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My Best & Worst Travel Moments of 2018

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It’s that time of year again – the time when I look back at the year, congratulate myself for what I’ve achieved, and drown my embarrassments and regrets in some cheap Greek wine.

I wrote a post recapping my 2018 in this same fashion, and this year, I’m doing the same – breaking down the highlights and lowlights of each month. This year, I visited 25 countries in total, 12 new and 13 old, plus a handful of different territories, exclaves, and island groups (country counting can get complicated!).

My favorite new destinations? Ukraine, the Faroe Islands, Nakhchivan, and Armenia.

Some destinations were marred by situations that the country had nothing to do with – Moldova, Iceland, Portugal. Others, I’m fine to never return to (sorry Georgia and Qatar, though I guess I would give both another shot).

The biggest challenge of the year was that getting a freelance visa to stay in Bulgaria was harder than I thought, and it resulted in me leaving the country more than 50% of the time in order to not overstay my tourist visa. Luckily, I’m figuring out how to get residency for 2019, and I’m much closer than I was this time last year – so hopefully by the second half of 2019, I’ll be doing a lot less traveling and staying put in Bulgaria more. Traveling this much may seem exciting, but it’s gotten exhausting after nearly 3 years of it!

Here is my year in review, and at the end, a little preview of where I’ll be going in 2019.

January

Countries Visited: Indonesia, Taiwan, US

The Best

Eating xiao long bao basically every single day that I was in Taiwan. I fell in love with Taiwan deeply during my two weeks in the country, and I would definitely say it’s one of my favorite countries in Asia. The food is amazing, it’s rather affordable, and everything just works really well there. Taipei is probably one of the most livable cities in Asia, and it’s a place I could easily see myself returning to for an extended stay.

The Worst

Despite loving Taiwan madly, I had a really bad period of insomnia near the end of my stay there, where I was falling asleep around 10 AM and sleeping until 4 PM or so, when it was nearly dark. I didn’t do too much for my last few days in the city and sunk into a bit of a gloomy, dark cloud because of it. I was grateful when it was time to go back to the US because I knew that such a dramatic change of time zones would actually do me good in that state.

February

Countries Visited: US, Spain, Bulgaria

The Best

Moving to Bulgaria! After nearly 2 full years of nomadic travels, I was getting so burned out. My press trip from hell to Romania the year before had been the death knell of my desire to be a full-time traveler – funny how two weeks of polenta and harassment can do that to a girl.

I had absolutely loved my time in Sofia the previous August so coming back to live on a more permanent basis was an easy decision. It’s a digital nomad friendly spot, without a huge digital nomad scene that makes it easy to get caught up in an ‘expat bubble.’ I had seen that in Bali and it wasn’t for me, despite the great weather and friendlier visa policy.

In Bulgaria, I feel like I can contribute to the local economy without forcing it to cater to me, and when picking my full-time base, considering my impact on the community I was moving to was important. I like that I can integrate a little more into Bulgaria and that society is less segregated into spots for expats and spots for locals. Plus, it’s so fun to see Sofia change and grow, getting new restaurants and bars and becoming a more modern city day by day.

The Worst

Arriving in Bulgaria. I had one of those arrivals where absolutely nothing went right. There was a massive snowstorm the day before so my flight was about an hour delayed. There were no taxis at the stand and the wait looked like it would be a while (and I was in a rush to meet my Airbnb host, who had given me a specific time to meet), so I decided to take the metro into the city and then catch a cab from Serdika, the main station. I got there and found a taxi and had written down the address and gave it to the man because my phone was dead. But apparently just the address wasn’t good enough, and the taxi driver kept yelling at me for a phone number to contact to ask for directions… which I couldn’t access because my phone was dead.

After him driving around yelling for a while, I finally managed to squeeze a tiny bit of juice out of my laptop which was also dying, enough to get the host’s phone number so my driver could call him. I arrived nearly two hours late, pissing off my host, and my taxi driver couldn’t wait to get rid of me. It was a ton of stress and reminded me that I really, really don’t like Airbnb sometimes. Now, I almost always only book accommodations that have self check-in (it’s a filter you can select) – it saves me so much anxiety.

