2018 travel round-up and plans for the New Year

Happy New Year! We spent the final days of 2018 in the UK, visiting family for the festive period. We’ve been busy gorging on vegan treats, getting to know our new nephew Barney and going on wintry dog walks. Before we return to Portugal at the weekend, I thought it was time for a 2018 travel round-up and a look at what we have in store for the brand-new year.

2018 travel round-up

Shawford dog walk, Hampshire

January – early March: UK, Florida and Colombia

It’s hard to believe that this time last year we were preparing for South America. It began with a quick stop-over in Miami, where we had our worst airport experience to date en-route to colourful Cartagena in Colombia. We stuffed our faces with huge avocados in this historic port town and came to terms with the fact that we definitely weren’t backpackers anymore.

Street life in Cartagena, Colombia

The tiny mountain town of Minca was much more our scene. Set in the Sierra Nevada, we trekked through forests dotted with waterfalls, spotted tropical birds, toured cacao farms and stayed at a rustic retreat complete with scorpions in the open-air bathroom. Oh, we also experienced our worst bout of food poisoning in five years of travel.

The sun setting over the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

Right from the start of this trip, I struggled to balance travel with almost full-time freelance work. South America was more expensive than we’d expected so we decided to head to Medellin to rent an apartment and work for a month. We didn’t exactly hit it off with this gritty city, which was once the most dangerous in the world, but after taking some local tours we grew to admire its resilience.

Aerial view over Medellin, Colombia

Despite its dark past, Medellin is in the throes of a staggering transformation. We learnt about this on a graffiti tour in Communa 13, a Real City walking tour and a trip to the Moravia neighbourhood, which has a flower-topped hill that masks a huge toxic trash pile. We also grew to love the more touristy El Poblado neighbourhood, where we found some vegan eats, and took an overnight trip to stunning Guatape.

To finish off our Colombia trip, we spent a week in the capital Bogota and visited an incredible Salt Cathedral buried 180 metres underground. We also took the bus out to Villa de Leyva, a pretty rural town, for some peace and quiet before flying off to Peru.

The Salt Cathedral, Colombia

Late March – April: Peru, Bolivia

Lima was a great, comfy city to spend a week working and travel planning in. We caught a bus to Paracas National Reserve, known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos’, where we explored desert landscapes and took a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands to spot penguins, sea lions, staggering rock formations and huge flocks of birds.

The 'Elephant' rock formation at the Ballestas Islands, Peru

Climbing steadily in elevation, we flew to La Paz in Bolivia where we adjusted to the altitude before flying to Rurrenabaque for a dream Amazon trip. We stayed at Madidi Jungle Ecolodge in one of the most bio-diverse areas on the planet and had an incredible guide, Cheo, who took us on walks through the jungle and boat trips.

Caiman poking his head out the river in the Amazon rainforest, Bolivia

We were lucky enough to spot tapirs, a caiman, all types of tropical birds and monkeys, plus so many bugs and insects. Cheo taught us about the medicinal qualities of Amazon plants, got us temporarily lost and introduced us to the notorious bullet ant. On a night walk, we marvelled at all the huge spiders.

Red and yellow bull spider in the Amazon rainforest in Madidi National Park, Bolivia

Our Bolivia trip continued with a week in the small but beautiful constitutional capital Sucre, where we caught up with an old friend from our Vietnam teaching days. Climbing higher in elevation we took a winding bus trip to Uyuni, a desert town and the jumping off point for tours of the largest salt flats in the world.

Dinosaur perspective shot on the Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

We opted for a three-day 4×4 jeep tour of some of the most inhospitable and unique landscapes we’ve ever visited. Along the way, we were awed by the never-ending desert of salt crystals, had so much fun taking crazy perspective shots, saw cacti-studded islands, thermal springs and red lagoons home to hundreds of flamingos.

Flamingos on Laguna Canapa, Bolivia

To finish off our Bolivia tour, we headed to peaceful Copacabana on the shores of South America’s largest lake, Titicaca. La Cupula was one of our favourite hotels, with stunning views over the lake, complimentary hot water bottles and a garden with resident alpacas. One day, we took a boat trip to Sun Island for a hike.

The view over Lake Titicaca from our hotel in Copacabana, La Cupula

Lake Titicaca straddles Bolivia and Peru, so we were able to catch a bus over the border to Puno for an Uros Islands tour. These floating reed islands are home to the Uros people, who originated from the Amazon and live on the lake, fashioning islands and houses from tough totora reeds.

The brightly coloured clothes of the Uros women on the floating islands, Lake Titicaca Trip

May: Peru

Needing to catch up on work, we headed up to ancient Cusco for a couple of weeks. We got to know the city’s cobbled streets, found a great vegan restaurant and planned our trip to Machu Picchu. Rather than take an expensive trek with a tour group, we opted to visit this sacred site independently by train and bus, for less than £200 each.

