2015 Year in Review and Where 2016 Will Take Me - Hole In The Donut Cultural Travel

2015 Year in Review and Where 2016 Will Take Me

I’ve never written a year in review article before, but for some reason I’m driven to do so this year, and when I counted up I was shocked to see that I visited 19 countries in 2015! What’s even more amazing is that I did that in just seven months, because I stayed with my father in Illinois during the final months of his life and didn’t hit the road permanently until May 19th (I did manage to sneak away for a week earlier in the year for a long dreamed of visit to Cuba with Discover Corps).

My travels began in earnest when I flew over the pond to join Viking River’s Grand European Tour. For 15 days we cruised on rivers and canals through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and into Hungary, sailing into Budapest after dark, with its exquisite panoply of illuminated bridges, palaces, and statues spread before us. At the end of the cruise, I stayed in Budapest for several weeks before visiting friends in far Eastern Hungary, who took me on a fascinating day trip to western Ukraine.

Meeting one of the world's greatest photographers, Steve Mc Curry, at an event in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Meeting one of the world’s greatest photographers, Steve Mc Curry, at an event in Amsterdam, Netherlands

In mid-July, I embarked on a journey through the ex-Yugoslavian countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although it was never part of Yugoslavia, I included Albania, as doing so meant I would have visited every country in Eastern Europe. This had been high on my travel wish list for a long time, as it is a region that is little known and even less understood, especially for most Americans, and I felt certain it would offer up surprises. I was not disappointed. More than surprising, it was fascinating. Though the convoluted history made my head hurt, I found kind and generous people, a region that has not been ruined by tourism, and prices that were astonishingly affordable.

Posing beneath the "hoodoos" - a geological formation in southern Serbia

Posing beneath the “hoodoos” – a geological formation in southern Serbia

In early October I hopped on a ferry from Split, Croatia to Ancona, Italy, and rode the Adriatic railway down the coast to the heel of Italy’s boot, where I spent a wonderful week with Flavours Holidays learning to cook the regional dishes of Puglia. Then it was off to Nepal to visit my adopted family and celebrate the Hindu holiday of Tihar with them. The houses are not heated in Nepal, so I stayed until the end of November, when my bones started creaking. Following the sun, I headed for my old stand-by, Thailand, where I spent a month in the southern beach town of Hua Hin, returning to Bangkok in time for New Years.

My deer-in-the-headlights look as I try to learn to cook in Puglia, Italy

My deer-in-the-headlights look as I try to learn to cook in Puglia, Italy

Whew! I’m tired just writing it all down. Traveling this fast is not my norm. I prefer to stay in each country for a month so I can tap into the culture of the places I visit, however lately I’ve been moving faster. This is partly because I’ve been thinking about settling down again…someplace. The problem is, I don’t yet know where that place will be. My criteria includes a cheap cost of living; weather that’s not too hot or cold; decent infrastructure; cultural amenities; access to healthy vegetarian food; good, affordable health care; first-world coffee shops; fast Internet; a place where I will not need a car, and where English is understood by many of the locals.

The gardens of Melk Abbey, Austria

The gardens of Melk Abbey, Austria

So far, I haven’t found a destination that meets all my criteria, and I’ve begun to realize that I probably will never stay in one place all year round. I’m really too much of a vagabond to do that anyway. But I’m traveling fast to sample a lot of places, checking more off my list than finding locations that might work. I still need to explore further those that are possibilities thus 2016 will be just as jam packed with travel as last year.

Enjoying tea at an old mosque in Kruja, Albania

Enjoying tea at an old mosque in Kruja, Albania

Tomorrow I leave Bangkok for a month in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. February will take me to Myanmar. In early March I fly to Isla Mujeres, Mexico for the “We Move Forward” conference, which brings women from all over the world together to create waves of positive change, personally and professionally. It feels like a time of change for me, and I’ve always said the trick is to recognize when a new path appears. Hopefully the conference will create a mindset that will be open to new opportunities (don’t worry, I won’t stop traveling).

