A “tradition” has developed on this blog whereby at year’s end I seem to find myself on a random beach, somewhere in the world, from where I provide a brief recap of the year gone by.
And this year is no different, in that I find myself closing out the year by the shore of the Dead Sea in Israel – the lowest point on earth – lying on a beach that is crusted in salt and stunningly beautiful. It is from here that I will be saying farewell to 2019, my eighth full year of writing this blog, and another year gone by in which I have been lucky enough to be able to indulge my love of travel and my love of writing (by way of pure coincidence, this also just happens to be the 200th post on this blog).
What is different, however, is that as we transition from 2019 and into 2020, for the first time since I’ve been writing this blog it is not just a case of moving from one year into the next, but also from one decade into another. Providing an opportunity not just to look back at the most recent 365 days, but also to reflect on a much longer segment of my life, and how it played out.
In terms of travel, 2019 was another fairly “typical” year for me.
The basic statistics: I clocked up a total of 356,741 kilometers in the air (across 503 hours of flying time). I went to 20 countries, made use of 37 airports, flew on 16 different airlines; and took 111 individual flights.
(By the way, I do not have full records for my travels over the whole of the past decade – my app that tracks this for me only goes back to 2013. But according to what I have been able to piece together, in the course of the last 10 years I flew about 2.5 million miles, spent more than 3,500 hours in the air, got to about 45 countries, flew on about 45 airlines, and made about 750 individual flights).
As many readers of this blog will know, I am a junkie for going to new countries – ticking them off of some imaginary list in my head gives me a weird, perverse pleasure. But in 2019 my new country additions was rather limited, at just one: The Isle of Man, a tiny island-state in the middle of the Irish Sea. I went there for the first time in September.
This increased my total number of countries visited to 72, which is still a very long way short of even half of the 245 countries, territories and dependencies in the world. Although with a whole new decade of travel ahead of me, I am enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to knock off a few more in the coming years.
That said, whilst I may only have got to one new country, I still managed to enjoy a whole range of first time travel experiences in 2019.
Like in March in Cuba, where I ventured out of Havana for the first time – exploring the cigar-plantation countryside around Viñales [click here to read my observations from that adventure on what life in Cuba is really like].
In Mexico, in May, I visited the gorgeous colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, to see a friend who has bought a boutique hotel there [click here to read my story of being in a road accident near SMA, and click here to read about my encounter with San Miguel’s Jewish community]. A few months later, in August, I was back in Mexico, enjoying my first taste of the laid back beach vibes of Todos Santos in the Baja peninsula.
Through the course of the European summer, I babysat a friend’s English country house, allowing me to live like a local and explore the gorgeous surrounding Somerset countryside. In July, in Croatia, I travelled to the northern Adriatic towns of Split and Zadar to attend a music festival with some friends [click here to read what I wrote at that time about an earlier visit to Dubrovnik in Croatia].
And in October, in Japan, I ate my way through Osaka for the first time [click here to read part of that story], after I’d done riding a bike around the southernmost parts of Kyushu with my mates for a week.
There were also repeat visits made to places I’d been before, whether for work, to see family, or simply because I was passing through.
In Australia, I got to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. In Turkey I was in Istanbul, and I also made it to Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Israel – Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv [click here to read about my experience of attending the Eurovision final, fulfilling a lifelong bucket list ambition].
In the UK I got to Aberdeen, Bath and London [click here to read about some mighty fine beigels I ate in London’s Shoreditch area]. And in the rest of Europe I visited Holland (Amsterdam), Spain (Madrid – to see the European football cup final, which was a truly unforgettable experience), and Italy (Milan).
And finally in North America, there was Canada (Calgary), The Bahamas (Nassau and a number of outer islands), and Cuba (Havana). As well as endless dashing around the USA, to Houston [click here to read about my visit to a gun range], Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Honolulu [click here to read about an early morning visit to the Honolulu fish market; and click here for more about my Hawaii dolphin chasing encounter].
So in travel terms 2019 was, I suppose, fairly representative of the last ten years in general: a lot of flying around, a lot of adventures, a lot of great food, and a bucket-load of memorable encounters. A pretty apt way to end a decade, I suppose.
Outside of travel, 2019 was a complete emotional roller-coaster for me.
In February, after more than four years in the making, my first book Man Mission was released (www.manmissionthebook.com). It was my debut attempt at a novel (albeit a story rooted in real travel and born, in no small part, out of many of the posts on this blog). I was pretty nervous to put it out there, and so I was more than overwhelmed by the fact that quite a few people actually read it, I got positive reviews, and during 2019 Man Mission won two book awards for Best New Fiction (and was a finalist in a third).
