2019 Recap: the Beautiful, Bad & Bizarre

I am SO ready for the roaring 20’s.

The past year has been. Well. It has been. I learned a lot of things about myself. Some of them were unpleasant.

I learned that I like art museums but find most history museums boring.

I learned that as much empathy as I have for environmental and humane issues, that really wasn’t translating into action, and it made me feel guilty.

I learned that confidence can disappear on you any moment. 2019 was that moment for me.

I learned that I still tend to isolate myself into my own little shell, maybe now even more than ever. But as hard as it is for me to talk to others about my struggles, writing about them comes easy, and I’ve found solace sharing about some of the duller moments of my travels on this blog and on Instagram.

I also changed my hair three times this year which is like… three times more than on an average year. Make what you will of that in relation to my mental state. (I got bangs. BANGS.)

 

 

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Travel-wise, the year has been fan-fucking-tastic. I travelled in 14 countries (15, if you count Gibraltar as the UK), out of which eight were new. I also visited my 50th country. Not that the country count matters… but it’s still exciting!

In any other regard… Kerry on @kerrysomewhere posted on Instagram about New Year’s resolutions and said this year has feel like spinning wheels. It hit home. I feel like all year I’ve been speeding off somewhere but going nowhere. My career, love life, friendships, personal development, body, mind, creativity and financial situation could all be vastly improved. And I think in 2020 it’s time to pick myself up and get shit done.

 

Well, 2019 was’t a total waste of time. Here’s a quick recap of everything that went down this year.

 

 

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JANUARY

The Spanish have this funny New Year’s superstition – during the last 12 seconds of the year, they eat twelve grapes, one per each strike of the clock. It’s a televised event and everything. I managed to take down every last one of my grapes – which is supposed to bring good luck to the upcoming year. Hello, Spanish Lady Luck? Where you at?

In January, I was still working in the hostel in Granada and explored Andalucia: a weekend trip to Cordoba – whose mosque-cathedral amalgamation is one of the most bizarre and beautiful religious buildings I’ve seen – and did my first hike of the year walking from Beas de Granada back to town – fun fact, a part of that trail is actually a part of Camino Mozarabe, one of the Southern Caminos!

My favourite post: Hiking the Balkans: Via Dinarica, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Pt.1

 

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FEBRUARY

In February, I continued working in the hostel – and in a hostel staff meeting found out that my contract had been drafted for five months instead of six. In a rising panic / excitement to make corrective life plans, some of my Instagram captions from February read: “NEVER DO TRAVEL PLANNING AT NIGHT. STARTED MAKING LIFE/TRAVEL PLANS AND NOW ITS 3.30 AM AND I CANT SLEEP BC IM SO EXCITED” and “what if I just. like. went to georgia this summer.”

I mostly stayed put in February, exploring and photographing Granada.

My favourite post: Why Dating as a Travelling Girl Sucks

 

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MARCH

March started out GREAT – I visited the small city of Ronda on a weekend trip. Ronda was one of Hemingway’s favourite haunts in Spain and it has a very unique city structure, built on top of a cliff, the town split in two by a big gorge. It is absolutely gorgeous.

Other than that, I was getting everything out of my last month in Granada. After begrudgingly re-installing Tinder, I was dating a handsome but sadly boring Israeli, road tripping to hot springs with my Nordic friends and wandering all the streets in Granada I hadn’t seen before.

I also went on one last trip to Malaga to make a pilgrimage to the Finnish store in Fuengirola and do some hiking around the mountains north of Malaga.

Towards the end of the month, the following thought was registered on my Insta stories: “IM STARTING AN 800 KM HIKE IN 2 WEEKS AND I DON’T HAVE HIKING BOOTS.”

My favourite post: Hiking the Balkans: Via Dinarica, Montenegro

 

 

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APRIL

In April, I finally left my dear Granada. Major sniffles. I was not quite ready to leave behind Andalucia, though – so I spent another week on the Mediterranean coast trying get back to real backpacker life. A few days in Tarifa which is so pretty – and after you’ve seen all of its two streets, it’s pretty boring. It did allow me to take a day trip to the wonderfully weird Gibraltar, though.

I also visited “Spain’s oldest city” Cadiz which I hear is a very hit or miss for people. My bus from Tarifa had a horribly drunk Finnish man talking loudly about beating up his baby mama’s new boyfriend to his Polish buddy so that was setting the tone. Cadiz was windy and cold and I didn’t really get it. BUT I got to fulfil a childhood dream and see Andalucian horses dancing in a show!

