I prefaced last year’s roundup with a note that, for the world as a whole, 2016 had been a veritable dumpster fire of a year. We all knew it would take a lot for 2017 to surpass it in shittiness and, looking back, it unfortunately succeeded. In this context, writing a travel blog listing my favourite trips of the last 12 months can seem like a self-indulgent and, at best, frivolous endeavour. Then again, most things do when held against the larger picture of world events.
In my mind, this only makes travel more important. For those of us that are lucky enough to see the world, we have a chance to make connections with people from disparate corners of the globe and, most importantly, despite our differences in race, religion, culture or place of birth, we have more things in common than things that divide us.
It is something I have thought about a lot this year. 2017 has been the first full year that this blog has existed and it is gradually taking up more and more of my free time. I am finding myself waking up 2 hours early to put pen to paper before heading out to my full-time job, only to come home and spend hours editing images. It can be exhausting.
It’s times like that that I have to remember why I started this blog. It was because I truly love to travel. I wanted to share my stories and offer my advice for people that wanted to do the same. For every moment that I feel disheartened, I have days where hundreds of people read my posts, leave me lovely comments or send me messages thanking me for my tips or advice.
I want to thank each and every one of you that takes the time out to read what I have written in the last 12 months. It blows my mind that anyone would read this blog, never mind so many of you.
My Favourite Travel Experiences of 2017
I didn’t travel as extensively in 2017 as I have in other years. I didn’t traverse any continents or spend longer than 15 days away from home in one stretch. Besides 2 weeks in Vietnam in the first half of the year, I’ve mostly spent 2017 a little closer to home. My little sojourn in SE Asia and week in the Lake District ate away at a large chunk of my annual leave so I have had to make do with shorter city breaks around Europe.
Because of that, I’ve been travelling fast, hopping from city to city for as little as 48 hours at a time. It’s not ideal. I’d much rather make my way around a country slowly, no plan set in stone and deciding on a whim where I will go next. However, having a full-time job means that it wasn’t to be.
All together I’ve taken 17 flights, over a dozen trips, and visited 5 countries that are brand new to me.
I finally got around to visiting Poland (then enjoyed myself so much that I went straight back), returned to Germany and made a flying visit to Scandinavia. I lived la dolce vita for a weekend in Italy, gorging on pasta and gelato. I discovered a new found love of Belgium (particularly its beer) and stepped foot in South East Asia for the first time. It’s been a good year.
10. Oslo, Norway
I am often one to eschew colder destinations, preferring time spent in warmer weather. I suppose when you come from somewhere with a climate as mild and dull as the UK, it is only right that any holiday time is spent in search of the sun. Maybe that’s why I had never visited Norway until now.
Oslo is considered one of the most expensive cities in Europe – a beer can set you back anywhere between £8 and £12 and the simplest of sandwiches can cause your pockets to be a fiver lighter – but after finding cheap flights, I saw spending a budget weekend in Norway’s capital as a personal challenge.
I’m glad I did. Sitting on the picturesque Oslo Fjord, the city has a more relaxed and ‘outdoorsy’ feel than most of Europe’s other capitals. I spent the day high above the city at Holmenkollen, traipsed the bafflingly high number of world-class museums, and cruised the fjord. Oslo as just a taste of what Norway has to offer but I will certainly be returning to explore more of the country.
Things to do in Oslo for free
9. Wroclaw, Poland
I can’t go a year without a visit to a European Christmas Market, and after falling for Poland during my visit to Warsaw back in October, Wroclaw seemed like the perfect choice. Although the city claims Poland’s largest and oldest Christmas market, I found that there was so much more to Wroclaw than this. It turned out to be one of the most charming and picturesque cities I have visited.
Nestled both alongside and within the Oder, its centre contains 12 islands connected by 130 bridges. A rainbow of pastel coloured buildings surrounds one of Europe’s largest medieval squares, towering gothic spires rise skywards, and each night a lamplighter sporting a dapper cape and top hat combo traipses the cobblestones to ignite the city’s street lights. It really is like something from a fairy tale and only helped cement the idea in my mind that Poland is, quite frankly, awesome.
