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Highlights, Lowlights, and Lessons: 2017 in Review

Dec 23

Lake Ohrid Macedonia
*I’d like to preface this post by saying I feel a bit silly musing about the ‘problems’ and ‘challenges’ I faced this year given the state of the world in 2017. Here’s hoping 2018 is better in every way many ways.

2017 has been a strange year for me. It’s been good, it’s been bad, and it’s been a bit of a shitshow.

On a personal level, it was a year of monumental highs and crushing lows. A year of heartbreak and unbridled joy. A year of lessons – lessons in gratitude, acceptance, strength, and perseverance. It was a year that tested me; a turn of events unfolded that I’m still grappling with.

In terms of travel, it was fantastic. I visited eight new countries, I finally made it to the Balkans – a region that quickly became one of my favourite places in the world – and I had one of the best solo trips I’ve taken to date.

Here are my highlights, lowlights, and lessons from 2017:

Amsterdam

Highlights:

Kicking the year off in Amsterdam. New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam was hilarious and ridiculous. I spent a good part of the night in a takeaway pizza place, I got lost for what felt like hours (while trying not to get blown up by people setting off fireworks EVERYWHERE in the streets), and I passed out before the clock struck midnight. On the plus side, I woke up on January 1st feeling like a million bucks. New Year’s Day without a hangover is pretty fantastic.

Eating my way around Manchester. Manchester reminds me of cities like Glasgow and Toronto – they may not be the prettiest cities, but they’re cultural hotspots with thriving art and music scenes, and incredible food. I only spent a few days here, but I ate really well. My favourites? Mezze from The Ottomen and pizza from Rudy’s – which was, quite possibly, one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten.

Pizza Manchester Rudy's

A weekend in the Scottish countryside. To celebrate my friend’s 30th birthday, a group of us rented a gorgeous house near Loch Lomond. Copious amounts of food and drink, hot tub shenanigans, and an amazing bunch of people in a beautiful setting – it was a fantastic weekend.

A food tour in Istanbul. This food tour with Culinary Backstreets was one of my favourite experiences of 2017. It gave me an intimate insight into Turkish cuisine and culture, and our passionate and enthusiastic tour guide made the entire experience unforgettable. Oh, and the food was phenomenal. Rich, buttery clotted cream doused with sweet honey. Homemade Turkish dumplings topped with garlicky yogurt and smoky tomato butterΒ sauce. Flaky borek filled with tangy melted cheese. I need to write a separate post about it because there was just so. much. food.

Read more: Why I Travel to “Dangerous” Destinations

Istanbul Food Tour Culinary Backstreets

Travelling around the Balkans. If I had to choose just one highlight from this year, it would definitely be visiting the Balkans. I can’t describe my time there without using an obnoxious amount of superlatives – it really was that good. The people are lovely, the food is so, so delicious, and the entire region is absolutely stunning. I spent every bus ride (and there were many) with my face pressed up against the window, mouth agape. After travelling around the region for five weeks, I left feeling humbled, awed, and inspired.

Gelato bingeing in Italy. One of the main reasons I was so excited to finally visit Italy? Gelato. I ended up eating around four scoops per day over the course of nine days, and I had gelato for breakfast more often than I’d care to admit. Italian gelato is life-changing.

Read more: My Best Meals: Gelato Edition

Summer in Canada. Although I wasn’t ready to leave Edinburgh (see lowlights), coming back home during the summer made the transition a bit easier. It was a summer filled with reunions and weddings, trips to friends’ cottages and sunsets at the beach. After two years in Scotland, I was so happy to experience proper summer weather again, and to be able to wear shorts outside.

Ciampini Rome Gelato

Lowlights:

Being deported Leaving Edinburgh. I feel like I’ve talked about leaving Edinburgh ad nauseam in real life and on this blog, so I won’t repeat myself here. In a nutshell, leaving Edinburgh was hard, and I still miss that city every day. Also, UK immigration can suck it. (If any immigration officers happen to read this, I kid! Please let me back into your country.)

Read more: When Everything Comes Together, Then Falls Apart: Why I’m Leaving Edinburgh

Starting back at square one.Β After building a life I loved in Edinburgh, having to come back to my hometown, to my old life, was tough. I felt like I was starting from scratch in every way. The stress of job hunting, travelling to and from Toronto for interviews (have I mentioned how horrendous public transportation is in Canada?), and trying to figure out what I was doing with my life made me feel like I was losing my mind at times.

Read More: On Leaving Edinburgh and Life Lately

Edinburgh Victoria Street from Above

Lessons:

The “where” of happiness is real. While I believe your mindset can help you achieve happiness anywhere, I’ve come to realize I need a specific type of environment in order to thrive.

