Despite the, um, ‘polarising’ year it’s been for the world, 2016 has probably been my best year of travel yet. And with lots of travel comes lots of incredible travel moments! Being a uni student, I have only certain times when I can travel and limited funds to do it. In Australia, the month of July between Semesters 1 and 2, and then December, January & February over the summer are when I’m able to travel. While it means sometimes missing out on the best times to be in a place, it does give me a lot of time to put my passport to good use! Here’s what I’ve been up to in 2016:
Where I Ventured in 2016
January: 2-week cruise around New Zealand
July: Europe – Czech Republic, Belgium, Portugal, Netherlands, England & Germany
December (and January ’17): Central & North America – Panama City, Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica & Miami
10. Watching Guys & Dolls in London’s West End
I’m a sucker for musicals, so being able to see an incredible show in the famous West End was just awesome. Guys & Dolls (starring Rebel Wilson) was an absolutely amazing show, and the songs were stuck in my head for weeks after. There’s something about the passion you see in live performances that just makes them so wonderful to watch – I remember ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’ was my favourite of the night for that reason. But I think the night was that much more special because of where we were – seeing a show in London’s West End is seriously a London must-do!
See also: 15 Things London First-Timers Must See!
9. Seeing the Sunrise in Milford Sound, New Zealand
My favourite travel moments often include watching the sun rise or set in a beautiful place. After 2 days at sea between Sydney and New Zealand, our first real glimpse of the country was at 6am in the freezing cold, watching the sunrise over the mountains at Milford Sound. This experience made that much more memorable by the fact that I fell back asleep after my alarm (who wouldn’t though at that ungodly hour!?), so had to chuck on a dressing gown over my PJs and run out to the deck!
8. Celebrating Portugal Reaching the Euro Finals in Lisbon
While I adored Lisbon all over, my favourite travel moment in the city was being part of something special. My hostel, The Traveller’s House, is located right on the Rua Augusta, right down the road from where there was a huge TV screen set up to watch the game. With sangria in hand, we sat watching Portugal reach the Euro finals. Following the game, the massive crowd of people that had been down in the Square watching the game paraded through the Rua Augusta, right past our hostel. We, a little tipsy on sangria, were standing out on the balcony cheering with the locals, cheering for Portugal and proclaiming our love for Christiano Ronaldo! Even though on most days I couldn’t give two shits about soccer, nevertheless European soccer, it was an amazing atmosphere to be a part of!
See also: 10 Things You Must Do in Lisbon!
7. Sunrises over the Caribbean Sea in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Surprise, surprise, another sunrise made the list! Staying at the Mahekal Beach Resort in Playa del Carmen meant that the Caribbean Sea was approximately 10 metres from my doorstep. Every morning I’d wake up early, grab my camera and go and sit on the beach. The colours of the sunrise were incredible, and made these beautiful reflections on the water. I think my favourite part though was that there’d always be a few others doing the exact same thing. We all just sat there in complete silence, watching the sky work its magic for us.
See also: Cenotes & Mayan Ruins in Tulum
6. Drinking Cuban Rum with Cubans in Cuba
While 2016 has seen me exploring 8 new countries, Cuba has got to take the cake as my favourite new addition! It’s such an interesting country, made that much better by the warmth and welcome of the people. Sitting down in a little Casa de la Trova in Bayamo and listening to a Cuban band sing the songs of the country, while sipping on the local, extremely rum-heavy cocktail was one of my favourite travel moments Cuba. We sat drinking with other Cubans, who were all loudly and proudly singing along to the band. Cuba had so many special moments like this for me, but I’d have to pick it as my favourite one!
See also: Two Weeks Exploring Cuba!
5. Exploring Mayan Ruins in Mexico
Exploring archeological sites quickly became my favourite thing to do in Mexico! The Mayans have always been fascinating to me, but to actually go and see the ruins of their societies is amazing. The guides give in-depth explanations about what certain temples and rooms were used for, whether it be human sacrifice, saunas, mausoleums or a number of others! My favourite of the sites that I’ve seen would have to be Palenque, with the Temple of the Sun being the absolute highlight!
