21/02/2024

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My Travels in Review – Never Ending Footsteps

21 min read
My Travels in Review – Never Ending Footsteps

2023 was another fantastic year of travel for me.

This year, I stepped foot in ten countries; seven of which were brand new to me. I finally visited my sixth continent — South America — and immediately wondered what had taken me so long. (It took 12 years of near-continuous travel for me to get there!) I always assumed I wouldn’t be much of a Latin America girlie, to be honest, opting to maximise my time spent in Asia instead. How wrong I was! I adored everywhere I visited and can’t wait to return next year.

The seven new countries I hit up in 2023 were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ireland, Mauritius, Paraguay, and Uruguay — of these, I think Mauritius was my favourite, but Argentina comes in at a very close second. I also returned to South Korea for the first time since 2011 and spent two weeks travelling all over the country — it was such a delight to revisit now that I’m older and more travel-wise.

I had so much fun eating and palace-hopping around Seoul

Before I dive into that, though, I feel like I have to first acknowledge the elephant in the room.

I haven’t published a personal update on Never Ending Footsteps since March 2022! And as somebody who shared an in-depth missive on her travels every month since July 2011, I imagine the absence has been noticed.

So, what happened?

Back in early-2022, I set off on a month-long trip to Cambodia, fell extremely unwell, and promptly quit the internet. Or, at least, that was how it seemed.

In reality, I had been feeling dissatisfied by sharing my personal life online for a couple of years at that stage.

During the pandemic, I began receiving regular criticism and judgement from stressed readers. The world became nastier and angrier in 2020 and it was reflected in the emails and comments I received. I lost long-time readers who didn’t agree with decisions I made. I felt sick every time I got a notification on my phone. I get it: we were all struggling back then.

But having people tear me apart on a near-daily basis for sharing my life with the world wasn’t something I signed up for.

So when I fell unwell and knew I needed to work on my physical health, running this site felt like the biggest barrier to my happiness. I was stressed and my body wasn’t healing. So, I took a deep breath and decided to burn it all down.

At first, I thought I was taking a break for a month or two, but the privacy was addictive. And it allowed me to finally start working on publishing useful resources for the places I’d visited. People could actually plan a trip using my website instead of only finding stories of me getting scammed, falling over, and almost dying.

My health improved, my income grew, and life was better. I was proud of Never Ending Footsteps; my baby grew up, in a way, and transformed into a helpful place that offered advice and in-depth guides. I still travelled and I still wrote about it, I just didn’t do so publicly.

So why am I back?

I missed parts of my old life. I’ve been having so many incredible travel adventures this year that it’s left me longing to share them with you guys. I’ve been publishing some of my best writing, too, but never shared it publicly, so I feel an urge to start revealing what I’ve been working on.

And it starts today. Today, I’m excited to share everything I got up to in 2023.

Clockwise from top-left: beautiful views from the You Yangs; a first attempt at a vegetable garden; hunting down the best parks for a picnic in Melbourne; a lovely sunset after drinks with friends in the CBD

January: Setting Up a Home and Hiking All Over

I rang in the New Year in Melbourne.

At home.

I live in Australia now.

I spent much of the pandemic using my forced-stillness to invest in my future, applying for permanent residency in both New Zealand and Australia. It’s a true joy to know that I’ll have the ability to live in either country for the rest of my life: how lucky am I?

My next goal is to apply for an Australian passport. It’s complicated but basically, in Australia, permanent residency has to be renewed every five years. Without a lot of certainty around my future plans, it makes sense to lock down those valuable residency rights and get a passport: then permanent will actually mean for life!

The main downside of this is that in order to apply for a passport, I have to have spent nine months of every year in Australia until 2026. As somebody who travelled full-time for the better part of a decade, these rules feel rather restrictive!

I’m viewing it as a blessing rather than a curse, however, as it simply gives me the opportunity to explore the enormous country that is Australia in tons of depth. I don’t need to travel internationally to feel fulfilled; this county has heaps to offer to travellers!

But I say all that as a bit of an explanation as to why I’ve spent a lot of time in Australia this year and why some of my overseas trips will seem inordinately fast-paced.

We moved into our house in Melbourne in September 2022, so by the time January came around, we were still setting up our home. This month, we did all kinds of exciting-for-us-but-not-for-you-things, like buying a car, starting a vegetable garden, setting up our rooftop terrace to have a perfect BBQ set-up, and building our ultimate home gym.

We also started exploring our new home state of Victoria. My biggest highlight was a day spent hiking in the You Yangs; a wonderful little park that’s located just outside of Melbourne. I felt like I was fully in the countryside while I was there!

