Another year gone. I don’t know about you, but now that I’m in my 50s, entire years seem to disappear in the blink of an eye. In this retrospective 2018, I look back at what I managed to accomplish this year in terms of travels, the blog, and other work.

(Note: I write these yearly retrospectives as much for myself as for anybody else. So if you don’t really care but are curious to see which of my 2018 posts have been most popular, jump right ahead.

TRAVELS

This year I visited four new countries, and re-visited one. I also went to Montreal a couple of times to see family and friends. Interestingly, all of my foreign travels occurred within the first 5 months of the year.

Taiwan (January)

I started 2018 with a much anticipated trip to Taiwan. After attending a couple of events by the Taiwan Tourism Board promoting their destination, I was quite curious about it. It also looked like a good place to spend a winter month (not too cold and not too hot). I even persuaded my long-time friend to accompany me for three weeks.

The trip was mostly good and definitely interesting. The locals were friendly, the food great, and the weather mostly cooperated. I liked almost everything about Taiwan, despite the difficulty in communicating. In three weeks, we made our way around the whole island. If I go back one day, I’ll aim for spring or fall though, so I can visit the mountains in the interior, which would have been rather chilly in winter.

Longshan Temple, Shueishe, Taiwan (things I love about Taiwan)

Longshan Temple, Shueishe, Taiwan

Europe (April/May)

I had been back from Taiwan for barely a week, when I decided to take a look at TrustedHousesitters to see what their European offerings were like. I was trying to decide if I should also sign up with European house-sitting site Nomador. Well, not only did TrustedHousesitters seem to have a decent amount of listings in Europe, but I found one that was impossible to resist: one week in the Puglia region of Italy.

I applied, thinking that I probably wouldn’t get it. Italy is the most popular tourist destination in the world after all. But I did get it! There was no way I could back down and not regret it. I had just committed myself to a spring trip to Italy!

Puglia, in the southeast of Italy, had been on my list for a long time, but so had a few Balkan countries just across the Adriatic sea: Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and even Serbia. In no time at all, I was looking at a 5-week itinerary across four countries. And I had to really restrain myself not to make it longer. (What’s just east of Serbia? Romania! Another country I long to visit.)

Three weeks in Italy − la dolce vita

This was my fourth visit to Italy, and by far the longest, with a total of three weeks. Since I was landing in Rome, I spent a few days re-visiting this amazing city that I hadn’t seen since 1992.

I then took the train to the Adriatic coast where I had a great house and cat-sit in the small town of Manfredonia, Puglia. Manfredonia is a resort town that attracts lots of Italian tourists during weekends and holidays, but almost no one else. As a result, nobody speaks English, which proved to be a bit of a challenge, but mostly a fun one. It was a relaxing week of working on the balcony right across from the sea, and taking care of an easy-going cat.

Trulli houses in Alberobello, Italy

Trulli houses in Alberobello, Italy

After that, I visited several towns in quick succession: Matera (a unique ancient cave city) Lecce, and Martina Franca, with day trips to Alberobello and Locorotondo.

Montenegro, a stunning beauty

After crossing the Adriatic on a night ferry between Bari and Dubrovnik, I made my way to Kotor in Montenegro where I based myself in a comfy apartment for six days. The landscape of looming mountains was surreal, and the seafood fresh and affordable.

I took a couple of day trips to the nearby towns of Budva and Perast, two pretty but very different places.

Hiking up to Kotor's fortress (retrospective 2018)

Hiking up Kotor’s walls

Bosnia and Herzegovina − where East meets West

A 5-hour bus trip (and a border crossing) took me to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country that made the biggest impression on me during this trip. The contrast between the physical beauty of the country and friendliness of the people, against the horrible history of the recent civil war, was jarring to say the least. It was also a very affordable place to visit with cute accommodation and huge meaty food servings.

I spent three days each in Mostar and Sarajevo, the two highlights of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the preponderance of mosques is rather unusual for Europe.

View of the Old Bridge (Mo star) from another bridge (solo woman in Bosnia)

View of the Old Bridge in Mostar 

Serbia, just a quick look

I hadn’t planned on going to Serbia at first, but flying back to Rome from Belgrade was the best and cheapest option, so I took another bus ride from Sarajevo and crossed yet another border.