At the other end of 2019 my second book, Head-Waggling in Delhi (www.headwagginlingindelhi.com) was released in November. It is a collection of travel stories I wrote while backpacking around India 25 years ago. This was followed now, at the very end of December, with a gathering in Israel for the start of a week-long celebration of my son’s 13th birthday – his Bar-Mitzvah, when according to Jewish tradition he graduates from being a boy into manhood. So I am seeing out the year, and the decade, along with my entire family and many friends – something that has not happened for a very, very long time.
And meaning that 2019 began, and now will close, on incredible personal highs. That also serves to accentuate what was, without doubt, the lowest of all possible lows mid-year: the passing of my mother in July, after a horrible four-year battle with cancer. And which despite everything else that may have happened this past year will now forever more be the defining theme of my 2019. A life-changing event that brought on a tidal wave of emotions and self-realizations that I am still trying to work my way through [I wrote about my mother’s passing twice this year – click here and here to read].
So in summary this past year gone by was a complete emotional “sandwich” of sorts: joy, pride and an enormous sense of personal achievement at either end, with sadness, grief and a huge amount of personal reflection in the middle.
In many respects then, a bit of a mirror as to how the entire decade shaped up for me as well.
You see, when the decade began I was married, had a young family, and was living a pretty cushy ex-pat life in Singapore. Then, over the course of the next few years, the whole thing unraveled: I separated from my wife, my kids moved with her back to Australia, and I made a series of life moves that were as much about trying to outrun the pain I was feeling as anything else: first to London, then to The Bahamas, then to Los Angeles, and finally back to Sydney.
In parallel I experienced a long period of career inertia, despite all the mad travelling I was doing. And in 2016 my mum got sick, throwing what little remaining semblance of life stability I had into complete chaos. Indeed, right up until almost the end of 2018 it felt a lot like my existence had become a case of reeling from one crisis to the next, unable to get a solid footing, and feeling very sorry for myself most of the time. A classic “midlife crisis”, if ever there was one.
But slowly, over the course of almost an entire decade, the ship began to turn.
I rediscovered my love of writing, and began pouring myself into my blog (and later my book projects), which acted like a form of therapy for me – bringing a renewed sense of purpose and direction.
Over the course of eight long and sometimes difficult years, I redefined my relationship with my kids. It took a while, but we slowly settled into a new rhythm of life that may seem strange from the outside, but it works for us. At one particularly low point a close friend told me that “fixing” things with my kids would be the key to my personal happiness and contentment, and boy, was she right.
Slowly too my work life improved, and I began to see some results from many years of concerted effort. Along the way I reconnected with many old friends, built new loving friendships and relationships, and learned a lot about myself in the process.
And then mum passed away, which despite being incredibly sad was also a relief: she was mercifully released from her long suffering, at the same time bringing to a close the nightmare it had visited on the rest of our family.
So, as I stand on the cusp of 2020, and on the cusp of a whole new decade of life, I am feeling the best I have felt in a very long time.
I am in pretty good health for a bloke approaching 50 (I even have most of my original hair intact!). I have wonderful children who are growing into absolutely fabulous young adults. I enjoy a lot of support from a loving family, and I cherish some very special friendships – many lifelong, a few more recent – with some pretty special people, all around the world. And I am blessed with a job that allow me the great privilege of being able to do exactly what I most love to do – travel, explore, eat and write.
So despite feeling pretty down for a long part of the past decade, I now find myself looking forward to the next ten years of my life with a lot of excitement. And for that, I am grateful.
As the year – and the decade – closes, as ever I want to thank you all for your ongoing support and readership. I remain deeply amazed, honored and humbled that people all around the world, most of whom I have never met, continue to be interested in the things I have to say.
I want to thank you for another year of reading my blog. And also for reading my books! And I want to wish you, wherever you may be, a very Happy New Year.
I hope that in 2020 – and right through the “roaring 20s” – you enjoy good health, and have many opportunities to feel blessed and grateful. And I hope that whatever it is you most love to do, you are afforded ample opportunity to do it, to be happy, and to spend time with loved ones.
If I have learned one thing from the past decade, it is that ten years is not a long time at all – it will pass in the blink of an eye. So seize the moment, and do not take any of life’s joys for granted. I won’t.