March

Countries visited: Bulgaria, UK, Germany

The Best

Getting to reunite with all my blogger friends at ITB and IMM! It was especially fun having a really-extended slumber party in the world’s tiniest Airbnb in Berlin, which basically was a one-room private hostel, with my friends Megan Starr, Christina from Happy to Wander, and Lena from Travel Monkey.

I also got to reunite with a few other friends and meet some people I’d only known online. I didn’t go to a ton of conferences this year, having decided to take a different track to blogging than doing lots of press trips, but the ones I did attend, I was grateful for! I also had a few friends come to visit me, which was fun.

The Worst

Getting scammed left and right (okay, well, twice) by taxis in Sofia – so much so that I even wrote a guide to not getting scammed by taxis in Sofia.

The worst was that I got so flustered after yelling at my taxi driver for overcharging me, I forgot that my phone was in my lap so that when I got up to leave the cab, it fell screen-first onto the road and shattered the screen into a ton of tiny pieces (it would later die and need to be replaced one month later, making that a really expensive taxi).

April

Countries visited: Bulgaria, Greece

The Best

April felt like one extended celebration. My friend Stephanie and I launched Sofia Adventures on April 1st and were super proud of our brand new passion project. Following the crunch to get it ready in late March, we had a ton of people visiting so we let loose and celebrated for well, most of the month. The lovely Gemma from Two Scots Abroad came to visi, then my favorite #RomaniaSurvivors girls came for a few days before we flew to Athens and Crete to enjoy some birthday debauchery for Megan’s 30th birthday. Between seeing so many friends in March and April and getting more settled into Sofia, including finding a full-time apartment, I was beginning to feel like I was finally getting that comfort, stability, and community I was craving so badly in 2016 and 2017.

The Worst

Surviving the worst hangover of my life the day before I had to fly to Athens at 4 PM, which should not feel like an early flight (but did because I felt like I was going to die). I also had to pack up the Airbnb I had been living in for the past 1.5 months and move all my stuff into my new apartment, all with a raging, seething hangover, all before catching a flight. Certainly not my finest hours, although I did end up making several surprise-even-to-me cameos in a Nigerian DJ’s music video, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss.

May

Countries visited: Bulgaria, Italy, Azerbaijan, Georgia

The Best

Nakhchivan in Azerbaijan was a total surprise, and this tiny exclave of Azerbaijan blew me away during the 5 days Stephanie and I spent there. I wasn’t expecting a lot because there was pretty much zero information on the internet before I got there (that’s changed now, as I’ve written this all-encompassing epic guide to Nakhchivan!)

The Worst

Arriving in Georgia made my arrival to Bulgaria look tame. Having endured a few hot and sweaty marshrutka rides that left me with a tweaked back, headaches, and anxiety, Stephanie and I decided to splurge on a private taxi from Sheki, Azerbaijan to the border, and then take a shared taxi from the border to Tbilisi. There were no shared taxis there, and not many other travelers seemed to be coming, so we ended up having to negotiate for a taxi to Tbilisi on our own.

The prices started off ridiculous, but we ended up getting a decent price in the end. However, the ride was completely terrifying – I quite literally thought I was going to die. The man drove at 140 km/hour on tiny twisty roads, literally laughed when I told him he was going too fast and to please slow down, and split the middle lane of a two lane road to overtake cars as trucks were zooming towards us in the other lane. All in the pouring rain.

We got pulled over by the cops, who disappeared quickly after our taxi driver appeared to give them a bribe. We continued to drive like maniacs, passing a car that had overturned, which boded ominously for the bat-out-of-hell driving style of the taxi we were in. When we arrived on the outskirts of Tbilisi, he tried to kick us out of the taxi in the pouring rain (with all of our belongings, including electronics, and us having no local SIM card or any idea where we were).

Finally, I was able to make it clear to him that we weren’t going to move out of his car until he hailed another taxi for us. It was an awful experience, but looking back at it, I’m just glad we didn’t get into an accident – it could have been so much worse. We probably should have gotten out of the car earlier, but we had no SIM cards and were passing through tiny villages and it didn’t seem like there’d be any other opportunity to get to Tbilisi.

June

Countries visited: Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria

The Best

Armenia is one of my favorite new countries I visited this year. Compared to our Georgia taxi driver from hell, Armenia’s taxi drivers were a delight. We took a few day trips using taxis we’d reserve on Yandex and they were always the nicest, kindest people.