Madrid was DOPE though. I didn’t do anything. I went out and hung out with the cool people at the hostel.

Aaand. Then the big thing. CAMINO DE SANTIAGO. I started mid-April from San Sebastian. Three days into the walk, my stories announced: ‘hills are alive with the sound of my screaming bc my soles hurt very much.

 

 

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MAY

Almost the whole of May was spent walking. SO MUCH WALKING. My new Solomon boots turned out to be worth the 150-something euros I dropped on them because I was blissfully saved from blisters but man. Your soles. Hurt SO MUCH.

(Best Insta story thought from the camino: “u would not believe the amount of people ive heard call albergue “Albuquerque”.“)

I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on May 20 – and immediately kept on walking till Finisterra, the end of the world and the final end of the Camino, where I arrived three days later.

I came back to Santiago for a few days rest under the guise of writing blog content and stories but instead spent three days watching movies and eating cheese.

From there, I took a bus to Bordeaux, France, from where I started a three-week tour of Europe. On the last days of May, I was couchsurfing with a guy in Lyon in a fancy top-floor apartment with two fluffy cats.

 

 

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JUNE

Thought of the month by my Insta stories: “can yall pls stop saying that you love to travel and meet new people? youre on couchsurfing, LITERALLY EVERYONE DOES”.

My trip continued through Switzerland – I was sick for half of it and lonely as hell for the other half -, Liechtenstein – my new favourite child -, Luxembourg, Germany, finally arriving in Prague, where I couchsurfed for a few days and avoided the crowded city centre before boarding my first flight of the year: TO TBILISI, GEORGIA.

Tbilisi gave me tingles from the first moments. For the first time since Granada, I felt excited to be somewhere. I blu-tacked postcards on the wall of the Airbnb I had all to myself, I played board games and trivia quizzes with other digital nomads and just… lived a life.

During days, I sat in coffee shops with iced coffees and wrote blog posts and translated; at nights, I sampled craft beers and Georgian wine, getting drunk on the beauty of the city more than on the alcohol.

My favourite post: Who to Follow on Instagram If You’re Not Following Any Travel Accounts

 

 

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JULY

In July, I went to the mountains in Kasbegi, paddled one of those ridiculous rickshaw cars in the seaside town of Batumi, explored Tbilisi and, as my best friend in the city moved on, left on a little soul-searching / hiking trip to the Svaneti region. Before that, I checked out the city of Kutaisi which is one of the worst, most boring towns I’ve been to – but at least the hostel had a super cute kitty. I wrote on Instagram: “Kutaisi is kinda meh and I miss Tbilisi.’

My favourite post: What the Heck is a Liechtenstein?

 

 

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AUGUST

What started out as “a few weeks in Georgia on my way to Iran” turned into nine weeks before I noticed.

I spent the first week of August on the mountains in Mestia and came back to Tbilisi for two more. But somehow everything was different but still the same. Suddenly my workflow had shrunk, and I spent days just shut in my apartment, leaving just to go buy groceries and go to yoga twice a week. It was time to finally leave Georgia.

Before that, though, I checked out Telavi and Signagi in the Georgian wine region Kakheti, and hiked for a few days in Tusheti, Georgia’s most remote area.

So at the end of August, I finally crossed the border to Azerbaijan. I played Jenga and drank bad beers in Sheki and tried to find the magic of Baku, kind of failing at it, though: I had one of the worst cheesecakes of my life and a creepy man tried to hit on me by, after talking failed, whistling the entirety of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On to me.

I both re-downloaded and deleted both Tinder and Bumble in August. Might’ve wanted to keep them. A waiter in a Baku restaurant brought me candles and noted: ‘alone but still romantic.’ THANKS MATE.

My favourite post: The Dubious Ethics of Travelling Cheap: Is Budget Travel Selfish?

 

 

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SEPTEMBER

September started out in Baku. I got my Iranian visa (!!) from the embassy, then spent a few more days in Lahic on the Azeri mountains before finally heading to a country I’d dreamed of visiting for YEARS: Iran.

‘SOME IDIOT TRIED TO SCAM ME RIGHT AT THE BORDER AS IF WOMEN CANT DO MATHS’, declared my first story from this wonderfully bizarre country. From seeing the religious Ashura ceremonies in Yazd to camping out under the full moon in the UNESCO listed Kalut desert, the trip had many memorable moments. I had kinda expected Iran to become one of my favourite countries, and while it might not have lived up completely to my (ridiculously high) expectations, I loved the trip and would love to visit Iran again some time in the future.

