a massive undertaking. Hand-drawing hundreds of images with a $10 stylus on an outdated iPad is a labor of love, I’ll say that.
But having the shop live feels amazing and I really like creating drawings that I actually use in my own classroom too.
My Youtube channel is in its very baby stages, and right now it’s only about teaching online, but I’m open to going more directions with it. If you have any videos or props you’d love to see, you can always let me know in my email.
Adding a Free Resource Library
This year was also the year I finally set up my Free Resource Library.
Before, when someone subscribed to my blog, I would send them the one free resource they were interested in. That’s fine and all, but what if you want many resources? What if you’re interested in a house sitting ebook and a packing list and teaching online tips?
So I decided to put everything in one place in a free resource library. Now when you subscribe to my blog, you get a password that allows you to download all the resources in one place. This also makes it easy to add new resources and update the content over time.
You can see what I mean and get all the freebies for yourself by signing up below! (haha, shameless self-plug but I apologize for nothing)
Travel and Blogging Goals for the next year
As I look forward to year three of travel, I have a few travel and blog related goals up my sleeves.
- No More Procrastinating Blog Posts – Next year I want to get better about writing posts right after the trip happens. I did this with the Ha Giang Road Trip and it was so much easier to write. I didn’t do this for the Ireland Road Trip and as you can see, it’s still pending.
- Work Smarter Not Harder – Ahhh, isn’t that the dream? To move closer to this, I want to automate more things so I spend less time on my phone and computer and more time out in the world. I also want to focus more on things that actually move this site forward like SEO and strong content without getting distracted by shiny new trends.
- Go to Oktoberfest – Attending this festival has been on my bucket list for far too long. I’ve wanted to dance on one of those tables with an enormous beer since I learned it was a thing, and hopefully, next year will be the year.
- Take language Classes in a Country I’m Visiting – I would love to learn more languages, especially since I spend a lot of time in countries that aren’t English-speaking. I’m in the process of trying out a few different platforms to see which one works best for me, but I also want to take classes in person while visiting another country because how fun would that be?
Lessons Learned in my Second Year of Travel
There were two big life lessons that I took away from this year. First, it’s so powerful to have friends and mentors with the same goals as you. Second, don’t underestimate having hobbies that you do purely for fun.
Made Travel Friends with Similar Goals
I’ve met some pretty cool people in my travels, but this year I loved meeting people with similar blogging and online business goals too.
Between meeting new friends at TravelCon, cultivating existing friendships, and making connections through social media, I feel more connected than ever to the travel blogging community.
It doesn’t really matter how you find each other, but having people in your circle with similar goals and travel styles is an incredible support.
Spend time on hobbies, and have hobbies that are different from your job
I’m the biggest culprit of conflating hobbies and business. “But, my blog is my hobby!” I say with my laptop open on the couch, where I’m still wearing week-old pajamas with peanut butter stuck in my hair and haven’t moved since breakfast. “This is what I do for fun!”
This year, I needed some hobbies. Some hobbies that were totally different from my work.
I used the MeetUp App to find new hobbies while traveling and that was a game-changer this year. For example, I found a creative writing group in Cambridge and I loved flexing my fiction muscles to create stories.
I know, I know, writing club is very similar to blogging as hobbies go. But writing a blog post about the best TEFL courses is very different from writing dystopian sci-fi short stories that must include a windmill in under 20 minutes. So I’ll let this one slide.
I even tried surfing in my quest for more hobbies, which, if you know me, is not something I simply do. You can read all the ungraceful details in this post about learning to surf in Bali, aka eating a lot of sand.
So that’s a wrap on year two!
Thank you for sticking around with me. It’s been so fun to get to know you all and hear your travel stories along the way.
You’re the reason this site exists, short and sweet. When I launched the Etsy shop and the Youtube Channel, you guys were the ones who got them off the ground.
Your messages of encouragement still light up my day and I am so so thankful that my little creative project has turned into something that you love and actually use. It’s kind of mind-blowing, and I’m so appreciative of all you’ve done for me.
If you need anything at all, please feel free to let me know here.
It’s great to have you and I can’t wait to see what adventures Year Three brings us.
Okay, I have a flight to catch!
Thank you for wandering with me. Thank you for being here. You’re the best!
(PS: If you’re interested, you can read more Personal Stories and update posts here)
Great post Nic! I love reading about your lessons learned and I have to say Shantaram is my FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME. Great pick putting it first… I’ve been meaning to read Wild for a long time, and now that you’ve recommended it, I’m putting it on the kindle STAT. Love your blog and your energy! Keep on, keepin’ on girl!
Ahhh THANK YOU! I appreciate that so much and I totally agree, Shantaram is outstanding! I’m almost finished with it and I think I’ll have to read it again once I’m done just to absorb it all. Hope you enjoy Wild, let me know if you want to hike PCT after! 🙂
Loved reading this post! As a housesitter/digital nomad/long-term traveler, I related so much to the Lessons Learned especially. Those are exactly the things I’ve been learning recently, especially after I realized that we spent more time with a lot of friends/family last year than we did when we lived in the U.S. Also, I was in Chiang Mai last week and met a teacher who’d just arrived and said you’d recommended Chiang Mai – she was pumped when I told her I read your blog too. 😉
What a small world!! That’s amazing, and yes I absolutely love the flexibility to spend time at home in addition to traveling. Thank you for your kind words and support! 🙂