Dinner with friends Desi and Agi in Budapest, Hungary

Dinner with friends Desi and Agi in Budapest, Hungary

From Mexico, I’m considering Colombia and several Caribbean island destinations, after which I will spend a couple of weeks with my family in the U.S. while I apply for my 10-year Indian and Chinese visas. As soon as the visas are in my hot little hands I’m off again, to Iceland and then to the U.K., where I’ll meet up with a long time friend for a tour of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man, finishing up back in England with stops in Liverpool and the Lakes District.

If there’s enough time, I plan to stop in Belgium and Luxembourg, before flying off to Japan for a week with new friends Leanne and Tony Argyle of The Expat Chat. After Japan it’s back to Europe. Following a brief stay in Paris and some wandering around southern France, I’ll be doing something I’ve always wanted to do – touring Provence during the Lavender harvest. Lavender is my favorite fragrance and I’ve always dreamed of breathing in the musky sweet scent as it’s cut. By that time it should be July and I have a slew of opportunities. I’ve been invited to Kashmir, in northwest India. I could spend a month in Greece. Southern Turkey is also a possibility, with a side trip to Cyprus. So many choices, so little time.

Together again with my adopted Nepali family for the Tihar holiday in Pokhara, Nepal, my second to last destination during my 2015 year in review

Together again with my adopted Nepali family for the Tihar holiday in Pokhara, Nepal, my second to last destination during my 2015 year in review

In early September I’ll be traveling through Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia as I make my way toward St. Petersburg, Russia, where I’ll hop on the Trans-Siberian Railroad for a week long trip. I’ll be taking the southern route, stopping for a few days in Mongolia, before continuing on to Beijing, China. Since the temperatures will be dropping by that time, I won’t linger in China. Instead, I’m thinking Taiwan in early October, followed by the Philippines, Nepal, and then India for the winter. I don’t even know how many countries that will be, but one thing is certain…it will all change a dozen times as I make my way around the world. It always does.

I wish you all a new year filled with health, happiness, and of course, travel. I hope you’ll be traveling vicariously with me via my blog, but if your travel plans happen to coincide with mine, please drop me a line. I love meeting up with people on the road.

P.S.: Some of you have told me in no uncertain terms that you’d like to see more photos of me. I really don’t like seeing myself in photos, especially since I gained so much weight by the time I left the U.S. this past May, but by the time I got to Nepal, a lot of those excess pounds were gone, thank goodness. Nevertheless, my aversion to seeing myself in photos remains, so enjoy it while it lasts!

22 Comments on “2015 Year in Review and Where 2016 Will Take Me

  1. Hi Barbara, I will be in Chiangmai Jan 25-29 before heading over to Myanmar to meet up with a group. It would be lovely to meet w you for a cup of tea and a chat if you have time.

    I’m spending 2-1/2 months in SE Asia, primary purpose to view total solar eclipse in March in Indonesia.

    If you have a hotel recommendation for Chiangmai I’d very much appreciate it. I’m not into the loud drinking backpacker scene, prefer to stay at low to mid price places w AC, safe, near sights, and walkable. Could care less about luxury and frills.

    Am keeping your quest for a home base in mind. I think you are a few years out from age 65, but definitely look into ramifications of getting onto Medicare so as not to incur penalties later. An accident or illness can occur at any time and it’s good to be prepared in case you’d need to return to States for prolonged treatment. Something no one likes to consider but you seem like a practical person.

    Danielle Putnam
    San Diego CA

    • Hi Danielle: I’d love to meet up. Have emailed you directly.

  2. Wow! what a wonderful year! I’m so impressed that you have the urge to go to all these places and then write about them. We left you in Budapest after the cruise and you have done so much. I’m very glad to read and follow your travels – I feel like i am right there with you.
    All the best for 2016!
    Irene Palmer ( a fellow traveler on the Skadi)

    • Hi Irene! You know, saying that my writing makes you feel like you are right there with me is probably the highest compliment you could pay to any writer. So thank you – you just made my day! I’ll soon be hopping aboard another Viking River Cruise, this time in Myanmar to sail up and down the Irrawaddy. I can hardly wait. Now all I have to do is get caught up on my writing before I leave – I always run so far behind. Wishing you a wonderful 2016 as well! xoxo

  3. Sorry to hear about your dad passing. You’ve had a great year exploring and next year
    I am jealous you will be in Mongolia a couple days. I am writing my 2015 Travel Year in Review too and when looking back it is amazing how much we travel…and love it.
    2016 starts us out waiting to see what will happen with my sister Pat (70) who had a massive stroke on Christmas Day. I don’t want to plan travel right now that will take us far away.