My favourite post: Let’s Be Honest, I Only Went to Luxembourg to Tick It “Off the List”

 

 

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OCTOBER

October!! The spooky month!!

I was so out of the loop that spooks were pretty far away, though. I don’t think I even watched one horror movie in the month of October?? The scariest thing was probably going from hot ass Iran to the freezing autumnal Caucasus. I did spend my birthday (3rd of October) in great company with some Nordic embassy interns in Tehran and had probably the best meal of my trip in Iran!

From there, I wrapped up Iran with a few days of couchsurfing in Tabriz before crossing over to beautiful, beautiful Armenia. It felt good to get back on my hiking feet (although my poor hiking boots are starting to disintegrate) and spent half of my time in Armenia hiking: in Stepanakert, Yeghenadzor, and finally in Dilijan. I also visited the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh that’s causing serious catfights between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The highlight of October might’ve, strangely, been the day I hitchhiked back to Tbilisi. As soon as I crossed the border, a strange kind of happiness hit me. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed Georgia, and never realised either how intensely I loved it.

And to end the hectic as hell October, at the end of it I flew into Israel where I started working as a volunteer in a Jerusalem hostel.

My favourite post: At 26

 

 

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NOVEMBER

I spent the whole November in Israel, dipping into the Palestinian territories for one day trip in Betlehem. I hiked in the Golan Heights, biked to Ein Kerem and floated in the Dead Sea.

I didn’t do much translation work and I didn’t do as much sightseeing as I imagined I would – instead, I was focused on being social. The new group of volunteers that had arrived a little after me turned out to be a bunch of beautiful, lovely, diverse people, and we had long conversations about love, religion and politics – and nonsensical ones, too, often in our dorm in the middle of the night. An Insta story remarks: “a hostel guest just called me spongebob and like. is that a good thing.”

I knew I should start planning for next year. It was coming on fast but I was surprisingly hesitant to launch myself into some new adventure. But being surrounded by the people at my hostel… I was starting to get an idea that I didn’t want to plan alone.

My favourite post: Steam and Sulphur in Tbilisi on The Strangest First Date I Ever Had

 

 

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DECEMBER

At the end of the first week of December, I said bye to my new hostel friends and headed north to the coast to see Haifa, Acre, and a long lost friend. After that, I spent a few days in the West Bank, travelling in Ramallah, Jericho and Nablus in the Palestinian territories.

And then it was time to cross the border – into Egypt, my 50th country! Not that I’m counting but, you know, it’s cool. I climbed Mount Sinai with a friend I’d only ever met on Instagram before, and then I spent a few short days in Cairo checking out the pyramids and getting frustrated at all the people trying to sell me camels or take selfies with me.

But the least exciting travel twist – or, the most exciting if you’re me – came when I flew back to Finland for Christmas. It might not seem like such a big deal but I hadn’t been back in 15 months, the longest I was ever away from my home country. And you know what? I missed Finnish bread.

My favourite post: A Song for the Desert: Notes from Iran

 

That was 2019. Busy, messy, all over the place, full of new friendships and old ghosts. It was exhausting; it was brilliant.

 

 

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A few of my favourite things from this year…

FAVOURITE COUNTRY.

Hands down, my favourite new place I visited this year was Georgia. I came to Tbilisi “for a month” as a stopover before Iran and ended up spending close to ten weeks in the country over the summer and autumn.  Tbilisi stole my heart, and even though I did have some bad times there (just wait for my worst of 2019 post later this week…) the good ones made up for them thousand-fold. If you give me a good enough reason to go back, I’ll book a flight tonight. Go on, I dare you.

 

FAVOURITE EXPERIENCE.

Fording an icy glacial river during a hike in Mestia, Georgia. All of Georgia, to be honest.

Sleeping on the roof of a Jeep under the clearly visible Milky Way in the Maranjabi desert, Iran.

Making friends with all the other volunteers at the hostel in Jerusalem, Israel.

 

FAVOURITE APP.

I wanna shout out Scribd that has been single-handedly saving my travel library for the last months of 2019! This is not sponsored. Wish it was but it’s like 9 bucks a month, cheaper than Spotify, and I have like 12 followers.

Scribd is like Netflix for books, you can read as much as you want/can in a month. They have normal e-books but also audiobooks, plus you can get a combined membership for the New York Times. I first discovered Scribd in early October, found a ton of books that had been sitting on my wanna-read list for ages, and went through like four books in two weeks.

