NEHA PATNAIK/ JAN 2020
Another year has passed by, a whole decade in fact! 2019 will always be one of our most special years for several reasons. While i have never really sat down to evaluate the year gone by, this time i am starting something new.
Am gonna write about our highlights of the year: both high and low. I thought this would be a good exercise in taking stock and refreshing memories while we start the new year on a clean slate.
Plus all our goals and wishes for 2020. So let’s begin!
OUR YEAR IN REVIEW: 19 HIGHLIGHTS FROM 2019
1. STARTED THE YEAR ISLAND HOPPING WITH FRIENDS IN THAILAND
2019 started off on a great note for us: we island hopped our way through some of Thailand’s best islands with another couple. This was the first time we were travelling with other people, we almost never do that. But the islands were the perfect place to do so!
We spent a week hopping between Phuket, Phi phi, Koh Lanta and Krabi. Two of the major highlights of this trip were kayaking through the mangroves of Phang nga bay and taking a day trip to check out the stunning beauty of the Trang islands (a relatively unknown island group in Thailand for which we have written a whole other post ! The trip was super enjoyable and exactly what a new year trip should be: days spent beach hopping and sun tanning, getting high on lots of cocktails and gorging on seafood barbeques. We loved the islands so much, we are planning future trips to visit Koh Lipe (a gorgeous and romantic island) as well as another multi day one to the Trang islands.
2. WATCHED THE SUN RISE AT MAYA BAY ON JANUARY 1
Our new year began with this epic experience! We had spent new year’s eve partying on the beaches of Phi Phi, but we still managed to wake up super early to begin the new year with this view. While Maya bay has been shut down thanks to over tourism, we watched from the boat and then docked at a nearby beach. With everyone else asleep at that time, we were completely alone in the pristine Pi Leh lagoon. It was a great feeling to begin the first day of the new year with so much peace, calm and positivity.
3. CHASED GORGEOUS SUNSETS IN KOH LANTA
Koh Lanta was a revelation for us after the madness of Phuket and Phi Phi: beautiful beaches, inexpensive resorts and minimal crowds. But what impressed us most were the stunning sunsets we got to witness every evening, turning the sky into fiery reds and oranges or cotton candy pink. After all the partying we had done, we reveled in just sitting by ourselves with a cocktail in hand while watching the sun go down.
We fell in love with the place hard and fast, this was our paradise island and we cannot wait to return. If you are just as impressed, check out our detailed guide on Koh Lanta and plan you trip!
4. MISSED OUT ON THE HONG ISLANDS THANKS TO AN IMPENDING STORM
While planning our island hopping holiday, Hong islands had been pretty high up on our list. I had been seriously impressed by the pictures of the pristine islands and was dreaming about seeing them myself. But what man proposes, nature disposes.
After arriving in Krabi, we soon found out than a storm/typhoon was on it’s way. While we did manage to make our way to Railay beach on our first day there, it soon became clear that we would have to give up all our water based plans. With a heavy heart we decided to forgo the Hong islands and instead settled for checking out Krabi’s land based attractions like the hot springs (seriously good!!) and the beautiful waterfalls. So it was’nt such an epic fail as such!
5. CELEBRATED A DECADE OF TOGETHERNESS AND RAISED A TOAST TO NOT HAVING KILLED EACH OTHER OFF
Yup you read that right! It has been 10 years since the day we got together, way back in 2009. And though we usually don’t make a big deal of anniversaries, this one was a milestone. We have had so much fun and adventure throughout this time, witnessed so many highs and lows, got through some really tough times and now are trying to live life listening only to each other and our hearts. Cannot wait to see what the next decade brings!
6. TRAVELLED WITH MY SISTER FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 15 YEARS
In April, we went on a spontaneous trip to Bangkok and carried my sister along with us. This was the first time i was travelling with her after leaving home at 18. We had travelled together a lot as kids, on plenty of family holidays during school vacations but that had stopped once the dreaded board exams were upon us.
Bangkok was perfect as a quick and fun getaway: we temple hopped till our feet were sore, had sunset drinks on skybar , pampered ourselves with massages and sheet masks and ate a lot. In between, she drove me crazy with her disorganized, casual ways and i got on her nerves with my nagging. Still, we made it through and have lots of fun memories to share now. Will hope it does not take another 15 years to plan another one!
7. BUT CHOSE THE WORST TIME TO TRAVEL TO BANGKOK
Bangkok in April is a big NO. It is super hot, humid and a horrible time to explore. Considering the fact that most of the sightseeing is outdoors, you either limit it to early morning /after dusk or push through it by drinking copious amounts of water and dealing with copious amounts of sweat! Since ours was a spontaneous plan, we could not really do much about it and had to just grin (or grimace!) and bear it.
8. EXPLORED 4 UNESCO HERITAGE SITES IN 3 DIFFERENT COUNTRIES
I am a total sucker for cultural sites and attractions. Ticking off UNESCO heritage sites while travelling gives me a great amount of (nerdy) pleasure ! So i was beyond pleased to have explored 4 UNESCO sites in 3 different countries in 2019.