On our last day we decided to see some UNESCO-listed monasteries in the north of Armenia and then continue onward into Georgia. Our taxi driver wasn’t able to take us all the way there because we miscommunicated and he didn’t have his passport with him, but he was such a rock star that he literally arranged with a friend to have a PRIVATE MERCEDES SPRINTER VAN for us to take us the rest of the way to Georgia for no extra money (we tipped him well, anyway). A lot gets said about hospitality in the Caucasus and while I didn’t see much of that in Georgia, Armenia more than made up for it.

The Worst

My anxiety was awful this month as a result of feeling strained from too much travel, and I had my first panic attack in years while in Yerevan. I made it through the rest of the Caucasus trip, but I was exhausted when I returned home.

July

Countries visited: Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova

The Best

Is it lame if I say resting in Bulgaria? I had a ton of friends around which made it a great time at home. I spent the last weeks of June and the first two of July working my butt off and eating cheesecake and pretending to work with Steph and Kate and Jeremy from Our Escape Clause.

The Worst

I got bit by a cat the second day I was in Ukraine while I was heading to Moldova. It wasn’t a bad bite, but it did break the skin. At first I tried to tell myself it wasn’t a big deal, but then I started panicking and worrying about the chance of rabies. I read an article about the resurgence of rabies in Ukraine and decided that I’d play it safe and get the post-exposure shots the following day after having anxiety so bad that I couldn’t eat more than a few crackers because I couldn’t even swallow.

This wasn’t as easy as it sounded in Chisinau, Moldova, where the English-speaking hospital didn’t have the vaccine — only the local, Russian/Romanian-speaking-only polyclinic did. No translators were available so I had to return the following day (after yet another sleepless night of literally painful anxiety) with my hostel receptionist as my translator. Once she was able to help translate, getting the shots went smoothly and weren’t painful at all, aside from some slight muscle pain the next day.

I had to get another 4 shots spread out over the next month, 3 in Kiev (which would be as delightfully easy as getting rabies shots could be) and 1 in Lisbon (which would be hell, because the Portuguese medical system is a goddamn disaster, at least for foreigners). I actually was quite lucky as I had two back-to-back press trips in remote places where getting the vaccines may have been nearly impossible. I was also very happy that I had travel insurance, exactly for situations like this!

August

Countries visited: Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Portugal, Bulgaria

The Best

My trip the Faroe Islands with Megan was absolutely incredible. We had four full days on these windswept islands and we truly made the most of each of them, packing in hikes and countless miles of scenic drives and a seemingly infinite number of sheep along the way.

The trip wasn’t without its hiccups, though. I may have driven my car partly into a ditch, whereupon 4 Faroese came to my rescue to tow me out with their truck. I also may have gotten too enthusiastic at a pub quiz one night and had an awful hangover the next day, which certainly wasn’t improved by the two-hour ferry or the whale blubber my hosts in Suduroy offered me at dinner that night….

The Worst

August was the worst month of all year for me, mostly because of my own mental state. I had excruciating anxiety every single day of my Iceland trip, and it was pretty much the worst possible time I could be driving thousands of miles across a desolate landscape all by myself.

Portugal was supposed to be a reprieve, a true vacation, but several things happened that ended up bringing me closer and closer to my mental edge. Getting my fifth and final rabies vaccine in Portugal was a bureaucratic, Kafkaesque nightmare that took 8 hours, 3 different clinics, and finally ended up with me in the emergency room because it was the only way I could see a doctor to get what should have been a simple, routine vaccine.

While you’d think that’d be enough, I also had some sensitive family drama which I won’t get into here to keep my family’s private stuff private, but it did bring me pretty much to my breaking point. August was tough.

September

Countries visited: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia

The Best

Serbia! My boyfriend and I did a fantastic 4-day road trip through southern Serbia, which reminded me just how beautiful and undiscovered this part of Europe truly is. We visited Nis, Kragujevac, Novi Pazar, and Zajecar, before finally seeing the beautiful Belogradchik Fortress in Northern Bulgaria on our way back to Sofia.

The Worst

My bank accounts, including my only debit card, got frozen while I was alone in Macedonia because I got assessed tax by NY State’s Tax Department for all my tax-deferred retirement deposits I had made several years back. I never received the notices because my address was incorrect in the system and found out I owed a hefty $1200 to the state (which I later have to dispute and sort out as I’ve never withdrawn this money from my retirement account — further adding to the mess of my many adulting failures with regards to taxes).