 

FAVOURITE PODCASTS.

I’ve also been binging super hard on podcasts! My favourites continue to be Morbid (true crime) and Shameless (pop culture), but other top ones this year have been My Dad Wrote a Porno (comedy), Uutisraportti (Finnish news podcast), And That’s Why We Drink (ghosts and true crime), and Nomad + Spice (digital nomadism.)

 

 

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So 2020, what’ve you got for me?

Can I just start by saying that IT’S THE TWENTIES NOW. BRING THE TWENTIES BACK. The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books and if we’re not living this decade as decadently as possible, I don’t want to hear it.

 

Travels, trips, traipsing

I wrote a whole thing here a few months ago about going to Brazil and Colombia. I was planning for them for a long time before I realised that I was just not interested in it at all.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still very much hoping to get back to South America. Maybe even next year. But this year has been exhausting and quick and lonely, and I started to realised towards the end of it that I couldn’t go to yet another new place and start from scratch again. I was craving some sort of stability and a community. As my third full year outside of Finland starts, I’m determined to stay more and travel less – in short, focus more on the “digital” part of digital nomad than the “nomad” part.

So something is happening that I never thought would happen: I’m going to Bali in February.

(In January, I’m spending  a few weeks in my favourite city Tallinn and going on a Lapland trip with my best friend. My toes are already freezing at the thought of that.)

I was never super into going to Bali – it was a cliché, everyone went there, it was in South East Asia that I had kinda bad memories about. But when the chance to go there with a couple of friends presented itself, the thought of having that community around me – all those people living the same lifestyle as me – really excited me. And guys, I’m kinda stoked about this.

I’m planning to stay for three months. Because the Indonesian visa is a little tricky, I might need to fly out at some point and I’m thinking of visiting Singapore.

And then…

AUSTRALIA!!

Australia was my first long trip, my first backpacking destination, my first taste of real travel. I fell in love with it hard but thought I wouldn’t get to visit for a long time since it’s so far. Well, Bali’s only about a 100 euros away from my favourite continent, so in May I’ll fly down to say hi to all my friends down under.

After that, who knows. It’s a bit of a miracle I even have a plan for the next five-ish months, tbh. Maybe I’ll go to Thailand and hang out at more digital nomad hotspots. Maybe I’ll finally get back to South America. Maybe I’ll go somewhere in Europe.

Whatever happens, I know now that I want to travel where my community is.

 

 

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And wayfarover?

In 2020, wayfarover will be five years old. My baby! Even though no one is still reading the blog, I’m getting more and more enjoyment out of writing it as ever before. I will likely continue to do one or two posts per week plus keep updating Instagram and my Facebook page.

I also want to introduce something new…

OFFROAD FICTION.

I started my writing career with fiction. Well, if you can call my copycat Nancy Drew imaginations as writing – c’mon, I was like 8. Or if you can call my writing a career in any sense. Moving on.

Anyway, I got the idea a few months ago. I’ve been wanting to get back to writing fiction and especially short stories, and I found that – because at heart, every writer is an exhibitionist – it would be a great motivation to be able to actually push some of that stuff into the world, too.

So, in 2020, I will start publishing occasional fictional short stories on the blog. You’ll find these stories titled “Offroad Fiction”. You might find my writing a little morbid, kinda melodramatic, but hopefully entertaining.

 

 

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OTHER FUN EXTRAS

I thought it’s probably FINALLY time to set up a newsletter. So I’ll start doing that. You can sign up using the little NEWSLETTER box on the sidebar. Don’t worry, it’s not gonna get spammy – I’ll only do it once every two months to start with and then maybe once a month if it takes off.

I’ll include a list of last month’s blog posts – or at least the highlights – in case you missed any, a short what-where-when about my upcoming month’s travel& life plans as well as a short column about whatever thoughts I didn’t use up for an Instagram caption that month. So even if you’re not a huge fan of the blogging format and just wanna keep up with me, signing up for the newsletter is a great way to do that!

And just to remind you that even if you don’t want a newsletter, you can still sign up to get new blog posts sent to your email every time something is published. Just sign up on the side bar!

 

Phew. This post might’ve got out of hand (once again). What about you? What are your plans for the next year? Are you making resolutions? Are you planning any travels or big life changes? I’d love to know!

Merry (late) Christmas and a happy New Year!

 

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