These were Ayuthuya in Thailand, Pingvellir and Vatnajokull national parks in Iceland and Suomenlina military island in Finland. The one i was most impressed with was the Vatnajokull glacier region as we got to see our first iceberg there(more on that below). Till date i have visited 16 UNESCO heritage sites and look forward to checking out more in 2020.
9. INCREASED MY WRITING OUTPUT WITH 11 NEW BLOG POSTS THIS YEAR
At the start of the year, i had resolved to write and publish one article every 45 days and this worked out to 8 blog posts for the year. But by the end of the year, i had surpassed that target and had put out 11 blog posts. This was a huge thing for me because i have a full time job (as a doctor)working in the hospital and managing our home. So there really is’nt enough time for me to devote to the blog. Yet somehow i did it and now i feel more motivated than ever to set new targets.
10. REDUCED OUR TRAVEL PLASTIC WASTE BY A LOT
2019 was the year when ordinary people became conscious of the environment and their own individual impact. As am writing this, bush fires are raging in Australia and various climate change events are taking place around the world. The one thing i wanted to do was cut down on buying plastic water bottles while on the go.
I started this on our trip to Bangkok in April, where i carried around my own little bottle all the time. Refilling was an issue at certain places to be honest. Though not entirely, we did manage to significantly reduce our bottle buying.
Then we travelled to Iceland and Helsinki where you can drink water directly from the tap. Coming from Asia where water purification and filtering is a big thing, this drinking-from-the-tap made us very happy. Not once during our 10 day trip did we have to buy a single bottle. I totally want to continue to reduce our travel plastic output this year too till it becomes zero.
11. PLANNED OUR FIRST EVER TRIP OUTSIDE ASIA AND MANAGED TO PULL IT OFF
After having travelled within Asia for many many years, we finally managed to set foot outside the continent in 2019. And instead of taking baby steps and choosing some easy peasy destination for our annual vacation, we took a giant leap and travelled all the way to Iceland! It had not been our initial plan though, with Turkey and Japan being the front runners. But somehow Iceland wriggled it’s way into our planning and ran away with the honors.
Planning this one week Iceland trip as well as doing it has been the most challenging journey ever : physically, mentally and financially. We had a lot of visa issues and had to lead a spartan life for months to save some serious cash for this trip. The Iceland travel budget is pretty high but we saved enough to do all the activities we had planned to and had a truly memorable vacation!
12. ARRIVED IN REYKJAVIK WITHOUT OUR LUGGAGE AND SPENT THE FIRST COUPLE DAYS TRYING TO SURVIVE!
Our trip started with this nightmare: we reached Reykjavik while our luggage got left behind at Helsinki. Fortunately, we had our winter coat and a few necessities in our backpack which helped us survive that first (and very cold day). It took us one day and lots of hassles to get back our luggage. We actually had to cut our Blue lagoon trip short and go all the way to the airport and return back to Reykjavik city centre with our luggage on our own extra cost.
13. BUT, WE MADE ICELAND AIR PAY FOR THE DELAY
Yeah, we got a full refund of all the expenses we had incurred like extra airport transfer costs to pick up the luggage and return back to Reykjavik and even for the swimsuits that we had to rent from Blue lagoon (as our own were sitting packed in our main bags). It took us 3 months and multiple mails to receive the money but we got it done. Cheers!
14. GOT BOWLED OVER BY THE SHEER BEAUTY OF ICELAND AND RECONNECTED WITH THE PLANET
Let me tell you a little secret: I am not really a nature/mountain/landscape sort of person. My dream holiday consists of a beach getaway along with a smattering of historical and cultural sites thrown in. But it took the planet’s most beautiful country to change my mind.
With epic views and stunning landscapes everywhere, Iceland took my breath away. We felt more connected to our planet than we have ever been, more respectful of this fragile world that we live in. Seeing the way Icelanders have treated their land as well as the way they live their lives, made me realize the importance of preserving this world that we are slowly destroying bit by bit. I will always be grateful to Iceland for teaching me a lot of life lessons and helping me reconnect with nature.
15. MISSED OUT ON SEEING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND
Seeing the northern lights has been one my biggest dreams but unfortunately we could not make it happen in Iceland. Though the country is one of the best places to view the aurora, unpredictable weather with overcast clouds killed that dream.
You should never ever travel to Iceland (or any other country)with the sole purpose of seeing the lights as that is something entirely upto nature. So even though we had lowered our expectations, we still could not help feeling a twinge of disappointment on having missed the greatest light show on earth. Watching the northern lights still remains high up on our dream list and we now hope to travel to Lapland in the near future to try our luck again.
16. BUT DID GET TO SEE OUR FIRST ICEBERG
And our first canyon, our first glacier, our first lava cave….the list goes on and on. There were plenty of firsts for us in Iceland but the most special one had to be seeing our first iceberg. We took a boat ride through the Jokularsson glacier lagoon (one of our top sights in Iceland, you will have to put it in your Iceland itinerary), which is filled with icebergs floating by. It was a thrilling moment for us, remembering how far we had come, from watching the iceberg on screen in ‘Titanic’ to seeing one in real life!