After learning about the war on the Bosnian side, I have to admit that I was a little wary of Serbia. But as it turns out, the people were just as friendly on this side, where the Christian Orthodox religion dominates, rather than Islam. And the meaty food servings were almost as big. I spent only one full day in Belgrade but managed to hit the main sights, helped along by a free guided tour.

Saint Sava Church, Belgrade (one day in Belgrade)

Saint Sava Church, Belgrade

THE BLOG

BigTravelNut turned five years old in August and I organized a little event here in Toronto to celebrate on August 18. A group of eight readers (some of whom were friends but some I had never met before) gathered downtown on a hot and sunny Saturday to tour Old Town (with me as a guide) then have a leisurely lunch on a patio.

As it happened, we were all women, even though BigTravelNut is dedicated to all mature solo travellers. The way these readers connected with each other from the get-go was nothing short of amazing. Mission accomplished!

In August I also started accepting guest posts, and over the fall season published several interesting pieces by other travel nuts about places such as Guatemala, Australia, and Prague. I will continue opening up the blog to other writers with information or stories to share, in the coming year. (Hit me up with your ideas!)

About to embark on a walking tour of Old Town Toronto (Big Travel Nut turns 5)

About to embark on a walking tour of Old Town Toronto

Of course maintaining a blog is a lot of work and it’s not free. One way many bloggers make a little money is with affiliate companies that pay you a small commission when people reach their site through one of your links and make a purchase. (You can think of it as a referral.)

This year I signed up with both Intrepid (a well known small-group tour company) and TourRadar (a platform that lets you compare and book tours with a large variety of operators). The links above are affiliate links by the way. If you ever book group tours, please bookmark those links and use them next time you make a booking. This is one great way to help BigTravelNut without spending an extra dime! (BTW, TourRadar Boxing Week Sale is going on until January 2.)

Most popular posts from 2018

Here are the posts I wrote in 2018 that garnered the most attention:

Clearly, Taiwan is attracting a lot of interest these days.

And here are two of my most popular posts of all times, even though there were not written this year:

Green spaces, Place Ville-Marie, Montreal (to do in Montreal this summer)

My “one day in Montreal” post has been by far my most read this year! 

OTHER WORK

On the freelance writing side, I continued writing for Intrepid Travel and Peregrine this year, and even got a piece published in British Airways “The Club” magazine. (My portfolio is here if you’re curious.)

I also had two 2-week long cat-sitting assignments here in Toronto that provided some non-negligible cash. In mid-November, I started a new part-time job which I can do remotely. I’m editor for an online catalogue of audio-visual products – nothing to do with travel but it pays the bills.

Coming up for 2019 …

So, what are the plans for the new year?

I’m leaving on January 11 for a 6.5-week trip to Mexico and Guatemala. Places visited will include Puebla, Oaxaca, and San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico, as well as Panajachel and Antigua in Guatemala. I wrote quite a bit about Oaxaca when I was there in 2015, but all the other places will be new to me. Keep your eyes on the blog this winter if you have any interest in these countries, or my adventures. 🙂

Nothing else has been planned on the travel front yet. I want to leave the year open to surprises and opportunities!

Olympus E-M10 III camera (retrospective 2018)

Blogwise, 2019 will see a new look for BigTravelNut. I was planning to do this last week but for various reasons, it didn’t come to pass.

While I won’t be writing every week, I will aim to create rich posts with lots of tips and information, to continue helping solo travellers 40+ travel healthy and happy throughout 2019 and beyond.

And with my new mirrorless camera (a Christmas gift to myself), I’ll be able to create 4K videos, for those who like to watch travel videos in ultra high definition!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this retrospective of 2018. One of my favourite things about travel blogging is receiving emails from people who tell me that I’ve helped them or inspired them in some way. And I love meeting readers in person. So if you live in Toronto or you think our paths are going to cross in 2019, give me a shout!

Happy New Year!

(Note: This post contains affiliate links.)


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