    • Oh Kevin and Sue, I’m SO sorry to hear about your sister. My thoughts and prayers are going out to her and you. Would love to reconnect one of these days.

  4. What a fabulous year! I don’t often leave comments on your blog, but I’m always watching, always so impressed by your adventurous spirit. All the best for a fantastic 2016!

    • It was a fabulous year, Rebecca.Thank you so much for taking time to leave a comment – they always mean the world to me. All the best to you in 2016 as well.

  5. What a year! And what a year to come… I was in Myanmar last year February.. it’s a great time to go. That country is very interesting, the people are generally very nice. The beach area bordering Thailand opened up to tourists while we were there (we couldn’t go, but I’d like to soon) as well as the area bordering Bangladesh in the hills… I’d head there if I were you – before it radically changes. Happy Trails.

    • Hi Marie: I’m headed to Myanmar in just a few weeks – really excited because it’s been on my wish list for quite some time and, as you say, I want to get there before it changes too much. Thanks for the suggestions; I’ll check them out.

  6. Wow, what an impressive itinerary. I will certainly be following along with your new adventures. Have you figured out how many more countries you need to see to have seen them all?

    • Hi Suzanne: Thanks for your comment and welcome aboard! I doubt whether I’ll ever see all countries in the world. Depending upon which countries you include (some are not recognized as countries by all other countries), there are slightly less than 200 countries in the world. My goal is to see 100 before I die. Currently I’m at 65, and by the end of 2016 I’ll probably be at 75, so at my age, it might be a stretch, but I’m going to give it my best shot 🙂

  7. Wow, sounds wonderful just joined your blog will enjoy reading about your travels.

    • Hi Lana: Thanks for your comment. So happy you enjoyed my year end review and that you’ll be following me in the future.

  8. Wow! what a year. I wish you even more travels in 2016. I am glad to hear that you’re coming to Chiang Mai. I have been here for 2 years now. Enjoy the city!

    • Hi Jo! I arrived in Chiang Mai a couple of days ago and would love to meet you. If you’re willing, will you please email me directly at [email protected] and let me know when we might get together?

  9. Barbara, I don’t know how you can handle so much change in your life. If you think about it, when you travel you are exposed to a lot of change. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel too, but I need long breaks between my travels to catch my breath. However, I must say that your life is very enriched by all these experiences.

    • Hi Anda: It can be exhausting, but when I start to feel that way I plop down in one place. I spend more than a month in Nepal and a couple of months in Thailand each year, and that lets me recharge. Fortunately, I’m one of those persons who thrives on change.

  10. I see you’re heading back to Mexico for a bit. Will you pass through Mazatlan again?

    While in Latin America, have you considered the highlands in Peru? Cajamarca is wonderful to walk around. As you approach the airport on the flight from Lima, your pilot might buzz the runway to chase off the goats and cows long enough to land. The most notable thing I found in Peru was the people. Just as generous and gracious as those here in Mexico. And be sure to check out the Lord of Sipan in the main museum in Lima. He was covered in his burial in a full suit of jade stitched together with gold thread.

    • Hi Larry: Unfortunately, I won’t be in Mazatlan gain. Only in Mexico for a few days for a conference this time around. I spent a month in Peru and checked out a fair number of destinations, but never made it to the highlands. I’ll have to put it on my list for next time. And the Lord of Sipan was simply astonishing! Perhaps even more astonishing was the question of what lay undiscovered in the tombs that remain unexcavated!

  11. I’m tired reading your itinerary! – that’s a fair bit of flying. Thinking of a place that you might spend more than a month, we just loved Medellin for this purpose and it’s high on our list for the day when we don’t travel fulltime. It has most of what’s on your list, very affordable for high quality food and accommodation and the weather is a dream.

    • Hi Jo: Medellin is actually on my list and I may be going there this spring! I hear great things about Colombia in general, so I have to check it out. Thanks for the suggestion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *