14 Top Experiences of 2014

Jumping in the sea

Happy New Year, everyone! A few weeks ago, Sam and I were swimming off the Vietnamese coast and talking about how strange it felt to be in the sea in the middle of December when we knew that back home, England was freezing and grey. We’d taken a motorbike to the beach, parked in the shade of a sweet-smelling pine forest next to a small lake, and we were lying in the warm sea next to a completely deserted strip of white sand beach. And it was then that it hit me how lucky we were – not just lucky but dazzlingly, excessively, ridiculously fortunate – and I realised that we were coming to the end of what had been the very best year of my life.

That’s not a cliché or an exaggeration but the simple truth: 2014 has been the best year of my life, for about a million reasons, the largest and most obvious of which is travel. I’ve travelled, I’ve seen the world, I’ve been giddyingly, wonderfully lucky and I’ve been fortunate enough to do it all with Sam; my boyfriend of nearly five years and my best friend. So, apologies for this excessively personal, self-indulgent and probably uninteresting post, but just in case you were interested, here are 14 reasons why 2014 was the best year of my life

1. Quitting My Job

Admiring the view, just outside of Sapa.

The first huge moment of 2014 was one that most people who know me secretly think was insane – I quit my job! Handing in my notice was scary, but it was an amazing feeling and definitely the best decision I’ve ever made. Quitting your job and shirking all “real-world” responsibilities to travel is freeing – and freedom can be really good for the soul. I had an amazing “gap year” and now I’m living the dream I’ve had since I was a little girl: supporting myself as a full time writer! So, yes, quitting my job in January really was the best thing I did all year.

2. Long Term Travel

Our five month South America trip was my first ever taste of backpacking and long-term travel, and I loved it. The act of travelling full time is difficult, confusing, often stressful, freeing, adventurous, rewarding and totally, utterly, wonderful. If you haven’t travelled yet, I urge you to just go. You will never, ever regret it!

3. Paragliding

Paragliding, Bucaramanga

The first of many scary but amazing new things I tried this year was paragliding. One morning in February we woke up in Bucaramanga, Colombia and decided to try paragliding that day – and it was amazing. Of all my experiences in South America is still sticks out as one of the highlights – and it’s probably the closest feeling to flying I’ll ever have (unless Mattel come good on those Back to the Future hoverboards in 2015).

4. Colombia

If I may count an entire country as an experience, then Colombia truly was the best of all of them. I’ve tried multiple times to explain it and I never quite can. I just really, really loved Colombia. Go there and you’ll see why.

5. Motorbikes

Couple enjoying the view from their motorbike.

Couple enjoying the view from their motorbike.

Months and months ago, I hopped on the back of a moto-taxi (basically just a guy with a motorbike giving lifts for money) in Minca, and I was white-knuckle, sick-to-the-stomach, heart-squeezing terrified. By the end of the year, Sam and I were renting motorbikes in Vietnam and I was cheering him on as we drove faster and faster – especially along the gloriously empty, smooth roads around Ninh Binh (one of our favourite places). Even after we had a very minor crash in Phu Quoc, we still took another motorbike trip a few days later. For me, my changed feelings about bikes is a good example of how I’ve become (I think) braver, more relaxed, and much closer to the adventurous spirit I always used to be before I grew up and learned how to worry. It’s true what they say, travel really can improve you!

6. Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

The biggest bucket list tick I’ve had so far, in April 2014 I trekked to Machu Picchu. We did the Inca Jungle Trek, a four day trek involving mountain biking, hiking, zip lining and white water rafting, so the whole experience was incredible – but the absolute highlight was simply sitting at the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu, glorious in the sunshine, and just appreciating how beautiful a place it is, and how far I’d come.

7. First Paid Freelance Article

This year there were a lot of firsts in my career as a blogger and writer, but top of the list has to be my first ever paid freelance article. It felt like the first important step on the road to becoming a full time writer, and it was one of my absolute highlights of the year.

8. Sunrise on the Salar de Uyuni

Sunrise, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

There have been a lot of travel highlights this year, and a lot of spectacular sights, but one that stands out is watching the sunrise over the phenomenal white salt flats of Salar de Uyuni. Breathtaking, otherworldly, freezing cold and completely surreal!

9. Death Road

Mist setting in

My experience on Death Road wasn’t quite as amazing as most of the others on this list. In fact, I found it more nightmarish and terrifying. We were mountain biking down a very narrow strip of gravel path along the edge of a horrifically high cliff, and while everyone else was having a fantastic time, I was being scared and babyish. So much so that the guides let me ride in the van while everyone else was cycling. But, after I’d calmed down and given myself a talking-to, I got back on the bike – and I actually enjoyed myself. So I learned a lesson on Death Road, about not letting fear conquer me, and it’s one that’s been paying off ever since.