Clockwise from top-left: the pristine turquoise waters of Sorrento; strolling along Millionaire’s Walk (named for its expensive houses and million dollar views); exploring the hipster Brunswick neighbourhood; summer views on the Yarra River

February: More Victorian Adventures

We moved to Melbourne to be closer to family, so we knew we needed to make the most of our shared location. This month, we decided to have a family getaway to the Mornington Peninsula, to the township of Sorrento (so not the one in Italy!), located 90 minutes south of Melbourne.

We rented ourselves a big, beachy villa and spent a week soaking up the sunshine. We went on coastal hikes, devoured plenty of real fruit ice cream, had water fights in the garden, and hit up the beach on a regular basis. It was the perfect way to spend a sunny few days in February.

In fact, the only lowlight of the month was catching COVID for a second time! (I caught it for the first time in Da Nang, Vietnam in 2022.) I was 99% asymptomatic this time around and would absolutely have never tested if Dave’s family hadn’t got sick!

Once I was recovered, we decided to start exploring every Melbourne neighbourhood we’d yet to set foot in so far. One favourite was the vibrant neighbourhood of Brunswick, which was packed full of good food and street art: my two favourite things in Melbourne!

Clockwise from top-left: Dave and I are big board game fans and spend many of our evenings gaming into the night; performing brunch research for an update to my Melbourne brunch guide; the world-class street art in Benalla — a town that’s known for its incredible murals; I dyed my hair red! (And am dressed like children’s TV presenter from the 90s, for some reason.

March: A Brand New Business Venture

If you follow other travel bloggers, this won’t come as much of a surprise to you. There’s a common theme emerging in this industry: somebody moves to a city then promptly starts a new website that’s focused on that place.

It makes a lot of sense. We all know how to build successful travel blogs at this point and you can make a lot more money when you focus on just one destination. It makes all of the research a lot easier, too, as you’ll do a lot of it organically while you’re out and about.

Now that Dave and I are based in Melbourne, we decided to try our hand at doing the same. Except this time, we decided to go in together. Yes, our first ever joint business venture! Allow me to introduce you to Everything Victoria: our Victorian travel site.

Go take a look around if you’re interested in Australia travel or have been missing my writing: I think some of the best articles I’ve ever produced are on that site. Get started by checking out my love letter to Melbourne’s banh mi scene, my guide to driving the Great Alpine Road, or my breakdown of the best neighbourhoods in Melbourne.

Much of this month was therefore spent working hard on the new project: we’re both so proud of it! And already it’s outperforming many of our expectations. It turns out it really is easier to build an audience when you focus on only one destination!

Aside from that, we spent March hunting down the best brunches in Melbourne for my Fitzroy brunch post, taking several day trips to kick off our Everything Victoria research, and I even dyed my hair red to try something new!

Clockwise from top-left: Mount Buffalo National Park was the standout from our Great Alpine Road research trip; climbing the Gibson Steps at the 12 Apostles; the autumn colours in Bright were amazing this year; the world-famous surf spot, Bells Beach!

April: My First Real Research Trip

Back when I first started travel blogging, writing an article was a breeze. I’d fly into Bali, spend two weeks lazing around beside a beachfront guesthouse and then write a post called “Beaching it Up in Bali”, where I would confess that I’d spent two weeks on the sand and had seen little else of the island.

It was the exact opposite of guidebook writing. Or, some would say, work.

To me, guidebook writers had the worst job ever. There they would be, dutifully visiting every single guesthouse and hotel and museum and gallery and viewpoint and train station and research, research, research. They would experience the crappy sites so you didn’t have to.

I just wrote about my life.

Now that I’m more business-minded with Never Ending Footsteps, I’m much more aligned with the guidebook-model.

But Everything Victoria? Running that site was on a whole other level.

If Dave and I wanted to create the absolute best website about Victoria, we needed to do everything there was to do in this state.

And so, in April, we set off on some of our most unhinged trips to date. I would put together a list of every single thing I could find to do in a town, then we would drive up there, try to do all of them as quickly as possible, then peel off to the next destination.

We spent two days on the Great Ocean Road, for example, and were outside taking photos between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on both days. We were shattered by the end of it! We did exactly the same on our three-day trip to the Victorian Alps.

But it was so worth doing. We came away with such in-depth knowledge of the best parts of Victoria and are fully confident our articles are the best you can find.

It was just kind of exhausting to cram everything into such a short time period.

Clockwise from top-left: the underrated Changgyeonggung Palace in Seoul; the overrated Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul; incredible Seoraksan National Park; the charming architecture of Gyeongju.

