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2015 In Review: Europe At Last, Africa Again & Learning Every Day

Wow, what a year.

Now it’s time to look back and reflect.

Like I said last year, posts like this are very personal, a chance for me to collate thoughts on the year – where I’ve succeeded, where I’ve failed and where to focus moving forward. I encourage you to look back on your own year and put your reflections into words as well, not only about the year gone past but also the year ahead. I share my review here for anyone who’s interested in reading, but obviously as a private exercise it’s just as helpful.

Below are personal reflections on the various areas of my life that are important to me right now – blogging, writing, finances, health, education, friends and family, travel, and future goals. It was a mixed year but definitely a memorable one as well.


Blogging

In the #office.

A photo posted by Bren (@brenontheroad) on


In January 2016 my second blogging anniversary comes up. I’m almost two years into this blogging thing but I feel like I’ve barely gotten started! Still so much I don’t know, still so much to learn and still so much work to do.

As for stats, my traffic was actually lower than last year, and my social media following has grown slower than last year, however my email subscribers have more than doubled and the blog definitely made more money than last year. Overall, things have been on the up.

The big milestone was the release of my travel guide Triple Your Travel – I spent most of the year writing and producing it, which meant I didn’t have as much time to write blog posts, but it was a very rewarding endeavour and I definitely learned a lot. I’ve been told over and over that I needed a flagship product, and that was the hole Triple Your Travel was intended to fill. I’m happy with how it turned out and really believe it’s an awesome resource for the would-be traveller. A big thank you to everyone who’s picked up a copy!

The blog also continues to connect me with more and more amazing people around the world – other bloggers, travellers, total strangers. It’s definitely my favourite part about having this platform. It serves to enrich my travel experience wherever I go, and that alone has made it such a rewarding project.

Writing

Obviously, writing is largely a part of blogging, but it deserves it’s only little section here. This year I’ve come to think of myself as a writer first and a blogger second. Last year was all about travel tips and hacks, this year has been more about personal stories that make travel special to me. It’s tough, because the former are much more popular with readers, but the latter are what I really love to write. Stories such as Melancholic in Montpellier, Five Days In London, I Found New Zealand In Ahipara and A Bowl Of Potato Soup In Rotorua are the stories I love to write – stories I hope to look back on in a few years and remember why I travelled. They take a really long time to write and edit (days, not hours) and don’t generate much traffic, but I will continue to edit and publish them, although perhaps a little more sparingly.

Secondly, I’ve been flirting with the idea of writing my first book – not an e-guide or ebook, but a book book – one you can put on the bookshelf. I’m not sure if it will be a travel memoir in the style of A Bowl Of Potato Soup In Rotorua or a more philosophical book in the style of The One Simple Lifestyle Change That Will Transform Your Life. Maybe a mixture of both. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

Overall, my writing has matured (I think). It’s still evolving obviously, and I’ve never had writing training so the words just come out however I hear them in my head, but I’m coming to enjoy it more and more, experimenting with different styles and words. I simply love telling stories. Expect a lot of blogging in 2016!


Finances

At the start of this year I budgeted all the things I wanted to do, looked at my bank balance, and decided if I travelled smart I wouldn’t have to take on much work. In the end I spent about $12,000 this year on 7 months of travel – slightly over budget but still did pretty well. I spent around $2,800 on my month in France which was a killer (a good chunk was tuition), and about $2,800 on flights (the two big ones were going and coming home: Sydney-Istanbul and Johannesburg-Sydney). Budget airlines in Europe and Africa were big life-savers. The rest of my trip I was able to get by with simple budget travel strategies!

I continue to write for select clients, I still have money trickling in from investments and the blog continues to bring in funds. My inbox is still being flooded with income opportunities for the blog which would easily add up to thousands of dollars per month but it’s all about advertising and sponsoring stuff I have no interest in putting in front of you guys. Sometimes it’s hard to let that money go but luckily I’m in a position where I can do so. There are a few companies I would love to partner with – if the opportunity arises I’ll see if we can make that happen in 2016.

Overall I haven’t made a whole lot of money this year, but didn’t spend much either, which is exactly what I preach. Now I’m back in New Zealand holed up in my parents’ house, figuring out my next move. All should be well!


