2018 was a big year for us as we transitioned from Australia to Canada. It was a fantastic adventure spanning three continents, but it was also a really hard year. Closing out this expat chapter in our lives (for now) and adjusting to “home” was incredibly hard for me. Last month I wrote about what it was really like coming home and the feelings I struggled with.
Those feelings haven’t completed evaporated, but I have learned how to work with them. I still miss Australia daily; in fact looking through photos from this past year is hard for me and something I have purposely avoided.
I can’t explain why, other than to say sometimes a place just really gets under your skin and for Paul and I, Melbourne and Australia did that. We have travelled and lived in many different places around the world, but there is nowhere else that I have fallen so hard for. Just yesterday I looked at Paul and said, “We are going to live in Australia again”, and with a big smile, he responded “Definitely.” But that is not what this blog post is about. In this post we will recap all of our highlights of 2018, and there were loads of them! We hope they inspire you to get dreaming and planning about your 2019 adventures.
If you missed our 2017 Year in Review, check it out!
Most Unforgettable Trip
It is hard to top last year’s trip to Papua New Guinea (PNG), but sailing through Komodo National Park in Indonesia certainly wasn’t too shabby. Komodo and the island of Flores in Indonesia is really starting to hit the travellers’ radar. For many seeing komodo dragons in the wild is the highlight, but for us it was hiking, snorkeling and seeing these islands from the water, that made our trip. We love living on the water and so we jumped at the opportunity to spend 4 nights on board an Indonesian boat.
Best Road Trip
I didn’t even have to think about this one. Our amazing road trip from Melbourne into the Outback to Uluru was definitely the best road trip we took of 2018. What makes it especially awesome is that we almost didn’t do it. We actually didn’t think Uluru was a must-see and we shied away from the cost of visiting the Northern Territory. But what hooked us was the idea of a camping road trip. We wanted to test out those roof top tents Aussies love and drive a 4WD on those iconic red dirt roads.
At first we thought it was a crazy idea to drive the 2,500 km from Melbourne to the Rock. But, the journey there was just as much fun as the destination. We experienced our first road houses, slept in an underground hotel (more on that below) and managed to lose half of our tent. We had seen hundreds of photos of Uluru, but it still managed to take our breaths away and we are so glad we didn’t leave Australia without seeing and experiencing this incredibly special place.
The Red Centre road trip was also our first big blog break. We partnered with Britz Campervans and Northern Territory Tourism and it was great to see some success after all the hard work I had been putting into the blog.
Favourite Place We Stayed
In Bali, we found the most amazing Airbnb that was right out of our dreams. It was in a small, traditional village north of popular Ubud. Set right in the rice fields, it had amazing Balinese architecture and a super friendly host family. The kids loved chasing the fireflies in the evening and playing with the family’s sweet little toddler.
We did wake one morning to the whole house shaking, which was the first earthquake Bali experienced last summer.
Best Wildlife Experience
We have three that stand out. First, we have to mention seeing Komodo dragons in the wild. Although the whole experience was a bit lackluster, we know we are fortunate to visit these remote islands.
Second was close up encounters with Australian wildlife. From having koalas camped out over our tent to seeing kangaroos in the wild, we love seeing these unusual animals.
Our third wildlife highlight of the year was seeing raccoons in Malaysia. Yes, you read that correctly – raccoons! For some reason raccoons in Malaysia seemed so much cooler than raccoons in Canada. The kids particularly enjoyed feeding Rosie, the raccoon at the Lost World of Tambun in Ipoh.
Our first night on the Indonesian island of Flores we stayed on the beach in the small town of Maumere. We were greeted with this epic sunset and knew immediately that we made a great choice escaping the crowds of Bali.
Best Luxury Experience
Having afternoon tea at St. Ermin’s Hotel in London was a welcome change from our usual travel style. The kids were very well-behaved and we all loved the delicious teas and themed foods (and the bottomless Prosecco!).
Best New Skill Learned
In Yogayakarta, Indonesia we took a batik-making class, which was such an awesome cultural activity to do together. We love the batiks we made that are now hanging in our house.
Most Thrilling Activity
We visited quite a few water parks in the summer throughout Asia, but the most thrilling slide was definitely the very creative Banana Flip at Escape in Penang, Malaysia. I wasn’t brave enough to give it a try, but Paul and Gavin braved it.
