Better late than never, right?
In many ways, 2017 was a year that changed my life. I travelled a lot and, as the runaway highlight of the year, Chris proposed to me while exploring Iceland.
But last year’s changes were also challenging ones. I’ve alluded to the fact that I’ve been struggling a few times on social media, but, in 2018, I want to be more honest with anyone who takes the time to read this blog. And I want to be more honest with myself.
I promise it’s not all doom and gloom, though, because my life is filled with exhilarating highs to offset the awful lows. And 2017 was no exception, and my travels last year introduced me to some of the most beautiful destinations I’ve ever seen. I haven’t had time to write about all of these trips just yet (but I will), so, for now, I’m excited that I get to show you some snapshots from my time in those places.
This may be a bit of a long one, so grab your hot drink of choice (or a cold one if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that’s warm right now) and let’s get the hardest part over with first.
I’m struggling with anxiety
Phew. It’s out.
I’ve written about the depression I experienced before but this has been the first year that I’ve experienced proper anxiety. And it’s been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to go through.
I’m not talking about the normal type of anxiety that people get before important interviews or first dates – I’m referring to a near-constant state of anxiety that brings on multiple panic attacks and, honestly, when it’s particularly bad, it is the most debilitating state I’ve ever been in.
It all started when I returned home after my big five-month trip away. I guess it was brought on by a number of factors: going back to work, finding a new home, having a health scare. One day, I was at my desk at work, feeling on edge, which then moved into what I now recognise as a panic attack. Heart pounding, feeling like I was going to pass out, shooting pains in my chest and arms. I thought I was having a heart attack and an ambulance was called.
This continued for months, where I would have periods of feeling ok until something would send me spiralling off again into a cycle of anxiety. For me, anxiety is a very physical experience, where I have sharp, stabbing chest pains, a choking sensation, face and brain zaps (where it feels like a quick electric shock) and headaches that won’t go away with painkillers. At my worst, I have been scared to leave the house in case something happened to me but I was also scared to be alone for that very same reason.
Because it is so physical for me, and I was dealing with real pain, I quickly became obsessed that something was wrong with me. I thought that I might have cancer, or that my heart was faulty or that I was about to have a brain aneurysm. Last year, I went to more tests and scans than I can count yet there is still no physical explanation for my symptoms. And even though I know it is most likely all down to anxiety, it’s difficult to communicate that to an anxious brain. I recently had another health scare, and, just when I thought I was mastering my anxiety, I got knocked down by the worst bout yet. I now know that I’ve been suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
The only things that got me through these periods were my friends and family, as well as my determination to keep doing stuff. I kept seeing friends, I tried to keep writing and I still travelled. All of those things were much harder when I was in the midst of consistent anxiety, but I still wanted to live my life.
And I’m still here, and I will keep working to get better. I know this road is still ongoing for the moment, but, after getting in touch with fellow sufferers, I also know how common this issue is and that I’m not alone. If someone tells me they have an anxiety problem, I have a totally different understanding now. I know how hard it is to hold yourself together when anxiety strikes, when it’s all too easy to let that anxiety derail your life and your plans.
I’m trying to be more honest here, just in case anywhere out there has, is or will experience something like this. And if that is the case, reach out to someone (even me – check out my Contact page) and seek help. I think I first held back from telling people because I didn’t want to be judged or considered weak. But it’s been a big part of this last year and, once my body gets into a cycle of anxiety, I find it hard to break the habit. For someone who likes control, like me, I often feel like I’m in the middle of an exhausting fight within myself. But if I’ve learnt anything in 2017, it’s this: don’t suffer in silence. Anxiety really is more common than you think, and there will be a solution out there that can help you.
Getting engaged in Iceland – and our wedding plans
You may be thinking – how on earth can you enjoy any part of a year that featured anxiety and a lot of physical pain? Well, like most things, it wasn’t constant, but it was rather brought on by new and old stresses and trigger points, and, looking back, I know I had some truly wonderful moments last year.
The top highlight was, of course, getting engaged to Chris, my travel companion and the love of my life. Iceland was a place that I had wanted to visit for years and I’ll forever cherish that golden sunrise in front of Kirkjufell, when Chris dropped to one knee and asked me to spend the rest of my life with him.