Machu Picchu with Wayna Picchu behind it

The trip began with a scenic train journey through the Sacred Valley to Aguas Calientes. From there, we caught the bus up to explore the famous ruins and climb Machu Picchu Mountain. We were lucky to get clear views of this world wonder and despite the tourist crowds, were awed by this ancient Incan city in the clouds.

The Peru Rail train in the Sacred Valley

Heading back on the train, we spent a few more peaceful days in Ollantaytambo, taking treks to lesser-visited ruins. We loved this quiet town, which had more of a local feel and grid-like cobbled streets.

Beautiful scenery in Ollantaytambo, Peru

After a horrible overnight bus journey, we arrived in Arequipa, a white-stone city full of Spanish colonial history. We made a quick stop to climb sand dunes in the desert at Huacachina before circling back to Lima for our final few days in South America.

Looking at the view of Desert sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

June: USA

Our road trip around California was my top experience of 2018. June was such a happy month driving around this beautiful state, joined by my friend Jo, gorging on the most amazing vegan food I’ve ever tasted. Although LA was seedier than we expected, I had the time of my life visiting Universal Studios.

Universal Studios Hollywood globe at the entrance to the park

We drove up to the coastal town of Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley, then swiftly fell in love with San Francisco. We spent days wandering the cinematic, calf-busting streets to Fisherman’s Wharf, the rainbow-flag-lined Castro district and trendy Haight-Ashbury where we stumbled across Veganburg, a delicious plant-based eatery.

Veganburg vegan burger and fries in San Francisco

Our other San Fran highlights included visiting the Muir Woods, photographing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and taking a tour of Berkeley College. Next up was the national park portion of our trip, starting with our highlight: Yosemite. From hulking granite domes to the largest trees in the world, flowering meadows, waterfalls and glassy lakes, this truly was the most beautiful park I’ve ever been to.

Amy overlooking Yosemite National Park

We also stayed in our favourite Airbnb of the year, an RV near beautiful Bass Lake where we enjoyed BBQs, campfires and star-filled skies. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks had just as much to offer, including giant sequoia trees over 3,000 years old, diverse wildlife, the USA’s deepest canyon and glacial rivers.

Zumwalt Meadow, Sequoia National Park, California

At the end of our California trip, our five-week housesit in Oregon fell through and our final stop in San Diego was ruined as we scrambled to change our travel plans. Eventually, we headed to Portland anyway and spent a few days wandering the city, which we’d expected to love. While we appreciated the bohemian vibe and vegan food, we were surprised to find that we didn’t fall for Portland as hard as we’d expected.

The skyline of Portland, OR

Instead of staying put, we decided to rent an RV near Bend for a couple of weeks, in central Oregon. This was a great decision as we loved this peaceful, outdoorsy town. From trekking in Smith Rock State Park to visiting the extraordinary Newberry National Volcanic Monument and lava-carved caves, we got to see much more of Oregon than we’d planned.

The stunning Smith Rock State Park, near Bend, OR

At the last minute, we managed to land week-long housesit back in Portland looking after a gorgeous, energetic Belgian Shepherd Chloe. She was a great companion for road trips to Mount Hood, the coast and Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. The scenery in Oregon is just unreal. I still have lots of blog posts to write about our adventures on the west coast of the USA.
Chloe, the beautiful Belgian Shepherd

July and August: UK

As usual, we spent the summer back in the UK, dog sitting in London and visiting family and friends in South England and Wales. We also completed a house sit in Bristol, our university city and headed up to Scotland for a freelance job at an adventure company. I love Scotland and was excited to make a couple of stops in both Edinburgh and Glasgow to check out their vegan offerings.

White water rafting on the Findhorn, Scotland

Set near Aviemore, this rural job pushed me well out of my comfort zone as I had to plunge into icy rivers for canyoning, tubing and white-water rafting adventures. It turned out to be a great experience, both personally and in terms of expanding my freelance portfolio. We also got to attend a five-day yoga retreat where we stayed in bell tents, had camp fires on the beach and visited an eco-village.

Yoga in the woods in Scotland

September – December: London, Portugal

We spent the first half of September at our regular Chiswick cat sit, catching up with London friends and soaking up the sights in our favourite city before setting off to start a new life in Portugal. Over the summer, Andrew landed a job at an international school in the Algarve, so we committed to spending a year near Faro.

View of London from St Paul's Cathedral

Things quickly fell into place and we found a great apartment soon after arriving, Andrew settled into school life and we enjoyed the nice weather in September. We spent afternoons by the pool and walked down to our beautiful local beach, Vale do Lobo.

Vale Do Lobo Beach, Algarve, Portugal

My parents visited in October and we explored some the Algarve’s treasures, but around this time the weather also started to cool-off. As we sunk into November, it became freezing in our apartment and although I had a lovely visit from my friend Heather, I was finding it hard to settle into life in the Algarve.