Most Unique Stay
No question our most unique stay was a cave hotel in the Outback of Australia. In the opal mining town of Coober Pedy, we saw why the locals live underground to escape the searing heat.
In 2018 we experienced our first food tours and are hooked now. In Penang, Malaysia we tasted local street food favourites with Simply Enak and in Athens, Greece, we stuffed our bellies with Greek classics with Athens Food on Foot. Food tours are the perfect way to combine our love for cultural and food travel. Now that the kids are older and can walk long distances, they are a great family activity. Kids are often deeply discounted so it is a very reasonably priced family activity.
We love to build layovers into our travels and there really isn’t any better layover city than Singapore. You could entertain yourself for days in Changi airport, our favourite airport in the world. Featuring orchid gardens, a swimming pool, the friendliest people and so much more, this airport puts all others to shame. We had a couple of days in the city. Gavin loved showing the rest of the family all the places we had visited on our solo trip there in 2017. We were there for Singapore National Day and got to experience an air show over the harbor from an outdoor hawker food court.
Best National Park
We loved exploring the National Parks around Melbourne and there are so many that we love. It is hard to pick favourites, but once again Wilson’s Prom makes the list. There is a reason Victorians love this National Park that is the southernmost point of mainland Australia. We spent a week of the Australian summer holidays there and enjoyed lots of hiking, swimming in the ocean and tidal river and sharing a campsite with school friends.
Visiting the famous Borobudur Buddhist temple in Java was definitely the most spectacular temple we visited in 2018. Borobudor is over 1,000 years old, but wasn’t re-discovered until the 1800s. The 72 stupas each conceal a Buddhist statute, making for a spectacular sight, especially at sunrise.
We had a great time returning to Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur. We had fun re-creating a photo from when we lived in Malaysia. We also visited some of Ipoh’s cool cave temples that were build by the Chinese when they settled in Ipoh.
Most Iconic Destination
We visited three iconic European destinations: Athens, Rome and London this year. While we were only in Rome for a few short days, we soaked up the history of the city and visited its famous landmarks. The kids had fun splashing in Rome’s many fountains and learning how to drink out of a Roman fountain.
When we first moved to Australia, someone recommended the Blanket Bay campground in Otway National Park. It is a lesser-known gem right on the ocean, along Great Ocean Road. There is nothing like going to sleep in your tent listening to the sounds of the waves crash on the beach. Not to mention the koalas that hang out in the campground make it pretty cool too.
Best Off the Beaten Path Destination
The island of Flores in Indonesia was even better than we thought it would be and we wish we had spent more time traversing the island. With its unique tribal cultures intermixed with Christianity, volcanoes galore and so many amazing natural wonders, it was the perfect way to get off the beaten path. I haven’t yet shared our full trip details, but hope to next month.
We experienced lots of great tours this year that really enriched the destinations we visited. But, there are two tours that really stand out.
In Rome, we did a private kid-focused tour with Tapsy Tours that completely blew our minds. The guides were super engaging with lots of interactive activities and role playing. The kids learned so much on this tour and we were really impressed with all the little details in the tour, including meeting the Tapsy mascot, singing songs about Rome and sampling tasty pizza bianco.
Another tour that really impressed was the wonderfully named, Tour for Muggles in London. This walking tour showed us the Harry Potter film locations throughout the city as we learned lots of Harry Potter trivia with our eccentric guide.
Best Return Destination
One of the anchor points on our summer travels was returning to where we lived in Malaysia – Ipoh. Miles was keen to see his birth country and we had a great time visiting our home, school and favourite places. We were also able to reconnect with some Ipoh friends including our nanny Nini.
Visiting Greece was all about the history and we visited lots of historical sights in Athens and the Peloponnese on our DIY Percy Jackson tour. It is so hard to fathom life in BC years and the inventiveness of the ancient Greeks. It was amazing for us to see Ella’s excitement and knowledge of Greek mythology in this trip that she planned.
Breakfast – you just can’t beat a Melbourne breakfast. We miss these so much!
Lunch – Gado Gado in Indonesia. We love this vegetarian meal with veggies and peanut sauce.
Dinner – any of our dinners in Greece. We never had a bad meal and always ate outside in a quaint courtyard or street. So many great veggie friendly options, although after a month without cheese in Asia, we certainly made up for it in Greece.
