What We Loved, Hated, and Learned From Our 2018 Travels
4 continents. 17 countries. 59 cities. 42 flights. My travel experiences of 2018 were some of the most diverse, ranging from summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro to visiting my sponsor child in Rwanda to exploring the Middle East for the first time to experiencing Oktoberfest in Munich to eating my way around Japan. As Hope and I do at the end of every year, we are once again answering all of your questions about our 2018 travels while reflecting on another wonderful year of exploring all that our great, big world has to offer. Here is what we loved, hated, and learned from our 2018 travels.
Best of 2018
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE TRAVEL MOMENT?
Diana: My most memorable trip of 2018 was summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life, and I’ve never felt so cold as I did on summit night (even after having lived in cold climates almost my entire life), but getting to the top just as the sun was rising was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen and a moment of relief and pride that I’ll never forget.
Hope: Ever since I first visited the Sagrada Familia in 2016, I’ve been obsessed with the building and the story written on it. I wasn’t able to go inside the Sagrada due to time constraints, but I’ve been dreaming of seeing the inside ever since. I finally got to go inside when I went to Spain again this year, and it was everything I imagined it would be and more! I could easily rant about the Sagrada Familia for hours, but in a nutshell, it is truly a piece of art that tells a detailed and intricate story both inside and outside.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEANINGFUL TRIP OF 2018?
Diana: Visiting a child I’ve sponsored through Compassion for the past 10 years in Rwanda. When I first started sponsoring my child in Rwanda, she was only five years old, and I’ve had the image of that 5-year-old child in my mind for the last 10 years. When I finally visited her earlier this year, she was a composed 15-year-old girl who had just been accepted into one of the most prestigious boarding schools in Rwanda and who her teachers and advisors praised for her hard-working and dedicated attitude. Not only was I grateful for the opportunity to meet her and her family, visit her home, and see the community she grew up in, but I was also extremely proud of the young woman she has become.
Hope: For my spring break this year, I took a trip with my Dad to Scotland. Over the course of a few days, we bused our way from Glasgow all the way to the Isle of Skye, staying in Airbnb’s and B&B’s along the way. It was interesting being able to experience busing and being on-the-go with my Dad, since my trips with him usually involve renting cars and staying in hotels. There was also a huge snowstorm during that time, which closed off all trains and planes leaving out of Glasgow, so navigating our way around that was very bonding.
IN WHICH COUNTRY DID YOU HAVE YOUR BEST MEAL OF 2018?
Diana: Japan. I am so glad we were able to finish off our year with a trip to Japan, one of the top two food countries we’ve traveled to (along with Italy). From our daily bowls of ramen to the best wagyu steak we’ve ever had to new foods like takoyaki (octopus snack) and okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake), we didn’t have a single bad meal during our week in Japan. I want to give a huge shoutout to MagicalTrip and Ninja Food Tours for introducing us to the wonderful world of izakayas and giving us the confidence to venture out to these local Japanese pubs on our own during the last few days of our trip.
Hope: Definitely Japan! All the food that my sister and I had in Japan was amazing, and we easily agreed that Japan is our new best food country. We went on two different food tours with MagicalTrip and Ninja Food Tours, which introduced us to authentic Japanese food in various izakayas. I would have to say that the best meal we had during that trip was on our last day in Japan. My sister and I decided to venture out on our own to different izakayas, and somehow stumbled upon more secluded, local ones. None of these izakayas even had english menus, so we observed what people around us were eating and ordered accordingly. This led to some really great results!
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WHICH COUNTRY DID YOU VISIT IN 2018 THAT YOU THINK EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE ON THEIR BUCKET LIST?
Diana: Bulgaria. After our friend, Maria, from Travelling Buzz, shared about her home country of Bulgaria with us, we knew we had to make a trip there to see it for ourselves. Maria helped us plan an itinerary from Sofia to Plovdiv through the mountains of Bulgaria, and the country quickly became one of my favorites. From the hospitality of the locals to the beauty of the natural landscapes, Bulgaria was the complete package for me. Specifically, I loved Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria and one of the most underrated in Europe, in my opinion. Big thank you to Irina and her husband, Paul, from Slow Tours Bulgaria, for showing us around their beautiful home city.
Hope: I’d have to agree with Diana on this one! Bulgaria is truly an underrated, hidden gem. The nature in Bulgaria is breathtaking, and there are a ton of awesome hikes that you can go on there that won’t be crowded with tourists. Plovdiv was an unexpected surprise, and ended up being one of my favourite parts of that trip. Bulgaria really does have something for everyone, whether it’s a small ski town, a bigger city like Sofia, or a tiny village like Kosovo. Bulgaria should be getting more tourism this year with Plovdiv being the 2019 European Capital of Culture, so head that way before it gets too crowded!
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NOT ALL “TOURISTY” THINGS ARE OVERRATED. WHAT IS ONE TOURISTY THING YOU DID THIS YEAR THAT YOU WOULD RECOMMEND EVERYONE TO EXPERIENCE AT LEAST ONCE?
Diana: Oktoberfest in Munich. I was expecting to enjoy it but not love it as much as I did. While some of the tents at Oktoberfest are in fact packed with tourists, there are also plenty of locals who like to enjoy Oktoberfest as well. It was also special to me because I was able to meet up with some friends from abroad that I don’t normally have the opportunity to see.
