Another year gone! Can you believe it?

As we’re about to enter not just a new year but a new decade, I decided once again to sit down and look upon this past year to see what I managed to accomplish.

Here then is a summary of what 2019 brought on both the travel and writing fronts, and some plans for the coming year.

Note: I do these retrospectives for myself as much as for readers, so feel free to jump ahead to whichever section you want:

The blog
Other freelance work
What’s ahead for 2020


I went on three different trips and visited four different countries this year (for a total of 11 weeks), even though only one can really be counted as new.

Mexico and Guatemala (January/February)

For six and a half week I managed to escape the Canadian winter by spreading my time almost equally between Mexico and Guatemala.

After a direct flight from Toronto to Mexico City, I boarded a bus (directly from the airport) to the city of Puebla where I spent a few days. Like every Mexican town, it was colourful, sunny, and boisterous, with the addition of pretty colonial architecture. I found many free things to do in Puebla and ate very well.

Zocalo of Puebla (things to do in Puebla)

Puebla, Mexico

Then I took one of Mexico’s luxury buses to Oaxaca, which has become my new home-away-from-home in the sun. This was my third visit. I rented an AirBnB apartment in the neighbourhood of Xochilco, reconnected with an American lady acquaintance I had met four years prior, and just became a snowbird for a few weeks!

In early February I flew to Guatemala to explore two places that had been on my list for a long time: Lake Atitlan and the colonial town of Antigua. I had been to the north of Guatemala (Tikal) back in 1996, but never to the South.

I had sticker shock in Antigua where I was surprised to find prices higher than in Mexico. Since Mexico is more developed than Guatemala, I expected the opposite. My guess is that most of Guatemala is indeed quite cheap; I had just picked two of the most popular and touristy places in the country!

On beautiful Lake Atitlan, I based myself in the main town of Panajachel. I was scheduled to meet up with a couple of my readers (who had settled there as expats), but because of circumstances beyond our control, these meetings didn’t happen. However, I did meet up with a fellow blogger and some of her readers.

Boat docks, San Marcos (visit Lake Atitlan)

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Jordan (May)

Jordan was a totally new country for me, even though it had been on my bucket list for many years. This trip got organized very quickly after my editor at Intrepid Travel (whose blog I had been contributing to for a couple of years) offered me a group tour in exchange for coverage on my blog and theirs. The tour was called Explore Jordan, and by the time it was confirmed in late March, I had less than six weeks to book flights, extra nights, etc.

But I got everything organized in time and even decided to add a few nights in Paris at the end of the trip to visit a friend. And then another surprise: a friend in Toronto decided that she wanted to join the tour as well!

I was curious to see how Jordan would compare with Egypt, which I had visited back in 1997. Although Egypt has amazing antiquities, the security situation was not great, and even worse, the day-to-day harassment a solo female had to endure was beyond anything I had ever encountered.

In that respect Jordan was a pleasant surprise. Even though most of my time there was spent with a group, I did have time on my own, and discovered that being a solo woman in Jordan did not attract negative attention. Everyone was really polite and respectful, and the country felt comfortable.

I visited Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea, Jerash, and Madaba, basically all the highlights, within one short week. Although I don’t often go on group tours, they have their advantages, and logistics is one of them.

"Melted candle" rock in Wadi Rum (places to visit in Jordan)

In Wadi Rum, Jordan

Madeira (November)

The island of Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, so in theory I can’t count it as a new country because I visited mainland Portugal back in 2011. However, since it’s a volcanic island, and located closer to Africa than Europe, it feels quite distinct.

I had planned to spend two weeks here, relaxing in the mild weather and hiking. (Madeira is one of Europe’s best winter destinations.) Once again at the last minute, a friend from Switzerland decided to join me!

I can’t help wondering what’s going on here… I remember when I started travelling solo, I was trying so hard to persuade my friends to come with me, and nobody seemed interested. So once I became comfortable on my own, I just stopped asking people to join me. Planning a trip actually became a lot simpler. Now with my blog and newsletter, friends become aware of my plans and decide to come along!

I must make clear that I had travelled with both of these people before though, and they are experienced travellers who can quickly make their own bookings and don’t mind being on their own some of the time. Here are some important things you should look at when you’re considering travelling with someone.

Due to this new development, the Madeira trip became something slightly different from what I had in mind, including a car rental (my friend drove), more meals at highly rated restaurants, and different hikes. I did recoup some of those higher costs due to the fact that my friend was sharing my apartment though.

Halfway down the trail to Curral das Freiras (hikes in Madeira)

Hiking in Madeira, Portugal

The blog

I feel like I’ve neglected the blog somewhat this year, publishing only a total of 13 articles. I did however update a few Oaxaca blog posts from previous years after my most recent visit. I was also planning to change the theme (appearance) of the blog to make it look more modern, but this never happened.

Part of the reason is my side job (aka “pay the bills” job), which has been using up time that I would normally dedicate to the site. Another part of the reason is that I have written a lot over the last 6+ years, and pretty much everything I had to say about travel in general, as well as specific stories and anecdotes, is already out there. Now I publish posts on the blog mostly after visiting new destinations, or if there is a specific travel-related topic I want to discuss.

If you’re curious, based on my Google stats, these were the three most read posts this year:

Most popular blog posts of 2019:

BigTravelNut readers meetup in Toronto

BigTravelNut readers meetup in Toronto

Although last year’s August gathering was supposed to be a one-time celebration of BigTravelNut’s fifth anniversary, I had another meetup for readers in Toronto in early September 2019. One of the previous attendees had suggested it and I thought: “Why not?”. To my great delight, both repeat and new participants joined in and we had another fun lunch at a local restaurant, where everybody hit it off immediately!

Other freelance writing

I’ve had a few breakthroughs this year when it comes to freelance writing.

First, I had a solo travel article published on the LonelyPlanet’s website, and two other articles on, which is owned by Lonely Planet. (They approached me first!)

Second, I entered a competition and my entry was selected as one of 35 travel stories that will appear in a book published by Exisle Publishing in the summer of 2020. This book will be distributed throughout the English-speaking world, so this feels like a big deal.

I was also interviewed by Lonely Planet and an Australian magazine called MoveOn (Issue #3) about my solo travels.

BigTravelNut interview in MoveOn magazine

My interview in Move On magazine

After all this, I finally felt like a real travel writer and decided to join NATJA, the North American Travel Journalists Association, at the end of October. 🙂

What’s ahead for 2020?

All I know for sure is that on January 9 I’ll be flying to Brazil (country #66) for three weeks, before spending a few more weeks in my old playground: Mexico.

When I get back, I hope to find the time to improve the blog, especially appearance-wise. It is starting to look a bit too “2013”. 🙂

If you like finding out what’s going on in my travel and writing life, follow me on Facebook and make sure you subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Besides fun and useful travel tidbits, I always make sure to update you on what the Big Travel Nut is up to!

Happy New Year everyone!

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