May: A Triumphant Return to South Korea

And the reason why we were cramming all that Victoria travel into such a short period time? Well, that was because we knew were about to leave Australia for almost three months.

Now that I live in a Land Down Under, I’ve committed to spending a month in London with my family every northern hemisphere summer. But let’s face it: making that 25-hour journey in one fell swoop is brutal. That’s why I always break up the experience with a layover.

This year, Dave and I decided that South Korea would be where we’d spend a couple of weeks. It made a lot of sense. Dave had never been to the country and I knew he’d love diving into their technology scene. And I had visited in 2011 but spent three weeks entirely in Seoul; I’d always regretted not seeing South Korea outside of its capital!

We set about planning the perfect two weeks in the country. Our five days in Seoul were phenomenal, packed full of food, history, and culture, but it was our trip to Seoraksan National Park that was the true standout. What a beautiful part of the country, surrounded by mountains and streams, and with so few tourists, too! I have to give a shout-out to Gyeongju, as well, a lovely little city with so many impressive historical sites to wander around.

Clockwise from top-left: the amazing Westminster Abbey; the grounds of the Tower of London; the Instagram-famous Churchill Arms; our colourful neighbourhood in Notting Hill.

June: An Entire Month in Notting Hill

And then it was back to London.

Dave and I decided to base ourselves in Notting Hill for our month, as neither of us had ever spent much time there before. And what a cool neighbourhood! I was a huge fan of this colourful part of the city.

So what did I do with a full month in one place?

Well, I’ve always been one of those people who has not in any way explored the place they hail from. Despite living on the outskirts of London for my entire pre-travel life, I had never been to the vast majority of sites that everybody comes to the city to see.

So this month, I set about rectifying that.

Rectifying that on a massive scale.

I went to Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London. I climbed Tower Bridge. Wandered around Kensington Palace. Went to the Tate Modern. Checked out Battersea Power Station. Hit up the Greenwich Observatory. Had brunch in the Sky Garden. Explored Highgate Cemetery. Celebrated my birthday with a picnic in Kensington Gardens. Read books in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park and Richmond Park and St. James’ Park and Victoria Park. Jumped on a Jack the Ripper tour. Watched a test (cricket) at Lord’s. Stuffed my face at Borough Market and Broadway Market. Sipped cocktails at numerous rooftop bars at sunset.

The list truly does go on. But what a wonderful way to spend 30 days! I now feel as though I actually know the tourist attractions in London and can give advice when people ask for it.

This month in London is fast becoming one of my favourite parts of my year, so I’m already brainstorming which neighbourhood to choose in 2024! My aim is to choose a new one every year; so far I’ve spent a month in each of Brixton, Hackney, and Hoxton.

Clockwise from top-left: a fleeting visit to Dublin brought the last of the blue skies for a while; one of the spookiest photos of me, on the Wicklow Way; a wild puffin on Skomer Island; what the entirety of my Irish walk looked like.

July: Rainy Ireland and Puffin-Filled Wales

If I had to come up with a travel lowlight for 2023, it would, unfortunately, have to be the two weeks I spent in Ireland. It was such a shame, as I was so excited to visit the country for the first time!

July in Europe was hot.

You might remember that back then, much of mainland Europe wrestled with a heatwave of over 45°C (113°F).

On the Wicklow Way, however, I was walking in 10°C (50°F) temperatures, with sideways rain, gale-force winds, and hailstones. Obviously I’m English, so no stranger to inclement weather, but I was still shocked by just how intense the conditions were.

And unfortunately, it made for a bleak walk across the country. The Wicklow Way is a 82 mile/132 km long trail over the Wicklow Mountains, which had sounded pretty perfect to me; I always try to tackle a multi-day hike in a different country each year. But yes, it rained every. single. day. Which meant that every morning, we woke up and had to drag our shivering bodies into cold clothes that were still drenched from the day before. It was grim, challenging, uncomfortable, and wet.

Still, battling through discomfort is how we grow stronger, so Dave and I made it to the finish line with smiles on our faces, glad to have experienced it but desperate to put on some dry clothes.

They were handed to me by my family.

As we took the ferry to Wales, my family drove across the U.K. to meet us in Pembrokeshire, on the west coast of the country. I love this part of the world and we spent a laidback week venturing from beaches to castles, but the true highlight came from Skomer Island.

Skomer is famous for its puffin colony, where as many as 42,000 of them call this spit of land home. And tourists can take a boat out there and spend several hours getting up close and personal with them (some of them come within inches of your feet!) It was such a thrilling experience and one that I can’t wait to write about — this is a British travel experience that should be right at the top of your list!