I quickly paid it and got my accounts unfrozen, but I’m still sorting out the fallout. It made my time in Macedonia extremely stressful as it took hours to figure out what was going on, and I couldn’t take out any cash until my final day there so I could only visit places that took credit cards for over a week. I could have gotten someone to send me money, but I didn’t want to deal with the headache of figuring out a Western Union, so I just dealt with it.

October

Countries visited: Bulgaria, Serbia (again!)

The Best

I returned to Bulgaria on the last day of September, only to return to Serbia two weeks later! I spent two weeks in Belgrade gathering content for Sofia Adventures with Steph, and it was absolutely fantastic. Belgrade is one hell of a city, and it’s definitely up there on the list as one of my favorite cities in the world.

I truly didn’t have a bad moment in Belgrade, but my favorite day was the amazing day trip we took to Fruska Gora and Novi Sad, mostly because our guide was so fantastic. Serbia is so, so underrated. I’ve now spent upwards of a month exploring Serbia and still have so many places I want to discover in this country – I’m grateful I’m so close!

The Worst

When the worst moment of your trip is having to take a bus that leaves at 4 AM, you know it was a pretty good month.

November

Countries visited: Bulgaria, Vietnam, Qatar

The Best

I was having trouble deciding where to go for my November exile, as I had to spend 3 weeks outside of Bulgaria in order to be able to spend Thanksgiving and my birthday in the country (visa problems). I decided on Vietnam, and it ended up being a fantastic choice.

I was hesitant to book a ticket so far away for just a few weeks, but I realized it was silly: I wanted some warm weather to jolt me out of my winter-induced sadness, and I found a cheap ticket, and besides, 3 weeks is more vacation time than most Americans get in a year — it was ridiculous to think that 3 weeks weren’t enough time to make the long trip to Southeast Asia worth it. I just chilled in Saigon and fell in love with the city bit by bit. I meshed with it on a way that I missed with Hanoi on my first visit to Vietnam, so I was really glad I returned to Vietnam despite my initial hesitations.

The Worst

My insomnia was at it again in Vietnam – I felt like I just never really got over my jet lag. I’d fall asleep around 5 each night, wake up for the delicious free breakfast in my hotel, then go back to sleep until 1 or 2 each day, then drag myself out for a few hours of sunlight before repeating it all over again. Luckily, I just accepted it and it didn’t send me into a depression the way my insomnia in Taiwan had earlier this year, but insomnia is never fun.

December

Countries visited: Bulgaria, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Cyprus

The Best

Revisiting Prague! I lived in Prague nine years ago and fell in love with it, and this was my first time back in the city since I left it. Ridiculous, right, seeing as I’ve been bouncing around Europe for the better part of the last three years! But I always found myself drawn to exploring new destinations rather than revisiting old ones, but now I’m starting to really appreciate revisiting a place, especially a place you know well.

Coming back to Prague felt a bit like coming home – I had such an intuitive knowledge of the city, and it was fun to see what had changed and what hadn’t. Budapest was also a re-visit, and I had spent two weeks there the previous summer so it felt quite familiar.

The Worst

This month was actually really fantastic, despite the quicker than usual pace of travel. The only low moments were early morning flights, which gave me a lot of anxiety and sleeplessness, but that’s the norm for me.

What’s Next in 2019?

I’ll be ringing in the New Year at home in Sofia, then heading to Thessaloniki, Greece for exile #1 of hopefully not many in 2019. I’ll be spending 3 weeks there catching up on blog posts and eating Greek food and doing a tiny bit of sightseeing and content creation.

I’ll be back in Bulgaria at the end of January for a festival in Pernik called Surva, which I guess is kind of a like a Balkan Halloween, but wintery. That’s a horrible explanation so just read about it here instead.

Then, in early February I’m off to California for some time at home before going on family vacation in Belize and Mexico. After I’ll spend two weeks solo in Mexico enjoying exile #2 in the sun, eating tacos and relaxing on the beach. I’ll then spend the next three weeks or so in Portugal and the Azores, with my best friend who lives in New York joining me for the final week!

The rest of the year depends on residency stuff and my ability to keep myself from opening a tab to surf Skyscanner… so keep your fingers crossed for me!

Thanks for reading – catch you in the new year!

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