Part of me thought I was so happy in Edinburgh because everything was new and exciting and I was just looking at my expat life through rose-coloured glasses. In reality, I think my happiness was largely a result of my environment.

In a recent Reddit AMA, Tim Ferriss wrote, “Sometimes you need to think about the ‘where’ of happiness and change your scenery to prompt new chapters in your life.” It resonated with me so deeply, and it prompted me to think long and hard about what truly makes me happy.

Kotor Montenegro 2

Gratitude. Looking back through photos from this year has filled me with immense gratitude. Despite the difficulties, 2017 has been peppered with so many memorable and wonderful moments. The latter half of this year has been especially difficult, but it helped me tap into an inner strength I didn’t realize existed. It taught me to see the opportunities among the obstacles, and it gifted me with a greater appreciation for the incredible people in my life. For that, I am grateful.

Uncertainty isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This year forced me to rethink many things: my career, my goals, my entire life. After months spent feeling completely lost and futilely following the path I thought I was meant to take, I decided to step back and change course. And that’s where I am now: still in a phase of transition and uncertainty, but feeling a little more confident with the path I’m on. Slowly, I’m learning to let go of the need to know what’s next; I’m beginning to embrace the unknown and the possibilities that come with it. If the uncertainty starts to feel a bit overwhelming again, I remind myself of this quote:

“I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be, to inspire me and not terrify me.” – Tracee Ellis Ross

How has 2017 been for you? What were your biggest highlights or lessons?

11 Comments

  • Reply LC Dec 25 at 10:35 pm

    What a year you’ve had! I hope 2018 is a little calmer for you (but still filled with adventure). And I hear you re public transport – my one big goal for next year is to own a set of wheels again, for sanity’s sake more than anything!

    • Reply ashleywanders Dec 28 at 8:16 pm

      Thanks, LC! A calm yet adventurous 2018 sounds pretty fantastic. I’m impressed you’ve managed without a car this long in Oz! I miss living in a country that has reliable and sensible public transportation.

  • Reply Zhanna Dec 28 at 4:36 pm

    So many places, so many things in just one year. What a year, indeed!
    Zhanna recently posted…Traditional Vegan New Year Food around the WorldMy Profile

    • Reply ashleywanders Dec 28 at 8:19 pm

      It’s been an interesting year for sure!

  • Reply Tempesst Jan 01 at 10:04 pm

    I definitely can relate to the hardships of coming back to your home country. I was never an expat, but I spent much of 2015 and 2016 on the road. In August 2017, I started a one year graduate program which was challenging because of its intensity and the fact that I’m “forced” to be stationary for a year. I’m planning a big trip after I graduate, though, which has been helpful! It’s also hard not being surrounded by other travelers because I often feel misunderstood by those who chose a more “traditional” life path. Hopefully 2018 will be less stressful for you but filled with lots of adventure!
    Tempesst recently posted…Mexico City via iPhone PhotosMy Profile

    • Reply ashleywanders Jan 04 at 10:15 pm

      Thanks so much, Tempesst! And I’m so glad to hear you can relate! I love connecting with like-minded people through this blog because I’m also usually surrounded by people who don’t understand my travel obsession and life choices – I know how tough that can be. Enjoy your big trip, and wishing you an adventure-filled 2018 as well!

    • Reply Rachel Jan 10 at 4:34 pm

      Let me get in on that post-graduation trip!

  • Reply Rachel Jan 10 at 4:34 pm

    Good luck with the job-hunting, travel-planning, and adjusting back to life in Canada – IF that’s the plan! I went home for a little over 2 months and enjoyed it way more than I thought I would. But I’m still pushing to make this life on the road happen. I do still worry about how many times they’ll let me come back to England before immigration starts asking questions though…
    Rachel recently posted…My 2017 Travel Recap – Month by MonthMy Profile

    • Reply ashleywanders Jan 12 at 11:30 pm

      Thanks, Rachel! Not quite sure that’s the plan anymore πŸ˜‰ Best of luck with your pursuit of the location independent lifestyle! Haha I totally hear you on the UK immigration front – I’ll be in the same boat this year.

  • Reply Paul Mar 07 at 10:14 pm

    Great post! I’m also in the GTA, so I feel your pain about the public transport. πŸ™‚ Your comment about the ‘where’ of happiness is something that I agree with – I definitely feel a different energy / contentment depending on where I am. I’ve had others challenge me on this – saying happiness is just about your mindset, as you wrote above – but in my experience certain places speak to you and bring out your best. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you have a great year of travel to come!

    • Reply ashleywanders Mar 09 at 6:28 pm

      Thanks, Paul! πŸ™‚ I’m happy to hear you agree with the ‘where’ of happiness theory. I think mindset has a lot to do with it, but I’ve noticed that certain places can be transformative and, as you said, bring out your best self! Wishing you a fantastic year of travel as well!

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