Clockwise from top-left: the rainbow-coloured sand dunes of Mauritius; the picture-perfect beach of Le Morne; my favourite beach of Flic-en-Flac; the food in Mauritius was so good!

August: Road Tripping Mauritius

From Wales, I began to make my way slowly back to London, driving east across the country on a chilled-out road trip, then pausing to spend a week in my previous home of Bristol.

I even found an Airbnb on the same street that Dave and I used to live on! And just like that, we slipped our old life back on. We went to co-working sessions with friends, revisited all of our favourite restaurants, and spoke about how Bristol really feels like somewhere we could live someday.

Yeah, about that…

It felt weird to be back in Bristol because we never really got to say goodbye to our old home. We left the U.K. in such a panic back in 2020 that we didn’t even know if we were leaving the city for good. When we decided not to return, we were stuck behind Australia’s closed borders, so Dave’s brother had to pack up everything we owned and put it in storage for us. We never actually got to say goodbye to our house or to Bristol.

It was a strange trip, then, but also a great one. I expect to return to Bristol every year from now on, as it’s such an incredible place. Even though it didn’t work out for us as a home base, it’s still somewhere we deeply love.

Speaking of home bases: it was finally time to start making our way back to Australia. Imagine my delight then, when I discovered that a layover in Mauritius was the cheapest option available to us!

My travel highlight of the year: Mauritius is such a fantastic country. It’s beautiful, affordable, friendly, and delicious. Dave and I spent a week road tripping around its circumference, visiting rainbow-coloured hills, eating the local curries, marvelling at the beautiful beaches, and wondering why there were so few tourists.

Given its location, mid-way between the U.K. and Australia, and the availability of cheap flights, I hope to make this a regular layover destination in the future.

Clockwise from top-left: quokkas!!!!!!; a fountain in Perth’s Kings Park; the beautiful beaches of Rottnest Island; the Perth city skyline.

September: A New Australian State

There are direct flights between Mauritius and Perth, so I took the opportunity to see a brand new state in my brand new home.

Of course, the number one thing on my list was seeing the quokkas on Rottnest Island. These miniature animals, found only in Australia, are known for their smiles and friendly nature! While the smiles are simply due to the shape of their mouths, they are incredibly tame and will happily hop up to you and take a hundred selfies while you squeal.

While I initially came to Rottnest Island with eyes only for quokkas, I was seriously impressed with the island’s beaches. They had the most pristine white sands, turquoise waters, and — because I visited in winter — barely any tourists at all!

Outside of Rottnest Island, Dave and I had a great week in Perth. We were based in the lively Northbridge neighbourhood, where we sampled the best brunches (of course), ate Japan-quality ramen (Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King is the place to go!), and went winery-hopping in the Swan Valley. My favourite was Old Young’s Kitchen, which had such an interesting food menu — the crocodile chorizo was divine!

October: Back to Melbourne to Get Some Answers

I have so little to share about October because I was focused on catching up on work; I didn’t take any photos this month! Unrelatedly, I finally got an ADHD diagnosis this month, after approximately a decade of suspecting I had it but not having the ability to pursue a diagnosis due to long-term travel and, well, the fact that I have ADHD.

Going on medication was life-changing — suddenly, it felt like I was living life on easy mode and I was able to achieve everything I set my mind to. My house was spotless, my brain was clear, my to-do list was empty, and I was publishing a 5,000 word article every day. Everyone close to me has said it’s like I’m a different person! Is this what everybody else’s brain is like?

Part of me has always wondered how much success I could have found with this site had I had a diagnosis a decade ago and actually been able to publish more than once a month. Alas! I’m looking forward to seeing how 2024 goes, now that I’m able to focus for more than 3 seconds at a time on my writing.

I also discovered I have something called neutropenia. It’s basically a lack of a certain type of white blood cells; the effects of which includes contracting regular infections and food poisoning.

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to boost those numbers outside of a blood transfusion, and I only have a mild case of it so that would be quite dramatic! What it does mean, though, is taking more precautions when I travel: staying away from street food is probably a sad-but-sensible idea, for example.

Still, it feels good to have a reason for why I am so sickly when I travel. I’d never understood why I’d get food poisoning but Dave wouldn’t; or why I’d be on antibiotics every three months.

I guess I’m sharing all of the above as an explanation: if you’ve ever wondered why I seem to get sick every time I travel or why I’ve never been able to stick to a publishing schedule, there’s reasons!

Clockwise from top-left: sunny skyline views at Albert Park; a sleepy koala on Phillip Island; the beauty of Melbourne’s State Library, dangling our legs outside the windows on Puffing Billy.