As a runner-up to this point, going to the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is incredible to explore more. While most archeological sites don’t still have the relics found by archeologists, many of them are held here at the Museum. It’s 100% worthwhile visiting, whether its before or after you’ve seen the sites!
4. Diving into History in Berlin, Germany
Hi it’s me, your local history nerd! Germany has an incredible history, with Nazism and the separation into East & West being some of my favourite periods to learn about. Berlin is probably the best place in the world to learn about the fascinating, often turbulent history of Germany. The Topography of Terror and Jewish Museum were definitely my favourite spots to learn more about Nazi Germany, while walking along the Berlin Wall is just incredible. To top it all off, Berlin is one of the best places in the world to eat vegetarian/vegan – making my explorations that much better!
See also: The Best Historical Sites in Berlin
3. Wandering through Prague’s Old Town in the Morning
Prague was my first stop on my Europe summer adventure, and I quickly fell in love with the city! My hostel was just outside the Old Town, so it was super easy for me to jump up and wander around before the rest of the city woke up. The Old Town is stunning, with colourful buildings making it a dream for photography. The best part, though, has to be wandering over Charles Bridge before approximately 10 million tourists flock there and make it impossible to enjoy. Early morning Charles Bridge in the high season = quiet, peaceful stroll. Charles Bridge from 9am onwards = loud and chaotic, with a distinct lack of strolling. The morning is one of my favourite times to explore for exactly that reason, and Prague’s Old Town is one of the best places to do it!
2. Learning About Life in Cuba
As I said above, Cuba is an incredibly fascinating country, especially when you’re looking at how it is today. Obviously learning about the revolution is awesome, but hearing about life under socialism in 2016 is the best part. Cubans are generally very open to discussing what their lives are like, so it’s very easy to learn. My trip probably made even more fascinating by the fact that I arrived just a few days after Fidel Castro had died – there seemed to be many different opinions about what exactly is going to happen now. Some think Cuba will change a fair bit (in a good way), while others don’t think it’ll change that much under the Castros.
1. My First Solo Travel Experience
My month-long trip to Europe in July was my first time travelling completely alone – and it was fucking amazing! For a long time I’d figured that I needed to travel with someone, but as it became clear that none of my friends were nearly as prepared to spend their money on travelling as I was, solo travel seemed the only option. It ended up being one of the best experiences, not only of 2016, but my whole life. While I love my friends & family to bits, solo travel has got to be my favourite way to travel. What can I say, I like being in control. I like doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. Solo travel gives you that freedom. And it’s awesome!
What I Learned in 2016
- Solo travel is incredible, and everyone should do it. While I’m naturally more of an independent person anyway, solo travel teaches you how to really be independent. It’s such a different travel experience, in both good and challenging ways. The good is that you have a level of control over what you do that you just don’t get with other people – you can be very self-centred when you travel alone! If you want to go somewhere of the beaten track, you get to do it. If you don’t want to go somewhere, you don’t have to. It’s amazing for that. But, then, the challenges you face when things go a little bit wrong. You don’t have a shoulder to cry on, it’s all up to you. While it can be tough, it’s so fucking worth it.
- Dress for the conditions. A thing that I was very, very good at in 2016 was wearing flippy dresses on days that I really shouldn’t have. So, to all the people I flashed at the Klementinum in Prague and at the lookout in Trinidad, and everywhere else that it happened that has been erased from my memory, I’m sorry/you’re welcome. I have since stuck to playsuits and shorts unless I am guaranteed to be in zero windy conditions. Travel truly teaches you the real life lessons!
- Have a laundry plan. To put it simply, it’s not fun to realise that you have no clean underwear and all your shirts smell like sweat. Lessons for travels in 2017 & beyond: laundromats exist, use them and use them well.
That’s my 2016! While politically speaking I think we can all agree 2016 was… less than ideal, it has been my best year of travel yet! Filled with so many incredible travel moments and memories, and a handful of new countries, it has been amazing for me. Here’s to 2017!
What have been your favourite travel moments of 2016? Share in the comments below! xx