8. Vietnamese Cuisine
No meal in Vietnam comes without its risks. I’ve eaten shrimp fried in a sooty wok down a dingy side alley, consumed soup while mangy chickens clucked and pecked around my feet, and bought mystery meat sandwiches from the back of a motorcycle. I’ve been served fried dough so oily that it almost made the plate translucent, being tricked into munching on a skewered field mouse, and plucked a squid from Halong Bay, only to see it sitting atop my bowl on a bed of rice just minutes later. Through all of this, I always ate it with pleasure, declaring Vietnamese food to be the best I’ve ever tasted.
I practically ate my way around Vietnam. In Saigon, I slurped a bowl of steaming, fragrant Pho for breakfast every morning. In Hoi An, I ate white rose dumplings so delicate that they melted in my mouth. In Hanoi, I sat by the roadside and devoured a plate stacked with bun cha, a beer and a sickly sweet iced coffee all for less than £2. Despite all the great things about Vietnam, the food is the one that will be forever etched in my memory and on my taste buds.
I know that this entry on my list isn’t a destination like the others, but when a nation has cuisine this spectacular, it is certainly an experience.
7. Ghent, Belgium
In terms of visitors, Ghent has always seemed to play second fiddle to the tourist hubs of Brussels, Antwerp and Bruges. For some reason, its cobbled streets, castle and the stunning medieval architecture hasn’t quite attracted the hoards like its counterparts have. So much so, that despite being the country’s 3rd largest city – with a population of 250,000 – it is still considered by many as a ‘hidden gem’.
Somehow I had never visited Belgium before, which is strange considering its close proximity to the UK. I used my birthday as an excuse to book £20 return flights to Brussels and then hopped a bus onwards to Ghent. The city is more beautiful than I could have imagined. As soon as I arrived, I wondered why I had waited so long to see this country and I just know that its a mistake I won’t be making again. I’m sure I will be back in Belgium at some point during 2018.
6. Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw is often overlooked in favour of its more aesthetically pleasing counterparts, Krakow and Gdansk. I wanted to give it a chance and, in turn, it completely took me by surprise. It was my second solo adventure of the year and my first time in Poland. I made use of the time alone to spend 3 days exploring every inch of the city on foot, taking in walking tours to get to grips with Warsaw’s tumultuous, and often horrific history. I sampled the hip, up and coming Praga district and drank as much delicious Polish beer as possible.
5. Hamburg, Germany
I can’t put my finger on why, but I immediately felt at home in Hamburg. It may be that I am also from a town built on the spoils of an illustrious seafaring past. It could be that with its waterfront of historic buildings perched on the edge of a wide estuary and strong connection with the Beatles, I was reminded uncannily of Liverpool.
My only previous trip to Germany had been a boozy stag weekend in Berlin. I had spent the weekend viewing Germany’s capital through the bottom of a beer glass and hadn’t really had much chance to sample the main tourist sights or see why Berlin is thought to be one of Europe’s coolest cities. However, where Berlin has Kreuzberg, Hamburg has Sternschanze and St. Pauli; the hipster hubs that are the main reason that Hamburg is taking Berlin’s place as Germany’s coolest city. I was continually drawn back to these areas, sampling some of the best bars, taking a nighttime tour of the notorious Reeperbahn and partying at 6 am in the Fish Market.
Hamburg is continuously tipped as the next ‘must visit’ destination so I highly recommend getting there before the crowds do.
How to Spend 48 Hours in Hamburg
4. Mekong Delta, Vietnam
My second Vietnamese entry on this list and certainly not the last. If I’m honest, I could have filled this year review with snippets of that particular country, but there’s something about my time on the waterways of the Mekong that really spoke to me. Maybe it was the relative calm of life on the river after the cacophony of motorcycles and people in Saigon, or maybe I just craved a break from the smog-filled air and constant traffic. Either way, the Mekong was a welcome relief.
3. Lake District, UK
There are certain destinations that you find yourself returning to again and again. They’re the kind of places where you feel a warm hug of nostalgia and familiarity whenever you visit. For me, that destination is the Lake district. It’s my favourite region in the UK and one that I will always find myself drawn back to.
In July I spent a week in a beautiful cottage on the outskirts of Coniston as part of Becky’s mum’s 60th Birthday celebrations. While I usually take a trip with the intention of blogging about it, this time I didn’t. I wanted to fully enjoy the holiday, taking time away from both this blog and my full-time job for a week of relaxation, hiking and family time.