Amy's parents with us at Ponte de Piedade, Portugal

One upside of being in one place for an extended period is that I’ve had time to get into a proper working routine. I’m now increasing my freelance workload and was finally able to tackle the re-design of this blog – a project we’ve been putting off for years. I’m hoping to finally get through my backlog of blog posts from 2018 over the coming months and we’re focusing on building up our savings after an expensive year of travel.

Stunning coastal scenery in Portugal's Algarve

2019 travel plans

As I mentioned in a previous post, I haven’t been my happiest living in Portugal, so it’s been great to take some time out over Christmas in the UK. We’ve been talking a lot about possible plans for the future and evaluating different places we could potentially live later this year once Andrew’s school contract finishes. All we know so far is that we’ll be in Portugal until the end of June.

beautiful weather on the beach in the Algarve, Portugal

I’m sure when the weather warms up again I’ll feel much better about living in the Algarve, we also have more visits from family and friends lined up. During Andrew’s Easter school holidays, we’re going to hit the road and head north to explore some of central and northern Portugal.

Porto, one of our favourite cities

Our big adventure for 2019 is a summer trip to South Africa. We really want to shake things up and start exploring different regions of the world, especially our least-visited continent: Africa. We’ve already put together a wishlist itinerary and are looking at booking flights later this month.

2018 travel round-up and plans for the new year

So, that’s it for now. Thanks to everyone who has followed our 2018 travel adventures, we’re looking forward to sharing more with you this year. What are your travel plans for 2019? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Patti
    Posted at 14:28h, 04 January Reply

    When you start exploring, make sure to visit Braga. In Braga don’t miss the Dom Luis Church (and the incredible stairs) and be sure to visit the cathedral to see the twin pipe organs. We’ve never seen anything like them. , Coimbra is very special as well (visit the historic library on the university campus). Guimaraes, Viana do Costello, and Averio, are all well-worth your time to visit.

    Happy New Year!

    • Amy
      Posted at 17:42h, 04 January Reply

      Thanks Patti and Happy New Year! We did briefly visit Braga but haven’t seen the church, so we’ll be back. Viana do Costello and Coimbra sound like good options too. We definitely want to explore the Douro Valley, as we didn’t see much during our month-long stint in Porto.

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 22:10h, 04 January Reply

    Amy, I enjoyed this look back into your 2018 travels. You really did pack in quite a lot😄 Africa sounds like a great option for 2019. I have never visited, so will be looking forward to your blog posts. I like your blog’s new look, it is very sleek. Brian and I have just acquired a motorhome and we are planning to tour Europe in 2019 ( Brexit permitting). We will get in touch if our travels take us past the Algarve, since we would love to see you both again😄

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:46h, 07 January Reply

      Thanks for reading and following our journey Gilda! The motorhome sounds like a great plan, it would be great to see you guys again here in the Algarve, keep me posted on your plans 🙂

  • Steven M Berger
    Posted at 22:47h, 11 January Reply

    Always fun following your adventures – especially since we visit many of the same places. We loved South Africa and I’m sure you will too. Renting a car and driving yourselves through Kruger is just incredible. You asked about 2019 so……
    Annie will be going with a friend to New Zealand/Tasmania (I need a break), then we’ll do our annual 6 week spring/summer vacation to the Florida panhandle Gulf Coast and return to Denver via the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, then it’s on to Ireland/Wales/Scotland/England and we’ll finish off the year with Antarctica/Patagonia/Paraguay. And maybe we can squeeze in visiting our children in San Francisco, Chicago and New York!
    Wishing you both a happy and healthy new year.

    • Amy
      Posted at 12:44h, 15 January Reply

      Hi Steve, thanks for your comment and Happy New Year! Your 2019 plans sound great, what an exciting itinerary. I’m particularly intrigued about the trip to Antarctica, Patagonia and Paraguay, it’s going to be an incredible year! Look forward to hearing more about it 🙂

  • safaritravelplus
    Posted at 13:50h, 20 January Reply

    Can’t wait to see the destinations you travel to in 2019 and hope you keep sharing.

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:27h, 20 January Reply

      Thanks – we’re super excited about South Africa 🙂

  • Wendy@ The Nomadic Vegan
    Posted at 18:31h, 09 February Reply

    Sorry to hear you’re having a hard time adjusting to life in Portugal! I love it here in Lisbon, but it’s true that it gets really cold inside the buildings in the winter. I feel the cold much more here than I did in Switzerland, where we lived before. Anyway, I should be around at Easter, either in Lisbon or in Porto, so feel free to get in touch if you’d like to meet up!

    • Amy
      Posted at 13:40h, 10 February Reply

      Hi Wendy,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Glad to hear that you’re loving Lisbon, I think I’d much prefer it there than the Algarve and I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling the cold! We will likely be in Porto for some time over easter or passing through Lisbon, it would be great to meet up! I will message you 🙂

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