Elephants at Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka (September): Hands down my favorite “new” country of 2017. So wonderful that I went twice!
Last year at this time, I had just returned to California from Spain. Upset (understatement) about the results of the 2016 US Presidential Election, I made it one of my New Year’s resolutions to spend as much time abroad in 2017 as possible.
And that resolution I kept. During the course of the year, I traveled to 16 countries making 2017 my biggest travel year to date. Big changes came my way in June when I quit my (remote) corporate travel job to become a full time digital nomad. Traveling and focusing on my own travel consulting business meant more longterm travel not only for personal reasons but for professional reasons as well. And what a journey this year has been!
Perhaps planned to coincide with the inauguration of the new president, a friend and I escaped from the cold, both weather-wise and political-wise, to the warmth of Indonesia and Singapore. We took a wonderful trip around Lombok, Bali, and the Gili Islands with G Adventures. While I normally prefer solo travel, in this case G fit the bill perfectly. My friend and I only had a short time off from work. And we both work in the travel industry, so trip planning is our job. Sometimes it is nice to just let someone else plan it all. Thankfully our guide, Hendri, was fantastic, and roaming around Indonesia during the shift of power in the US was exactly what we needed.
Playing in the ocean in Indonesia was much better than staying in the US for the first days of the new presidency. Gili Islands (January)
Concerned that the new US president would rescind the Obama era Cuba travel policies, I felt the urgency to visit Cuba. Since I knew that traveling to Cuba was always my father’s dream, I invited him along on the trip. Although I had traveled with my dad when I was younger, it had been a while since we traveled together, much less abroad. But the trip was memorable and fun. Perhaps one of the most eye opening places I ever visited, the Cubans impressed me with their resilience and sense of entrepreneurship. The Cuban travel policies (for US citizens) are indeed changing, and I am thankful that I had the foresight to go when I did. And if you are a US passport holder, and Cuba is somewhere you would like to visit, I suggest you go as soon as possible. Especially if you want to travel without an organized tour.
Cliche as it is, I loved the old cars in Cuba (La Habana, March)
Later in the spring, I returned to Spain, my soulhome, for a few months to spend some time in my other home base.. Of course I made sure my time in Spain overlapped with my favorite Spanish festival, La Fiesta de Los Patios in Córdoba. After returning to Madrid from the festival, it was time for some self reflection and big changes. I took the leap and finalized my plans, that had been brewing for almost a year, to quit my corporate travel job and take my digital nomad lifestyle to the next level (ie full time). Quitting a comfortably paying job to do my own thing is still, to this day, the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But Spain is the prefect place to start a new life chapter. And with years of professional travel industry experience, I have always been confident that I could make my travel consulting business (somewhat) profitable.
One of the patios at La Fiesta de los Patios, Spain. People open their private patios for public viewings and there is a competition for best patio. The festival is every May in Córdoba.
Of course, with no corporate job, the first order of business was to travel. As a professional travel consultant, it’s important that I see as much of the world as possible so I can share little known gems with my clients. Traveling is also professional networking for me, and I am always looking to build more industry partnerships around the globe.
Almost immediately after returning to California from Spain to deal with the aftermath of quitting my job and turning my life upside-down, I embarked on a journey of several months to Asia. This journey brought me to several new (for me) countries: South Korea, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Malaysia*, Myanmar, and China (technically I had already been to Malaysia, but only for a day, from Singapore, so I didn’t count it as a place I had previously visited). Additionally, I returned to Thailand to spend a significant amount of time in Chiang Mai, where I had never been (my past trips through Thailand were all centered around the islands).
My time in Asia was truly inspiring and made me realize that I made the right decision to leave the corporate travel world. Not only did I make so many professional connections, but it was also a true adventure. With freedom and flexibility, I took almost every mode of transportation possible. The rail journeys in both Sri Lanka and Myanmar are, to date, some of my favorite trips by train ever. And taking the two day slow boat from Luang Prabang, Laos to the border of Thailand was relaxing and scenic, even though I had a terrible case of food poisoning the second day. But the absolute transportation highlight was getting to drive a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka, thanks to my friend and business partner Kanchana, at Tour Ceylon.
Driving a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka. This is something I will never forget! (September)
During the course of this journey, I fell in love with Sri Lanka, and went back soon after departing the first time. Flights within Asia can be very affordable, and I was lucky to find a cheap return flight since there was still so much more of the island nation that I wanted to see! Sri Lanka, along with Myanmar, secured spots in my list of top five countries. Being in Myanmar during the height of the Rohingya crisis not only worried some of my friends and family, but made my travels controversial. But after experiencing Myanmar, I can honestly say that it is a beautiful country filled with friendly, welcoming people. It’s just very important to be careful and try to support private businesses, instead of those owned by the Burmese government, as much as possible. To do this, a lot of research is needed, but that is the responsible way to travel in Myanmar. And really, people are people everywhere. The government in Myanmar does not represent its citizens like the US president does not represent me.
I enjoyed all of the epic train journeys I took in Myanmar. (September)
When the time came to leave Asia, I was not ready to depart. But I needed to get back to the Americas as I had plans to travel to Guatemala and take intensive Spanish lessons. Brushing up on my Spanish to make my life in Spain more fulfilling was something I had been needing to do for a long time, and it was one of the promises I made to myself for 2017. With the flexibility of working for myself, going to Spanish school was finally possible. I chose Guatemala because it is cheap, known for its excellent Spanish language schools, and I had never been there before.
Every travel experience is a chance to learn and grow. And Guatemala presented a new challenge for me as a traveler. Just like inner personal relationships, travel chemistry is real. Unfortunately I had very little travel chemistry with Guatemala. Despite being slightly unhappy, I used my time in Guatemala productively, learning Spanish and continuing to build my business. And of course, I still traveled while I was there. One of my dear friends from Spain live in El Salvador, so a weekend at the beach in El Tunco to reunite was clearly on the agenda. After Spanish school ended, I left the Spanish speaking world to go to Belize, for the first time. The snorkeling along the beerier reef there was world class. And in the end, my time in Guatemala was not wasted. My Spanish has greatly improved, and now I can build meaningful relationships in Spanish speaking countries.
There is no denying it. Antigua, Guatemala is beautiful. (November)
With much improved Spanish language skills, here I am now, in Madrid, living in a local’s neighborhood. My friend was kind enough to rent out her flat to me while she is away for a few months. And the timing could not be better. This year I decided to spend the holidays with my Spanish “family.” Spain in the winter is not as warm as I usually prefer, but coming back to this country feels like coming home again. And after a year of major changes and lots of nomading, I wanted to end the year in a place where I can simply nest, hang out with friends and family, and focus on my work for a while.
Oh Madrid, I am so happy to be back! (December)
What a year of travel! 2018 will still bring travel, but I am planning on traveling slower, and staying in places for a longer period of time. This will be a year of major work, continuing to grow and build my travel consulting services. Plus I have an awesome project brewing, to be released shortly after the new year. Please continue to watch this space for more details.
And of course, if your New Year’s resolution is to wander the world, please let me know. I am taking on new clients after the first of the year. We can work together to tailor a fantastic trip to suit your needs and budget. And make that resolution one that you keep!
Feliz año nuevo! Happy New Year! And happy globetrotting and world wandering!
My name is Karen & travel is not only my passion but also my profession.