November: Showing My Parents Around My New Home

November was a huge month for me! After building a wonderful life for myself in Melbourne, I convinced my freshly-retired parents to celebrate by planning a trip of a lifetime: a full month in Australia!

I was so heartened to see my parents fall in love with the country I call home. I was especially committed, however, to ensuring they fell most in love with the state of Victoria, where Melbourne is located.

And what that meant was spending their two weeks in town showing them everything there is to do here.

We watched the smallest penguins in the world clamber out of the sea and into their burrows, drove the iconic Great Ocean Road, trekked through rainforests and past waterfalls, toured the MCG stadium, explored the Melbourne Gaol and State Library, snapped photos of street art, spotted wild koalas, had so many brunches that we were fit to burst, spent a day at the beach in St Kilda, wandered around Albert Park, rode on the famous Puffing Billy train, the list goes on and on (and on and on…)

The surprise highlight for me was Puffing Billy! It’s the world’s oldest surviving steam locomotive and riding it is particularly exciting because you sit on the window ledge with your legs dangling outside the train. I’d always assumed this was an activity for kids, so had never bothered to check it out, but it was actually amazing!

When my parents began their return back to the U.K., I had just one week to pack my bags and prepare for visiting my biggest travel oversight.

Yes, it was finally time to go to South America.

Clockwise from top-left: Views from the tallest building in South America; Rio’s absolutely bonkers cathedral; my money stash after changing 100 USD into Argentine Pesos; the jaw-dropping Iguazu Falls.

December: A South American Summer

What an incredible way to round out my 2023: no exaggeration, my solo trip to South America was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had.

I mentioned at the start of the article that my travel time is super-limited right now — at least, relative to the nomadic life I used to live — and so that meant I spent way less time on my sixth continent than I would have liked. And yet, my quick taster had me falling so hard for South America.

So much so, I think this will become part of my regular travel routine: a layover somewhere on the continent on my way back to the U.K. for Christmas.

I kicked it all off in Santiago, Chile, where my main purpose was to battle through the jet lag (I crossed 14 time zones on my flight from Australia!) I ventured up the tallest building on the continent, strolled through bustling markets and made my way through city parks. Santiago has become less safe post-pandemic and post-2019-protests, but I still enjoyed getting to see its highlights.

My main purpose of the trip was two city breaks in two very different cities: Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro! Both of them were amazing. I even managed to squeeze in a day trip to the wonderfully peaceful town of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, while I was in BA. Rio is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to, while Buenos Aires quickly made its way into my top five cities in the world!

Seeing Christ the Redeemer — a New World Wonder — was a definite highlight.

I rounded it all off by visiting the most breathtaking place I’ve ever been: Iguazu Falls!

I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls on my travels so I wasn’t expecting to have my mind blown here, but wow, I was wrong! This was probably the second-most incredible place I’ve ever been (after Mount Nyiragongo in the DRC!) If you’re planning a trip to South America, then, you absolutely shouldn’t skip over Iguazu Falls!

Oh, and because the falls are located on the Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay border, I couldn’t resist checking out another new country while I was in town. My 10-hour tour to Paraguay was so good. I always warm to little-visited countries, so this wasn’t a huge surprise — but what a lovely country to spend some time in.

And with that, my short-but-sweet trip to South America was over. I boarded a plane to London and arrived just in time for Christmas. I got to have a wintry holiday season for the first time in five years and spent my time going to Christmas lights, wandering beside the Thames, and eating my weight in food.

And That was 2023!

Even though I’ve been limited in the amount of international travel I could do this year, I still managed to squeeze in an awful lot of adventure! And the fun isn’t over yet. In a few days, I’m setting off to a couple of new countries in the Middle East, before finally heading back to Melbourne for some summer sunshine.

This year, I have plenty of travel ideas bubbling up in my mind: renting a barge to cruise around Wales, walking the width of Crete, admiring the architecture in Uzbekistan, finally seeing the pyramids in Egypt, and hiking my way around Georgia.

There’ll be plenty of opportunity to travel around Australia, too, and I’d like to visit my remaining states and territories in the country: South Australia, the Northern Territory, and the ACT — and finally get to Uluru.

I’m starting my slow return back to social media, too, where I’ll be sharing my adventures, life, and travels in the way that I used to; probably mostly on Facebook. And here, I’ll be slowly polishing and re-publishing the articles I’ve been writing then burying in the site archives while I was away. Stay tuned for that: I think I have about 200 pieces I have yet to publicly share at this point!

Thanks for sticking around through my bout of absence, and I hope you’re just as excited as I am for the upcoming year.

-Lauren.

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