2017 was a challenge, but I have never been as sure of anything as the following: I am so lucky to have Chris in my life. He’s been so unbelievably supportive and understanding – even in moments when I thought I was legitimately going crazy – and I know that he’s the only person I could ever marry.
Right now, we’re preparing to go over to Cape Town soon, where we’ll be checking out wedding venues, getting my dress made and finding a photographer. It’s all becoming real and it’s a massive source of joy for me. And it’ll be even more special to get married in South Africa, a country I called home for the first 25 years of my life and the most stunning country in the world (yes, I am biased).
My 2017 travel highlights
The easiest way to go about this (and because I’m a sucker for order) is to tackle it all chronologically.
I started my 2017 in Vietnam, celebrating New Year’s Eve along with some of the friends we had made on our Contiki tour. We were in Hanoi, watching possibly the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen from a rooftop bar. I never normally make a huge deal about New Year’s Eve, so it felt all the more special to actually do something for it and to watch the fireworks go off in a different country.
We spent one last day in Hanoi before heading off to Laos. While in Laos, we explored Vientiane, floated along a river in Vang Vieng before heading to Luang Prabang. I was so excited to visit the last city, but I came down with the worst tonsilitis I’ve ever had and we had to head to Bangkok, Thailand, a few days early.
One day I will go back to Luang Prabang but, enjoying the effects of good antibiotics, we managed to have a few action-packed days in Bangkok. Even though he had been in the city before, Chris got to see landmarks like Wat Pho and Wat Arun for the first time, and we also made stops at the Hello Kitty Cafe, Jim Thompson House and a few night markets. Our travel itinerary didn’t go to plan at this point of our trip, but those few days reaffirmed my love for Bangkok. Previously, like most first-timers in Bangkok, I had stayed in Khao San Road; it was fun and rowdy, but I got to see a different side to the city this time around.
Rounding off our five-month trip, we took the long flight to Cape Town, South Africa, where I finally got to introduce Chris to my home country. Over the course of that month, we went to the touristy spots, drove the Garden Route, almost had our backpack stolen by a baboon (true story – and one which I have to share one day) and caught up with friends and family. And I’m so excited that Cape Town will be my first trip of 2018.
So, the plan was that once we got back to London, we would not travel for a while so that we could replenish our cash flow. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t last beyond two months, and I went ahead and booked flights to Nuremberg during a sale. I had been to Germany before, but Nuremberg was all new for me – and I loved this city. It has an almost impossibly pretty Old Town, complete with half-timbered buildings and a network of underground tunnels.
Nuremberg was also famously the site of the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, so there are some informative museums themed around this too. I really need to get around to writing about this trip, as there’s so much to see and do in this city.
Also in May, Chris and I were part of a group of 50 bloggers that flew over to Menorca to see the island and take part in a mini conference. It was my first visit to any of the Spanish islands, and I loved my time there. The blue water, the sunshine, the coastal villages… I definitely need to explore more of this island in the future.
With only a full day’s break in between, I was off again, this time to Milan with my mum and sister. During our time there, we did plenty of sightseeing in Milan itself, but also included a day trip to nearby Lake Como. That day was one of my favourite memories from 2017, and Lake Como’s photogenic scenery completely surpassed our already sky-high expectations.
Plus, Italy was one of the countries I visited during my first-ever long European trip way back in 2007 and, since it took me a whole decade to get back there, our days in Milan felt especially precious. In my opinion, with its mix of history, cuisine and variety, Italy truly is one of the most rewarding countries to visit in Europe.
I had a small breather before my next trip, which would bring me to my first-ever visit to Scandinavia, a region I had always wanted to explore. My introduction couldn’t have been more magical. I joined in on a press trip to Finland’s Lapland region in the middle of summer, which meant 24 hours of daylight. It was a trip of many firsts, including the first time I had experienced midnight sun, and I made some great new friendships along the way.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you may know that I have a soft spot for surprise trips. For example, every year, Chris and I surprise each other with a birthday trip instead of giving each other tangible presents. We both wait until we’re at the airport before we reveal the surprise destination. This year, I decided to do the same for my mum, and my sister and her husband got involved too. Even though my mum has been in the UK for longer than I have, she had never been to France, so we decided to change that.