10. New Friends

Bolivar Match

We have met a lot of incredible people this year. Far too many to mention them all by name, but here are a few of my favourites: Ben, Jake, Os, and Will; Madeline; Will and Grace (yes, we really met a couple named Will and Grace); Gretchen; Pascal; Lien; Arnauld; Brendan; Harry; Roisin and Chico; Cynthia and Denise; Josef; the receptionist at Drop Bear Hostel who’s name I wish I could remember; Laura; Andrea and Etienne; Burgandy; Kristina; Henry and Zara; Jakob; Iris; Andy and Sarah; Omri, Ben and Son; and everyone we met at Yambolombia in Salento. Thank you for making our trip amazing!

11. Housesitting

Lake Windermere

Housesitting meant that when we got home from South America, we didn’t have to start paying rent, look for , or decide what to do straight away. It meant I had time to launch my new self-employed career. And it meant I got to explore more of the UK than I ever had before – visiting beautiful places like the Lake District and Bath, and really discovering my own beautiful country. Read my Trustedhousesitters review here.

12. Vietnam

Vietnamese palm reader

The last part of 2014 took us to Vietnam for six weeks on an absolutely incredible adventure. It took a while for Vietnam to take hold of me, but once it had there was no letting go. I’m in love – with the coffee, the food, the people, the beaches, the scenery, Ha Long, Ninh Binh, Hue, the Reunification Express, Sapa, pho, Lien of the I Love Hue Tour, chopsticks, Buddhism, the Mekong Delta, rice, Phu Quoc, and, of course, the motorbikes. It was an amazing way to round off a year of travel and I loved (almost) every second. Thank you Vietnam!

13. Hai Van Pass

Hai Van Pass

There were lots of highlights in Vietnam, but one of the most special memories was tearing along the curling roads of the Hai Van Pass on our six hour motorbike adventure from Hue to Hoi An. The wind on our faces, the cloud of sea mist at the peak, the staggering views – it was a moment of pure adventure, and we loved it!

14. Coming back to The Netherlands. Twice. 

Amsterdam, Canal

Way back at the start of 2014 I was in Amsterdam for a work meeting, and now I’m back; in Dordrecht and Rotterdam for New Years Eve and the first few weeks of 2015. It’s a very easy country to fall in love with, one I can even daydream about moving to, with the most ridiculously friendly locals I’ve come across in Europe. This is my third time here, and I’m sure it won’t be the last!

So there you have it, my 14 highlights from 2014. Here’s to a 2015 that’s packed full of even more incredible moments and plenty of travel. What were your favourite experiences from the past year?

Happy New Years to all my readers – enjoy your night wherever you are. Thank you so much for following and reading my blog this year, it has meant the world to me. Best of luck and happy travels for 2015!

About

An award-winning writer and travel blogger on a mission to explore the world through deeper, more intelligent travel. Seeking out adventure, cultural exchanges, food experiences and more as she attempts to get to know the world. Lover of the great outdoors, sunsets, good food, and the odd bit of luxury!

33 Comments

  1. What a great year, Emily! Congrats on quitting your job, exploring the world, and making it as a freelancer. For many people, accomplishing just 1 of those things makes their year. Here’s wishing you a 2015 that rivals or beats 2014! :) All the best, Terri

    • Thank you Terri :)

      When I look back I’m staggered by how lucky I’ve been – you’re right about just one of those highlights being enough. It has taken a lot of hard work as well as luck, though! How was your 2014?

      Happy New Year :)

      • It was wonderful, Emily – full of travel, fun, and personal bests. We wrote about it here:
        http://gallivance.net/2014/12/29/best-of-the-blog-2014-your-top-10-faves/

        Where are you off to next year? ~Terri

        • I’m starting in Rotterdam, then off to Brussels and possibly Athens for a press trip at the end of January. After that I have no plans until TBEX and another press trip (Ibiza this time) in May, but I’m sure I’ll work in some more travel before then!

  2. What a fantastic year for you! Thanks for wrapping it all up like this. I’m sure there will be lots of exciting things for you in 2015!

  3. Sounds like a great year! Machu Picchu is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen – your adventurous trek there sounds awesome.

  4. what a brilliant year you’ve had – so – what IS next?