Best Swimming Hole
The volcanic activity on the island of Flores in Indonesia creates lots of great swimming holes. We had such a good time at Malanage hot springs where we mingled with locals and enjoyed the hot, mineral-rich waters. I am sure there is one really happy kid there who inherited Ella’s favourite swim suit that we left there.
Just off Bali are the famous Gili islands, one of the best places in the world to see turtles. It was completely magical seeing so many turtles so close, although it is a shame that the guides try to encourage you to touch and hold onto them.
Best Local Find
Where we lived in Melbourne, we were lucky enough to be right near Melbourne’s largest naturalized park, Yarra Bend. Early on we had discovered the interesting fruit bats that call the park home (and flew over our house every night), but it took us longer to discover the Fairfield Boathouse. This heritage boat house was one of our favourite places to visit on a weekend.
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A new find this weekend in our local area. We love #yarrabend Park near our house and a walk to #fairfieldboathouse was a great Sunday afternoon activity. Of course we rewarded ourselves with drinks and scones. The boat house dates from 1908 and they have kept the old world charm. Great place to relax, watch the boats and watch the birds. #sundayfunday
Worst Travel Experience
Sometimes travel plans don’t go exactly to plan and that is what happened to us in July in Indonesia. We had planned to spend a week in a remote Javanese town teaching English and staying with a local family. Unfortunately when we arrived the kids were really sick, the conditions a little too basic and the situation not exactly what we thought. After a night, we bailed. As the kids get older we really want to incorporate more cultural exchanges into our travels and we felt bad about not sticking it out. Our host family was really lovely and welcoming, but we just didn’t see the point in struggling through an uncomfortable situation.
After the kids recovered, we had to scramble to figure out what to do with our week instead. We splurged and bought tickets back to Bali and ended up having an awesome stay in a village in the centre. But, it just goes to show that sometimes things don’t go according to plan.
Best (and only) Concert
Ella and I went to the Ed Sheeran concert in Melbourne which was AMAZING! It was Ella’s first concern and it will definitely be one that she always remembers. It was Ella’s 2017 Christmas present, which I definitely benefited from!
5 birthdays celebrated on 3 different continents this year. Paul celebrated his at home in Melbourne. Miles celebrated his 7th birthday on Gili Air in Indonesia. I celebrated mine a few weeks later in Singapore. Ella and Gavin were really excited to enjoy their special days with friends in Canada.
Best New Toy
Paul became a pretty happy guy when we bought a drone this year. We now travel with a little too much camera equipment and he has not entirely fulfilled his promise to make travel videos, but we are still really happy with our new toy.
What’s Next for 2019?
We are ending 2018 in a typical Nicholson fashion with our last trip of the year, to the Canadian Rockies. We are visiting my brother’s family in Alberta and will enjoy lots of active winter activities that we missed out on the last two years – skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, ice skating and more.
In February we head off for 3-months of travel, which is approaching a little too quickly! We have only a rough outline of this trip, which depending on the day I feel either worried about or not.
We do know we will spend the first month in Mexico, starting in the Yucatan. We will have a couple of days in LA to visit Harry Potter world at Universal Studios Hollywood. Next we fly to Delhi, India with a few day layover in Guangzhou, China. Hopefully by then China and Canada will have sorted out their political spat. We will spend about 3 weeks in northern India, details TBD. What we do know is we can’t visit India a second time without seeing the Taj Mahal. Lastly, we will spend the month of April in Nepal where we will be joined by our dear friends and neighbours from Australia, the Nichols-Tomlins family. On our way home, we will have to stop in Alberta to see my brother’s new addition.
I am sure we will figure it out as we go along. I do like leaving our plans flexible so that we can adapt them as we go. The kids will then return to school for May and June before we spend summer holidays exploring our home province of Ontario.
Gratitude is something I have been working on a lot this year and in preparing this post, there is so much I am grateful for. In addition to all the amazing travel experiences we have had in 2018, the special memories we have made together as a family are what means the most to me. We are so lucky to be able to spend so much time together and so fortunate to experience so many epic adventures.
This quote below has been my mantra for the past few months in our transition home. I can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for us!
If you have any tips or suggestions or secret gems for Mexico, India, Nepal, we would love to hear them!
What were your travel highlights of 2018? We would love to hear them in the comments below.