New Projects

I’m always experimenting. Last year I spent a lot of time fiddling around with new projects and websites, and while I learned a lot most of them were miserable failures (things like Amazon stores, niche sites, Facebook marketing). It wasn’t that they were bad ideas per se, but just that I wasn’t able to give them the attention they needed. Between writing Triple Your Travel, blogging, freelance writing and actually travelling – I didn’t have much time for anything else. These things may get a revival sometime down the track, but probably not in 2016 – any new project next year will probably centre around a new book or Youtube series (I’ll talk about this later), but we’ll see.


Education

First #swahili class. Let’s get it on.

A photo posted by Bren (@brenontheroad) on

I talk about learning all the time. On here, in my emails, on social media. Almost every newsletter I send out I ask people what new things they’re learning, how and why, encouraging people to learn something new. When I wrote about the joy of learning something new last year, I wanted to inspire someone to start a new class or find a new passion, because the excitement of learning something new is what has inspired me to keep travelling all these years.

This year was awesome. I wrote recently about the Four Things I’m Doing Each Day To Become More Awesome, but there’s been a lot more to it than that. I finally finished the Spanish course on Duolingo, and now I’ve moved onto French. I also spent a month in French school during May which is something I’ve wanted to do for a few years now (and yes, I’ll be going back!). I started meditating which has added a lot of clarity to my life. During my time in Africa I self-studied Swahili each day and improved a lot, which totally transformed my trip to Tanzania this year. I took Kizomba lessons during my month in Uganda. When I returned home in October, I finally took up yoga like I’ve been talking about forever and do three classes a week. I can play one song on the guitar and am up to level 6 on Yousician! I completed a surf camp and am much less terrible than I was before. And I’m finally a member of a martial arts gym again, following on from my training in the Philippines nearly two years ago.

In a way, I feel like I’ve almost taken on too much, so 2016 will probably be about getting better at all these things I’ve already started. I do want to learn Tai Chi though. And maybe some Portugese 🙂


Friends And Family


The hardest part of travel – being away from your loved ones. You learn so much because you’re away from them, you meet so many new people because you’re away from them, but you also miss them a lot because you’re away from them. It’s a rough, double-edged sword.

It’s about finding the balance. I had a family reunion in January where I saw a lot of my extended family. I was at home in New Zealand with my parents until April. I travelled alone until October, and then flew to Australia to see my cousin get married before heading home to New Zealand for the summer. Took a small road trip to see a friend get married in November, and I’ll spend Christmas and New Year with friends and family. Seven months away, five months at home. It’s been perfect this year.


Health

Start the day with a green juice and you’ll punch like Mike Tyson

A photo posted by Bren (@brenontheroad) on

I turn 30 next year! The golden years are over.

Interestingly, I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in – ever since my shoulder injury I’ve been obsessed with staying healthy. When you can’t even lift your backpack up the stairs, you can’t even raise your arm to twirl your dance partner around, it puts things in perspective. Nothing matters if you don’t have your health.

During my travels this year I made a really concerted effort to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and stay away from shitty food. That was kind of hard in Turkey and Bulgaria, where delicious kebabs are everywhere, but in the rest of Europe and Africa it was pretty easy (Africa has the best fruit and veg ever!). Unlike most trips, I didn’t allow myself to get out of shape at all on the road.

Now that I’m back in New Zealand, it’s detox time. If you see my kitchen at home, it’s like a mad scientist’s lab of nutrition. Every day I drink bone broth, matcha green tea, fresh vegetable juice, and a smoothie of all the most potent nuts and fruits and spices. I feel like I’m on steroids.

Between yoga, fighting and surfing, plus my daily Mobility WOD, the body gets a workout every day and has been feeling really good. For the first time in a long time, I’m working out every day and completely injury free. I’m getting older, but healthier too. I’ll be aiming to make my thirties stronger and healthier than my twenties.


Travel

What a year. The world taught me so much. The travel bug still bites. I want to see more.

I started the year by calling in the new year in Tokyo. This was a trip I’d planned with friends for a while, so it was cool to finally travel with them. After Tokyo I ventured out to Japan’s Okinawa Islands, which was a slower, simpler version of Japan that was really interesting to see. You can learn a lot in these off the grid places!

#fatty #salmon #sushi

A photo posted by Bren (@brenontheroad) on

After that I headed to Fiji for a family reunion (a lot of my family lives in Fiji), and almost missed my flight because Sydney Airport was just so amazing as always (not). I spent a lot of my childhood in Fiji as my parents are from there, but haven’t been back for many years so this was a reunion that was long overdue.