Hope: The robot restaurant in Japan is unbelievably touristy, but is something I’d recommend regardless. It involved an immense amount of lighting, Japanese pop-culture, robots, and more. Diana and I went on our first night in Tokyo, and it really set the scene for what the rest of our trip in Japan was going to look like!
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Travel Fails 2018
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST TRAVEL FAIL IN 2018?
Diana: My biggest travel fail of 2018 happened over the summer in Romania when I was exploring Transylvania with my Romanian friend. Long story short, we were almost taken at a castle we visited due to some poor decisions on our end and not trusting our gut over the presumed kindness of strangers. You can read all about it here. A close second was almost not being let into Zanzibar because I didn’t have my Yellow Fever card (which my doctor in the U.S. told me I didn’t need).
Hope: During my trip to Switzerland, my friend and I decided to hike Mt. Pilatus. We were uncertain about whether we wanted to go up Mt. Pilatus or not, because it was quite expensive for us given the budget we were on. However, we decided we couldn’t go to Lucerne and not go up a single mountain. The day of our hike was quite foggy, and got foggier as we hiked up the first part of the mountain. We took the cable car up the rest of the mountain anyway, thinking that the fog might pass. Unfortunately, it did not, and at the top of the mountain we could barely see our hand outstretched in front of us.
WAS THERE ANYWHERE YOU WERE PLANNING ON VISITING IN 2018 THAT YOU DIDN’T END UP VISITING?
Diana: Not really. The top two trips on my bucket list at the moment are (1) Patagonia and Antarctica, and (2) the Silk Road, but I didn’t actually make concrete plans to visit these places in 2018.
Hope: I don’t really have a bucket list or plan out countries that I want to visit. All the places that I end up are fairly spontaneous, so I can’t say I missed out on a place I’d planned on visiting.
WHAT WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE IN 2018?
Diana: I really didn’t have any terrible travel experiences in 2018, but if I had to pick one, it would be my trip to Cancun, Mexico at the end of the year. I had just spent a week in Japan, one of the most efficient and well-organized countries I’ve visited, so when I arrived in Cancun on a delayed flight and my car rental company had already closed despite having my flight number and being fully aware of my delayed flight, I was a little more than irked. To make matters worse, the car rental company refused to honor my reservation the next morning, claiming that I had already missed it (when in fact they were the ones to have missed it), and I spent the next three hours (and about $400 USD more) to secure a rental car for the next few days.
Hope: While my trip to Scotland with my Dad was memorable, part of it definitely makes the list for least favourite travel experience of 2018. We had to go from Glasgow to London to catch our flight back to Toronto out of London, but because of the snowstorm, all the planes and trains in Glasgow were closed for days. We wouldn’t have been able to get to London until after our flight to Toronto was supposed to happen, so we decided to rent a car and drive the 8 hours from Glasgow to London. Unfortunately, I still am unable to drive, so my Dad had to drive the whole way himself. We quickly realized that the UK is not great at shoveling their roads, so our drive was actually incredibly dangerous (factoring in that my Dad had never driven on the opposite side of the road before), and took about 5 hours longer than it should have.
Travel Lessons 2018
DID YOU LEARN ANY BIG LESSONS FROM YOUR TRAVELS THIS YEAR?
Diana: Of course. Travel never ceases to teach me new things about the world and about myself. The biggest lesson I learned this year was about balance. I never thought I would find myself in a position of being so burnt out from travel that I didn’t enjoy it anymore, but I experienced that feeling for the first time this year after a heavy travel load during the first half of the year that reminded me of how much I treasured what I had at home – my loving fiancé, my friends, the mundane day-to-day activities that strengthened those relationships, and my comfortable home in a beautiful city. I learned that I do need a balance between traveling and being home and that jetting quickly from one city to the next had become more tiresome than enjoyable for me.
Hope: I’ve learned a ton of lessons from my travels this year. Every trip I take offers me more insight into human nature and the perspectives of people around the world. Travel never ceases to open my mind a little more to why people do the things they do, how different things are perceived by different countries and cultures, and how to be respectful of the people in the places I visit. I’ve also become more inspired to move to places that I never previously considered, particularly in Asian countries.
WHICH COUNTRY DID YOU VISIT IN 2018 THAT WAS LEAST LIKE WHAT YOU EXPECTED IT TO BE?
Diana: Rwanda. The impression that most people in the western world have about Rwanda is that it is a poor, damaged, genocide-stricken country that may not be safe to visit. However, Kigali is actually a bustling industrial center that is extremely clean and well-organized, with all the amenities you would expect from a city in North America or Europe. It is safe and easily accessible by car. Outside of the city center, there are rolling green hills and beautiful landscapes that reminded me a lot of the rolling green hills and beautiful landscapes of Slovenia, one of my favorite countries in Europe.
Hope: China was probably the country that surprised me the most. While I’ve been going to China to visit extended family my whole life, I hadn’t been back for about six years before I went this year. I was surprised by how much it’s advanced since I last visited, and I found myself considering it as a potential place to live, where I never had before. I also noticed that this time when I went back, there were many more foreigners around than when I went six years ago, particularly in Shanghai.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET LIST ITEMS FOR 2019?
Diana: Trips I have planned so far include Bermuda, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. After traveling to 60 countries, I still haven’t made it to South America yet, so 2019 will be my year of South America.
Hope: I’m planning on going on the classic Southeast Asia trip after graduation in May. I’ll also be going to Colombia in March and Peru in May, both with my sister.
We hope you have an adventure-filled 2019! Let us know in the comments below what your 2018 travel highlights were and what you’re looking forward to in 2019.
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