Good weather can never be guaranteed in the Lakes but somehow we lucked out. While I usually travel there expecting cloud, rain and continual downpours, this time we had a week of glorious sunshine and baking sun. What I loved the most about this trip though, was the week away from the office, spent with the people I love. We have already booked a return trip for 2018.
2. Lake Como, Italy
Bellagio, Varenna and Mennagio; all names that evoke the image of sitting in the sun-kissed water-front whilst sipping that first Aperol Spritz of the afternoon. Lake Como is a place that I had wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. The name itself makes you picture the playground of rich and famous, colourful villas, and beautiful piazzas where you can sit for hours nursing a cup of espresso, watching the world go by.
It was my first foray into Italy and seemed like the perfect place to start. I spent the weekend wandering through narrow hamlets on more narrow roads, the pastel mortared buildings tumbling down the hillside and coming to a halt at the lapping edge of the lake. Beyond the manicured lawns and jetties, the water glittered in the morning light, enclosed by the rolling green hills and distant peaks of the Alps, still sprinkled with a scattering of snow despite the rising spring temperatures.
It was a weekend in which I fell in love with Italy and vowed that I would return again and again.
A Day Trip to Como
1. Halong Bay, Vietnam
There are a handful of destinations in the world that are ‘must see’. Those one-of-a-kind landscapes that you cannot find anywhere else on the planet. When magazines and newspapers publish listicles of such wonders, one place that often comes top is Halong Bay.
I’m always wary when ticking off these ‘bucket list’ items. Occasionally somewhere is spoken of so highly that it risks being overrated and destined to disappoint. There is nothing worse than building up an experience in your mind only to find yourself crushed when it doesn’t live up to expectations.
The first morning that I woke up on our junker, I drew back the curtains of our cabin to a spectacular sight; a field of limestone karsts jutting from the still waters of the bay as far as the eye can see. Beyond them, the sky gave out a lilac glow as fishermen slowly paddled alongside us in search of their morning catch. Right then I knew that Halong Bay wouldn’t let me down.
My Favourite Blog Posts
As it turns out, the blog posts that I spend days on – pouring over every single word to make sure a sentence is perfectly crafted and conveys the perfect scene – are not the ones that are read the most. While most people find my blog when googling city guides, best of lists, and ‘how to’ articles, the blog posts that I am most proud of are sometimes barely read. Here are a few of my favourites from the last 12 months. Show them some love.
There have been a number of new experiences for me in 2017. I visited 5 new countries for the first time, attended my first blogging conference and was invited to visit places by tourist boards for the first time. However, the biggest one for me was taking my very first solo city break.
Travelling alone can be a daunting prospect. For me, it wasn’t so much the worry for my safety or anything happening to me while I was on my own, it was the possibility that I’d feel lonely. I am so used to sharing my experiences and memories with someone else that I thought I may not enjoy a solo trip. How would I cope with spending my evenings on my own, going to restaurants or taking tours alone?
My 2nd solo trip of the year was to Warsaw. I was surprised by how many relics of the communist era remain in Poland’s Capital. The much-derided Trabant cars still pootle around the city and military transport vans, only now painted in colourful pastels rather than bland greys, ferry tourists around the main sights. Many of the communist-era buildings remain too; blocky, brutalist behemoths that have been repurposed rather than torn down, often with a new life that is a far cry from the original uses. The city’s neons, a symbol of the ‘culturally relaxed’ post-Stalinist Poland, are gradually being refurbished and reinstalled and the ‘milk bar’ is as popular as ever. I couldn’t resist penning a blog post all about it.
Neon silhouettes of women in suggestive poses bathed the street in a purple glow. Rowdy crowds of stags and hens milled about beneath the iridescent glow of signs advertising table dances, drag shows and ‘Sexy Sexy Girls’. Football chants and cheesy euro pop echoed from bars jammed with revellers as groups of costumed ‘lads on tour’ spilled out onto the pavement, half cut and looking for their next watering hole. This is the Reeperbahn; Hamburg’s most notorious street and Europe’s largest red light district.
Since starting this blog, I tend to look at destinations differently. Rather than trying to hit all of the top tourist sights, I find myself looking for an angle to write about and seeking the story behind a city. In Hamburg, I was fascinated by the Reeperbahn – A mile-long strip of sin that is constantly flooded by hordes of visiting revellers on stag and hen dos. I wanted to see what St. Pauli’s locals thought of its notoriety and how the non-stop party began. What I found was a fascinating story of sailors, gentrification and, of course, The Beatles.