Then in April I finally got to Europe. I didn’t move around a whole lot (four countries in total) but that was more than enough to make it worthwhile.

I started out with a flight to Istanbul (I would’ve flown to anywhere in Europe – Istanbul was the cheapest flight I found). I actually knew nothing about Turkey and booked the ticket around four days before I flew, so I went in completely blind. Overall, I didn’t like Turkey. The people, the vibe, it wasn’t my kind of place. I left after a week. I did, however, get to see Gallipoli, a place I have heard about my entire life, which was a rewarding and eye-opening experience. I got to see Troy as well, which I’ve always been fascinated with after learning about it in high school.

After Turkey it was onto Bulgaria. I had a horrible bus ride over the border, but three weeks in Bulgaria blew my mind. I had two weeks in Plovdiv and a few days in the capital Sofia. Super friendly people, affordable, awesome food, the women are beautiful, not touristy at all, safe, lots to do. One of my new favourite countries – I would live there!

#Sunday afternoon in #Plovdiv. Miss this place.

A photo posted by Bren (@brenontheroad) on

From Sofia I flew to Paris. I walked around, spent a day at the Eiffel Tower, looked at the Louvre from the outside but didn’t go in, then was up until 6am the following night watching Mayweather vs Pacquiao. After that it was an early morning, last-minute train to Montpellier, where I spent a month in an intensive French course. I’ve been meaning to visit France for years, so this was trip was extra sweet. I loved Montpellier – small and trendy, safe, beautiful – a highlight of the year.

A Thursday night chill session on the streets of #Montpellier. Miss that place.

A photo posted by Bren (@brenontheroad) on

Next, I flew up to London to visit some friends. I couchsurfed with an old friend from my 9-5 days which saved me a tidy bundle of cash, but the highlight was seeing my old friends from home and knowing they’re all doing well and earning stacks of money. It’s funny how life changes so much, but over a beer everything is still the same. I didn’t get a lot of time in London, but the city grew on me during those few days. I can see why people love it so much.

Enter Africa. I flew from London to Moshi, Tanzania – a city I know very well now. I have some continuing non-profit work I do in Moshi since my first visit in 2011. It’s a personal story I haven’t shared here yet, maybe I will at some stage, but nonetheless it’s a city I love and will continue to visit! It’s always nice to visit my old friends at Hostel Hoff too, where I stay each time I return. Unlike my other visits to Moshi, I finally got time this year to see a bit more of Tanzania. I spent 3 weeks exploring the bustling and crazy Dar Es Salaam, and another week or so on the idyllic island of Zanzibar. I’ve visited Tanzania now more times now than any other country in the world – I just love it that much.

When my Tanzanian visa ran out, I headed to Uganda’s capital, Kampala, for a month stay. I haven’t written about Kampala yet, mostly because I was holed up in an apartment finishing off writing Triple Your Travel. However, I did get out and explore, eat, and make a lot of new friends out there. It’s an incredible city, with possibly the friendliest people I’ve ever met (yes, maybe even more than the Filipinos!). I would love to return.

Causing mischief wit da boys in #kampala Thursday night! Love this city to pieces.

A photo posted by Bren (@brenontheroad) on

My last stop was South Africa. I needed to fly through Johannesburg to catch my flight home, so decided to stop in for a few days and see what this city was all about. It wasn’t at all what I expected. Joburg is a booming metropolis comparable to most first world cities I’ve been to – sparkling clean water, big winding highways, flash European cars everywhere and lots of amazing bars and restaurants, quite bohemian too in many parts. It can be tough to get around but with Uber, everything was painless. Joburg is vibrant and happening – maybe not the Africa you expect, but still amazing.

Some dope artwork in #johannesburg. Couple thousand bucks to get one of yourself. #whenimrichandfamous

A photo posted by Bren (@brenontheroad) on

From Joburg I flew to Sydney to see my cousin get married, then it was home to New Zealand. As much as I suck at surfing, I missed it a lot so I almost immediately signed up for surf camp – something else I’ve always wanted to do. I learned a lot about my own country up there, which made it a far richer experience than I had expected. Another highlight of the year.

Learning to surf in #Ahipara

A photo posted by Bren (@brenontheroad) on

The last bit of travel for 2015 was a short road trip down to Wellington to see my old buddy Jordan get married. 9 hours each way, I decided to break it up with a stop in Taupo on the way down and a stop in Rotorua on the way up. Despite being only a week long trip it felt like I’d been away a month. A reminder that even short travel experiences can be amazing ones.

