2015 in Review: My Top Five Travel Highlights

2015 has been a year filled with many highs, some real lows, and a few periods of…well…absolutely bugger all to be honest. It started very much in the same vein as the majority of 2014, as I was still on my mega backpacking trip which eventually took me to 16 countries in three different continents over the space of 13 months.

All good things must come to an end though, and after taking the longest possible route back home (more of that further down the page!), I arrived back in England in March to figure out what my next plan was. Fast forward nine months and I find myself living and working in a brand new country (for me!) and getting ready to see in 2016 with the excitement of what’s to come.

As I did last year, I’ve tried to summarise the past 12 months with my top five travel highlights; here they are:

5. Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Having travelled with my mate James for the best part of four months – and having met up with his brother Tom and our mate Danny in Sydney for Christmas in New Year – the beginning of January marked the time for us to part ways. There was just one thing left to do: climb the Harbour Bridge.

The view was truly incredible on the way up!

Smiles all round!

Despite the rather outrageous price of $250 and one group member’s fear of heights, the views and general thrill made it all worth it. A great end to the best few months of my travels!

4. Riding the Trans-Siberian Railway

Remember when I said I took to longest route home possible?

Rather worryingly inspired by Karl Pilkington on An Idiot Abroad, riding the Trans-Siberian Railway had been on my bucket list for some time. When it came to planning my way home, there was only one way I was ever going to go; rushing is overrated.

Hours to burn at the border = photo opportunity.

Somewhere on the border between China and Mongolia. Despite the smile, I’m freezing my nuts off here!

Despite some rather long (48 hours!), monotonous train rides, it was an experience of a lifetime. Seeing the landscapes change as you go from China, through Mongolia, in to Siberia and eventually to the European side of Russia was something else. Even being quite literally face-palmed by a woman didn’t stop the enjoyment of this journey. I doubt it’s something I’d ever do again, but I’m certainly glad I’ve done it.

3. Moving to Japan

Perhaps the biggest decision I’ve ever made: signing a one year teaching contract and taking a one-way flight to Japan. With previous one-way flights, there’s always been that safety blanket of knowing I could come home at any given point; however in this case there’s a much longer commitment on my part.

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Ready to embark on another adventure!

Thankfully, it’s turned out to be a great move for me! There was never really any doubt in my mind; after four months of being back home I was itching to return to Asia and – despite never visiting Japan on my travels – it was always going to be a place where I was happy. I’ve always loved Japanese food, so that was a guaranteed winner. The people are friendly, and they love to drink. That’ll do for me.

2. The Philippines

It’s always seemed like the countries I expected the least from are the ones I’ve enjoyed the most. It was definitely the case with Sri Lanka, Mongolia, and also The Philippines. Trust me: if there was much of a demand for EFL teachers in The Philippines, I highly doubt I’d be writing this post from Tokyo.

Even sunsets like this could do nothing to cheer me up!

Just one of many stunning views that made me fall in love with The Philippines.

I can’t put my finger on what it was I loved about the place. Probably a combination of beautiful scenery, friendly people and a cheap, relaxed way of life. I doubt I’ve ever felt more relaxed than I did during the week I spend on Bohol. What’s not to like about kicking back in a hammock, reading a book, writing the odd blog post or two, maybe going diving if it takes your fancy? Bliss.

1. My tour of Central Mongolia

This is it, then! 365 days to choose from, and my five days spent in the middle of Mongolia take the crown as the highlight of my year!

As I mentioned above, I went in to Mongolia with very few expectations. It was merely a stop off – another stamp for the passport on the way to Russia. I didn’t really plan on spending more than a day or two there, but as we all know, plans have a habit of changing.

As per usual, the picture says more than my words ever could.

Embracing the inner John Wayne I never knew I had.

And boy, am I glad they did?! Despite the freezing cold February temperatures, spending the best part of a week living with nomadic families in the middle of the desert, riding horses for miles on end and drinking homemade vodka in yurts with incredibly welcoming hosts made sure that the temperatures took a back seat. A truly incredible, unique experience.

So, there are my highlights of 2015; it’s been a mixed year, and one that will live long in the memory for a number of reasons – both good and bad. I get the impression that next year’s highlights will include a lot of Japan…isn’t stability scary?

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