We started our adventure in Rennes, where we explored the city and took a day trip to Mont St Michel, a place I had wanted to see FOR YEARS. And it didn’t disappoint: a swirling cascade of rooftops emerging from an otherwise flat landscape, Mont St Michel is every bit as memorable as the photos suggest. From Rennes, we headed to Paris for a few days of non-stop sightseeing. Like Italy, it had been a decade since I’d been to Paris, and our time there reminded me why I fell in love with the city all those years ago.
I admit that most of my travels take me elsewhere, but I do try to see a little more of the UK every year. One of my UK travel highlights from 2017 has to be Stratford-upon-Avon. And, quite frankly, since I studied English Literature at university, I’m ashamed it took me so long to get there! Long renowned as the birthplace of William Shakespeare, we spent our weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon visiting all of the spots associated with the world’s most famous playwright. I really want to write about this city soon, as I think it’s an unmissable weekend trip from London.
Chris’ birthday falls in August, so, since I know he loves Eastern Europe, I surprised him with a long weekend in Varna, Bulgaria. We both left this coastal city feeling like we found a real hidden gem. We had amazing hot weather and took advantage of this by spending a lot of time at the beach. There’s also plenty to do and see in and around Varna, including the likes of Roman ruins, a stone forest and some incredible religious sites. Like most of 2017’s trips, this is another one I need to write about.
When it comes to travel, I can be a bit impatient. In early 2017, I decided that I didn’t want to wait any longer to visit Iceland and, luckily,
I forced Chris to buy flights Chris agreed with me. I will admit that Iceland is easily the most expensive country we have ever visited, but it was also the most rewarding too. I’ll never forget the volcanic landscapes, glaciers and coastal views we got to see everyday while we drove along southern Iceland, and I hope to go back to see even more of this country – even if my bank balance will hate me for it.
One of the things I wanted to do last year was to improve my Polish, and I started to go to classes here in London. I’m very proud of my Polish heritage, so I also jumped at the chance to see more of Poland itself (and it gave me a chance to practise my language skills a bit). I teamed up with my mum to visit Sopot, Warsaw and Krakow, with Chris joining us for the latter. It was my first time in Warsaw and Krakow, and both of these cities thoroughly impressed me, each for different reasons.
Another UK travel highlight has to be the weekend we spent in Arundel. This is another easy trip from London, and, for me, it’s the prettiest town I’ve visited since moving to the UK. We went there in November, so almost all of the attractions – including its famous castle – were closed, meaning that we just spent our time walking in and around the town. It was a perfect short detox from our normal routine, and we’ve already vowed to return next summer so that we can go inside that ridiculously photo-ready castle.
I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere, so most of my Christmas memories consist of warm weather and lengthy walks on the beach with my family. A cold festive season is still a novelty for me, and I unashamedly love everything associated with a European Christmas. So you can imagine my delight when Chris and I were invited to Bruges for the opening weekend of its annual Christmas market. During that weekend, we ate and walked to our hearts’ content, and you can expect to read more about Bruges soon.
The last trip away for 2017 was my surprise birthday trip, and Chris got the destination 110% right. I got to celebrate my birthday in Oslo (therefore seeing even more of Scandinavia), and I was genuinely blown away by how much there is to do in this city, and I now have a serious desire to go back to see more of the country, especially to do some summertime hiking.
What’s in store for 2018?
2017 was a year that was full of travelling, both near and far, and I suspect that 2018 will feature a similar blend. We do have a few short trips planned after Cape Town and, so far, they are all new destinations for me. In March, we will be visiting Bratislava and then Edinburgh, and we’ve got a glamping trip to look forward to in May. Those are our only plans for now but, undoubtedly, this will change
when I book flights before Chris can say no.
Although I obviously love to travel, my two other major priorities this year will be to find a way to manage my anxiety and, of course, to plan our wedding. I’m also hoping to write a lot more this year too, as – just look at the evidence above – I have so many more travel stories to share.
I know this recap is late (anxiety and concentration don’t go together) and we’re already approaching the end of January, but I’m feeling very positive about 2018. Even just starting with this post, I can’t tell you how cathartic it’s been to finally write about what I’ve experienced in the past year, and to be able to recount just how many good moments I had in 2017.
Here’s to a 2018 filled with adventure, self-care and new opportunities.
(And thank you for reading.)