    • LOTS! This month I’m in The Netherlands until 21st. then I have Brussels, Athens, TBEX, a press trip in Ibiza, my best friend’s wedding, *possibly* a trip to NYC, more UK housesitting, and anything else I can squeeze in – all before May. Who knows what I’ll do after that!!

      Happy New Year! What are your plans for 2015?

  5. gemmajaneadventures

    Wow! What an amazing year! I hope 2015 proves to be as great! I spent Christmas day on a Beach in New Zealand, and I totally agree with the strangeness of it when everyone back home in the UK was having a grey Christmas as usual. Swimming in the sea on Christmas day was awesome!

    • Wow, that sounds amazing! What a way to finish the year! I couldn’t feel at all Christmassy when we were in Vietnam, it’s too weird when it’s hot and tropical – that’s just not Christmas at all!!

      What are your plans for 2015? Happy new year!

  6. What a wonderful year you’ve had and all because you were courageous to take the leap. I wish I had even realized there were similar options when I climbed aboard the lifestyle treadmill years ago. Good for you! And for me? Better late than never! Happy New Year!

    • Thank you! It did take a lot of courage, but thankfully that turned out to be so worth it! I’ve been working full time since finishing university five years ago, so I sort of thought that the opportunity had passed me by, too. Once you start that full time routine it’s very scary to stop! But I’m so glad I did :)

      Happy New Year – and best wished for 2015!

  7. Looks like a wonderful year of travel. Can’t wait to see where you end up in 2015. Question, were you ever scared in Colombia? We go to Panama a lot and I’d like to have some girlfriends there join me in Colombia but I’ve read so many dangerous stories about it.

    • Thank you, it was an absolutely amazing year!

      Interesting question. I can honestly say I never once felt unsafe in Colombia. The locals there were absolutely lovely and frequently went out of their way to help us and look after us. I never encountered anything dangerous, and I rarely met anyone who’d had any problems other than very occasional thefts (which happen with the same frequency across South America and can be generally avoided).

      Honestly, Colombia is perfectly safe, as long as you’re sensible and avoid any areas which are thought of as dangerous – your best bet is to check the UK government travel site for safety information as they are usually well informed and level headed! But I whole heartedly recommend visiting Colombia, it’s a wonderful country and certainly not scary!

      If you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to be able to use your question on my other blog, backpacksouthamerica.com, where I have a Your Questions Answered section. If you’re happy please send me an email at eluxton@hotmail.co.uk – you’d be doing me a huge favour!

  8. The Roaming Renegades.com

    You most definitely had an inspiring year! Congratulations on making your dreams a reality! We are at the stage of sorting everything out so we can save up for 12 months and then quit our jobs this time next year and not look back. Thank you for giving us the belief that we can do it too! Look forward to following your amazing travels in 2015! Happy New Year!

    • Thank you! Quitting my job was the best thing I ever did – and you definitely can do it too! Good luck with the saving. My tip is to stick a photo of your dream location in your wallet, and any time you go to buy something you can ask yourself if it’s really worth it compared with that!

      Happy New Year

  9. Wow! You definitely took 2014 by the horns! More power to you and all the very best for a 2015 that tops it!

    • Thank you! I had no idea back when I started this whole adventure in February that I was about to get so much out of the year, or that I’d still be travelling now! So worth quitting my job!

      Happy new year :)

  10. Wow what a big change from quitting your job and exploring the world. … looks like you had a busy year. Have a wonderful 2015

  11. What an awesome year you’ve had. I don’t think I would handle the death road very well either. Best of luck in 2015 – Onwards and Upwards!

    • Thank you! Death Road was very scary – I would never say don’t do it, but just make sure you know what to expect. Any if you’re a whimp like me just take some other whimps with you so you’re not trailing along on your own at the back!

      How was your 2014?

  12. What a great year. May you have countless more memories and enjoyable experiences in 2015.

  13. Congratulations on quitting your job and making it as a full-time writer! That’s so cool. :D I’m looking forward to following your adventures in 2015 as well.

  14. Awesome! Congrats for all the firsts you did last year and all the best for an even better year ahead.

  15. Exhilarating and inspiring post, Emily.. for an aspiring job-quitter and world-explorer! Congratulations and I look forward to reading about lots more of your adventures! :)

    • Thank you :) Do you think you’ll take the plunge yourself soon? It’s a big and scary step but definitely worth it :)

  16. Well, let’s see.. Hopefully it’ll happen sooner than later. Till then, it’s good to have those stolen moments in between. In any case, I’ll be happy to see you if you’re ever in India! Cheers :)

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