15 countries, 4 continents: this year's ultimate travel highlights
2012 has seen me travel to 15 countries and 4 continents across the world. Looking back on the past 12 months, it actually blows my mind how much I’ve done this year. I’ve certainly ticked a few experiences off the bucket list and temporarily contented the ever-present itch of the travel bug. From travelling the world with SPAR International as the UK travel reporter to heading to the Alps on a ski season, here are some of my travel highlights. Dubrovnik, Croatia Croatia is an increasingly popular holiday destination, so the week I spent here to celebrate the end of my University era was definitely well-calculated – hopefully just before it becomes too touristy for words! A beautiful city, historical town, crystal clear waters, breathtaking islands, a gig in an ancient fort and a fantastic week with 7 of my best friends made for an unforgettable time. Oh, and travel in Croatia is very cheap – which is always a plus for the budget travellers in that we are. Great Ocean Road road trip, Australia My return to Australia was a surprise. I had no idea that the See the World with SPAR itinerary would take me to the Land Down Under for the third time... In fact, I had no idea I would ever go to Australia ever again. But hiring a broken-down camper van with an Irish guy, a Dutchie and a crazy Slovenian warrior princess made me regret that it had been ticked off my list so easily. Road tripping on the Great Ocean Road in Australia completely changed my mind about the whole country. I loved every second of it - despite breaking down twice. Trans-Siberian Rail, Russia, Mongolia, China Taking the trans-Siberian rail from Moscow to Beijing was one of the most unique travel highlights of the year. A bucket-list dream for many, the journey itself is... interesting. A challenge. Sure, the 6 straight days from Moscow to Ulaanbataar kind of all blur into one long, long period of indistinguishable time, but I will never forget it. I’d recommend it to everyone… but probably lower your expectations before you embark… Copenhagen, Denmark Copenhagen is such an awesome city. It's expensive, but it's worth it. From riding the swings at Tivoli, one of the oldest theme parks in Europe, to cycling around the pristine city streets, it is exactly what you expect, and then some. Travelling in Copenhagen was also turned into such a highlight for me not just because of the beauty of the city and the vibrant atmosphere 24/7, but because of the person I spent my time there with. We had a week of drinking far too much, laughing far too hard, and exploring all Copenhagen had to offer. Even though the inevitable side effect of addiction to travel means that I haven’t seen this person since, I’ll always have a little soft spot for Copenhagen. Livingstone, Zambia Zambia was very, very hot, very, very friendly, and inclusive of a very, very near-death experience for me. I’m exaggerating… but only slightly. The highlights of Zambia included a few days in Livingstone, where we experienced the Victoria Falls for the very first time, peeked over the edge at the Devil's Bathtub, and had a safari from the water on a Zambezi River cruise with a burning African sunset. Again, Zambia was not on my travel radar - SPAR International sent me there. But I was definitely happy about it! Rome, Italy As a European traveller, Rome isn’t one of the most exotic places I’ve ever encountered, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting. It lives up to all the hype and then some. Like Amsterdam, I instantly fell head over heels for Italy’s capital. I can’t wait to return again and again and again, and roam ancient history, snack on the world's best pizza, and eat as much gelato as I can possibly hold. Honestly, if you haven’t been to Rome yet, then GO. Immediately. Budapest, Hungary Budapest is the capital of Hungary and is a highly underrated European city destination. As my first stop on the SPAR world trip as a travel reporter, honestly? I really wasn’t too excited about getting there. My naive, 21-year-old head had barely even heard of it, so I had no expectations. Thankfully – as seems to be the case with most of the destinations I’ve visited with low or zero expectations – Budapest was incredible. My week in Budapest was a week of crazy pool parties in the thermal baths, beautiful weather, art exhibitions, and lots and lots of cycling. Nomadic Mongolia A welcome retreat from the first 6-day leg of the trans-Siberian rail, Mongolia definitely deserves to be on the list of travel highlights of this year. Ulaanbataar was unexpectedly built up and a little bit Westernised, with some fantastic out of the way restaurants and a very dodgy black market (dodgier than the average), and the countryside was something else. I visited a nomadic family, stayed in a ger camp and got chased by wild dogs. Because of such extensive travelling this year, 2012 might have to include actually earning some money. Ah, the life of the newly graduated... This doesn’t have to be as boring as it sounds though. Another four months working as a chef in the French Alps awaits, and then hopefully a summer frolicking with the Dutchies in Amsterdam. This year was the best year of travel in my life, but the journey has of course just begun. Bring on the New Year and another year of seeing what the world has to offer!