17. TOOK THE MOST EXPENSIVE DIP OF OUR LIVES IN THE BLUE LAGOON
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard of the Blue Lagoon. It is only the most famous hot spring in the world!! Their entry fees are super expensive and we spent a whole month struggling to decide whether to go or not. In the end, the traveler in us won. Relaxing in the beautiful blue waters with a drink made all the sacrifices of the past few months so worth it. Blue lagoon is a divisive topic among travellers, but our verdict is clear: we LOVED the place and will definitely visit again.
18. REJOICED IN THE COOL CALM OF HELSINKI AND CONTEMPLATED MOVING THERE
After being completely drained from our Iceland trip, Helsinki proved to be the perfect place to rest and recover. We stayed in a cute little air bnb in one of the residential areas near downtown and relaxed for a couple of days. This was our first proper European city (Iceland is technically Europe but completely different).
We spent a great couple days exploring the city and marveled at the clean, calm and quiet surroundings. We loved the solitude and could totally imagine living there. I will be putting out a handy little guide soon on all the spots you should visit in Helsinki, so keep an eye out for that!
19. RECONNECTED WITH MOST OF MY COUSINS THIS YEAR AND CELEBRATED A GRAND INDIAN WEDDING IN DECEMBER
This year i met up with a lot of my cousins after 2 or 3 years and spent some quality time with them. One of my cousins got married in December and we had a lot of fun, enjoyment and bonding. It was the perfect way to end the year.
WHAT NEXT ? OUR GOALS AND WISHES FOR 2020
With the new year, i feel very motivated to set some new goals. I do have a few things that i would like to do this year and plan on trying my best to fulfill them. One of the things i have done after January 1st was to set a ‘word of the year’. This is the first year i have done something like this and the word i choose is ‘FOCUS’.
Being a doctor trying to balance work, home and the blog, it becomes very difficult to find out time for everything. This year i want to focus much more on each of the things that i intend to pursue and give it my best. So here are some of my goals and wishes for the upcoming year.
1. BLOG GOALS
- BUY A NEW LAPTOP: Till date i had been using an extremely slow, battered laptop that used to consume a lot of time and decreased my productivity. Basically drove me nuts. So getting a new laptop to save time and improve productivity was high up on my list. I am happy to say that i have already done this and am writing this post with my new laptop !
- SHIFT FROM WORDPRESS TO BLUE HOST:It has been 2 years since i have started the blog on wordpress.com. While initially i just started it as more of a hobby, gradually my interest increased. Shifting to wordpress.org and getting hosted by Blue host will give me full control of my blog which will let me do whatever i want with it and i hope to do this in January itself.
- WORK ON THE SUBSCRIPTION LIST:Gonna sign up with convertkit for this soon.
- WRITING GOALS: While i have already mentioned how i surpassed my writing goal last year, this year i want to take that further. Want to write at least 20 blog posts this year and not just increase the number, but also improve the quality. So write consistently and write better in 2020.
2. PHOTOGRAPHY GOALS
- INSTALL LIGHTROOM ON THE LAPTOP AND LEARN THE BASICS OF EDITING:Honestly i was waiting to do this on a new laptop as my old one was just a shitty one. So now that i have the new laptop already, i want to start learning up more about the basics of editing. I have already saved a lot of free resources on this and cant wait to start!
- LEARN AND WORK MORE WITH MANUAL MODE:I started learning a little about manual mode from last year and have used it in bits and pieces. I tried to especially learnt about shooting waterfalls and sunsets. This year i definitely want to keep learning and take more travel pictures using manual settings. Also focusing on composition is something i have to be better at.
- PHOTO ORGANIZATION AND BACK UP:Something i should really start this year considering the amount of pictures that we have. Also back up everything. One of my favourite travel bloggers ‘Find us Lost’ have a really good post on travel photo organization that i loved and you can look it up too!
3. TRAVEL GOALS
- TRAVEL SLOWER, TRAVEL DEEPER: Being doctors, we never really get enough time for our vacations. And when we do, it is impossible to plan a long trip. This has resulted in many of our vacations being rushed and exhausting. But this year we intend to change this. Within our limited travel time, we hope to travel slower and travel deeper. Go beyond the surface and touristy gimmicks.
- A CULTURAL GETAWAY:I love UNESCO sites and would love to add more this year.
- A BEACH ESCAPE:Our favourite kind of holiday! Its been more than a year now since our island hopping trip and we are craving for some beach time. We will definitely be planning a beach escape this year.
- REDUCE OUR TRAVEL WASTE:Continue what we started last year.
4. LIFESTYLE GOALS
- CUT DOWN ON ALL UNNECESSARY SHOPPING: Already working on this since last year. Great way to save money !
- READ ONE BOOK EVERY MONTH: My first love! Plan to read at least one book a month or even more if possible.
- ELIMINATE FOOD WASTAGE: Again something that we have been doing since last year. We have reduced a lot of our household food wastage and hope to work towards eliminating this completely.
So this was my year in review: all the highlights, good and bad from 2019. Plus my goals and wishes from 2020. Writing all this down feels more solid, more definite somehow and i can’t wait to see what 2020 has to offer. What were some of your highlights of 2019? Have you made any new year resolutions?