What do you do when you arrive in a city to find it almost completely shut down? I could see the pandemonium as soon as I stepped from Kandy’s train station; roads closed off, traffic jams and hordes of tourists unable to figure out how to get to their accommodation.
What could have been a frustrating situation, turned out to be a fascinating one. Kandayans are well known for their Pageantry & Piety but the chaos I experienced was an exception. I had arrived just in time for the funeral of one of Sri Lanka’s venerated monks.
Poverty Tourism is a controversial topic in the travel industry and one I have never felt comfortable with. It can often be a voyeuristic experience – tourists are herded through slums and poor neighbourhoods as if they are a museum and in which local people are the exhibits. In this post, I try to address the issues, as well as my own reservations about the concept.
While in Brazil I spent a lot of time researching Favela tours and found that most tours operated in this way, driving through in jeeps or motorbikes with no real interaction but just so that the tourists can gawp. With 1 in 4 of Rio’s residents living in these communities, they are a vital part of life in the city and to ignore them is to ignore the real Rio de Janeiro. I felt that I wouldn’t be doing the city justice if I didn’t visit.
Luckily I stumbled upon a walking tour run by Thiago Firmino, a local dancehall DJ who was born and raised in Santa Marta Favela. He set up Favela Santa Marta Tour as a way to showcase the favelas to outsiders, to demystify them and show that they are not just violent slums but vibrant communities.
Tobacco is big business in Vinales. The microclimate, both sun-drenched and sodden with rain, combined with the fertile soil, creates the perfect conditions for crop cultivation. It’s thought that the lumpy limestone mogotes that speckle the landscape are responsible for capturing the clouds and holding them in place. It’s these factors mean this small, rural village produces the best tobacco – and therefore, the best cigars – in the world.
I took the short trip from Havana to see how this tiny village in the Cuban countryside has become one of the most renowned tobacco producers on the planet and why farming is slowly giving way to a booming tourist trade.
My Favourite Instagram Shots of 2017
I have a slight love/hate relationship with Instagram. The shots that I absolutely adore and expect to flood my notifications with little comment bubbles and love hearts seem to go unnoticed, while images I throw up on a whim, unedited with barely any thought, seem to be the most popular.
I go through periods where Instagram is my favourite social media platform. I post new images every day, make connections with other bloggers and really enjoy the time I spend with it. Other times I find it boring. There are only so many times I can see the similar shots of the same picturesque destination (Austrailia’s 12 apostles, I’m looking at you), or images of people in flowing dresses and wide-rimmed hats standing wistfully in front of a glowing sunset. Not that there’s anything wrong with these things – I’m as guilty as anyone, just without the dress – but it can all get a little samey.
However, This year has been one that I have embraced being a ‘blogger’ on Instagram. Up until now I had always stuck strictly to being behind the camera, I am now slightly more comfortable putting myself in front of it.
Below are my favourite Instagrams of the year. I’ve tried to only include trips that I have taken in 2017. Anyone that follows me will know, I have a tendency to Instagram older photographs on a regular basis, but decided to exclude anything taken pre-January 1st 2017.
Your Favourite Instagrams of 2017
Like I said above, I can often be surprised which Instagram posts are the most popular with my followers. I’m happy to see that the post I liked the most (top right) was also loved by you guys.
A couple of these are pre-2017; 2 each from Salar de Uyuni and Macchu Picchu and one from Valle de La Luna in Chile. It’s hard to deny that people like pictures of famous destinations.
What Next for Man Vs Globe?
This blog may only have existed for just over a year, but 2017 has been quite the ride for Man Vs Globe. It has helped me travel more, meet some wonderful people and, best of all, connect with other travellers.
I’m hoping that 2018 can bring even bigger and better things.
So far I have a few a things brewing for the upcoming year, but not a great deal set in stone. This month I’ll be heading back to Germany, and in February I’m making my way to Northern Ireland. This summer I’m returning to that beautiful cottage in the Lake District for another week of fun around Coniston. Other than that, it’s all up in the air.
What I do know though, is that I want to write more, blog more, and continue to help other travellers. I want to encourage people to be more ethical and sustainable in the way they travel. Hopefully, you can continue to join me.
Here’s to another awesome 12 months.
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