A photo posted by Bren (@brenontheroad) on

All in all a handful of new countries, lots of new friends, lots of new memories. Couldn’t have asked for more.


Plans for 2016

As for travel, I don’t know. All I know is I’ll be walking the Camino in May to celebrate my Mum’s birthday. The rest is up in the air, but I do have some ideas.

Taiwan is one of them – I need to head back to that part of the world and work on my Chinese, which is terrible and I’m embarrassed to tell people I spent a whole year in China studying it. Staying in Europe is the other possibility, maybe with a dip down to Africa. Depends on my money situation. Right now, I’m just focusing on enjoying my summer at home in New Zealand. When the tickets do get booked, you’ll be the first to know.

As for the blog, I’ve got a few things in mind. I’ve been brainstorming a Youtube series which probably won’t be ready in 2016, but it’s something I’ll be gathering ideas for. I also have the aforementioned book, which I’ve started writing some thoughts on. I’m redesigning the site as we speak which is exciting, and I have a lot of posts drafted which I think you guys are going to love. In the end, I’ll just be striving to keep getting better at what I do – writing stories, and sharing information that helps you travel more.


Thank you!

Again, I owe so much to you. To everyone who shared an article, tweeted, pinned, read my emails, purchased my book, even if you just read an article and said “Hey that was pretty good,” thanks so much. To know that my writing has an influence is what makes all the work worth it. Many of you write in to me and share your own stories, or how an article of mine has helped you to make a positive change in your life, and that’s really the best feeling the world, so please continue to write. At the end of the day, we write not to make money or get shares on Facebook, but to share a story that will make an impact. Many of you leave comments to say that something I’ve written has inspired you, but remember that seeing you out there doing awesome things really inspires me as well. It’s been amazing connecting with you all this year, and hopefully I’ll see a few of you out on the road in 2016!

Final words

2015 has actually zoomed by, and I can’t believe we’re here already, but this year has helped me grow in many ways. In a sense, I feel like I’m actually starting to grow up. My travels have become slower, I’m observing a lot more, being more selective about who I spend my time with and building the things I care about. My minimalist lifestyle continues, which allows me to spend more time on myself, strengthening body and mind rather than building a bank account. I’m in a very different place than I foresaw ten years ago.

Many new people came into my life this year, some of whom I introduced to you in my writing and some I did not. But I’ve learned from all of these people and always feel blessed that travel brings so many great friendships into my life – it really is the best part of doing what I do.

For now, it’s a summer at home, but I’m sure 2016 has some great adventures in store for me. Time will tell.

See you in the new year,

Bren


What did 2015 mean to you? What were your successes, failures? What are your aiming for in 2016? Let me know in the comments below!

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8 thoughts on “2015 In Review: Europe At Last, Africa Again & Learning Every Day

  1. Well done Bren, sounds like a great year! I actually enjoy reading these personal stories and reflections more than travel tips, its rare that I come across a tip I haven’t seen before but stories from the road are always different and inspiring.
    I have been on the road for over 7 months now and at the same time that it feels like this year flew by it also feels like a life time ago when I first wrote to you from NZ dreaming about my upcoming trip. I’m in India at the moment planning on spending my NYE in the Thar desert on a camel safari, should be cool.
    Enjoy your NZ summer and happy new year!

    1. Fernanda! Amazing to know you’re out there adventuring. I feel like I may be back on the road come March. If you’re still out there maybe we’ll cross paths 🙂 Enjoy NYE, sounds awesome!

  2. It’s 2015 when I discovered your blog and I am enjoying it.

    Maybe because I also like reading stories and learnings than travel guides and tips. I agree that stories generate less traffic especially from search engine but they create the deeper impact to a person than tips and hacks.

    Keep writing about your experiences and stories! Because for me personally, it creates more depth than width. Happy for your awesome 2015! and will continue reading your stories for 2016 and the years to come.

  3. Don’t let turning 30 get you down … keep fit and have a positive attitude, and keep growing. I’m 35, and apart from a niggling pain in my back from sitting too much, I feel and look (mostly) as young as before!

  4. Hi Bren, new to the blog and have really enjoyed reading through your archives. My mum did the Camino last year and inspired my partner and I to want to do it. From what she has told me, you will love it. I hope to see a few posts about it. Happy New Year!

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