It was bound to happen eventually, but 2014 is the first year I’m not entirely sad to see go.
In my recap two years ago, I had deemed 2012 the best year ever and was “scared” for 2013’s ability to rise to such epic precedents.
2013 indeed matched (and surpassed) the year before, but its many ecstatic highs came with a small number of terribly painful lows. Overall though, it was an even better year than 2012, especially when I accidentally started traveling around the world.
So if I had to boil down 2014 to a single sentence, I’d say it was an unexpected mix of both full-time travel and full-time ‘settled’ expat life — a year that was book-ended by fun and positivity, but with middle months that were quite enh at times.
In some ways I’m nowhere near where I thought I’d be by the end of the year, and in most ways I’m surprised at how 2014 has ended — but I’m still grateful for most of it nonetheless.
After all: it was a good year in general. I hit 26 cities in 12 countries; I feel lucky to be able to live abroad, travel as much as I do, to have wonderful friends and family and to be in good health.
But still, I’m looking forward to starting anew with a tad more adventure in 2015…
[This year, I couldn’t choose my favorite photos for each city, so I decided to make it easy (and only mildly narcissistic): here is 2014 as told through many, many photos of myself:]
January: Iceland – Singapore
Iceland saw the end of my full-time travels through northern Europe. (OR SO I THOUGHT.) I went from snow and ice in the coldest place I’d ever been, to hot and more hot in the humid tropics, spending the next three weeks in Singapore on a scouting trip of sorts while thinking I was moving back to Asia.
February: Singapore – Sochi – Venice
I spent Chinese New Year in Singapore, then flew to Sochi to cover my second Olympic Games / first-ever Winter Olympics. I learned so much more than I did in London and made awesome new friends, top journalists and photographers and hockey fans alike.
(And while everyone thinks Winter is more low-key, let’s just say my Sochi stories are faaaar more entertaining than my London ones…)
After Sochi I continued onto Venice, where I met up with friends who had rented a large house along the canal to celebrate Carnevale. We spent a week integrating into Italian life as much as possible with large family dinners in the evening and enough aperol spritzes to power a small boozy army.
In Venice, my early onset quarter-life crisis kicked in. I left my job and my dream field for the time being; until I figured out my next steps I decided to continue traveling full-time.
(top photo of this post and dinner photo above courtesy Ashley Abroad)
March: Venice – Milan – Paris – Brussels – Bruges – Amsterdam
With a newfound abundance of time I decided to stay in Italy a little longer, going from Venice and Murano to Milan to pick up the last of my things from work and then, a train up to Paris.
Three weeks in Paris ensued, full of old friends and our usual bars and mornings at the markets and afternoons at Buttes-Chaumont and evenings picnicking along the river — like nothing had ever changed.
(Photo of me above courtesy Michael, husband to Simply Sara Travel)
Then up north we went, from Brussels to Bruges to Amsterdam, drinking as many quality Trappist beers as we were able before heading off to Asia.
April: Singapore – Penang – Bangkok – Shanghai
I was super excited to introduce Joe to Asia, so of course it was a disaster. I got mysteriously sick in Penang and then he followed with a fever in Bangkok (hence why there are zero photos of us in either), so we mostly saw the inside of our hotel rooms while we tried to avoid the humidity and not die. On the bright side, we did manage enough energy to venture out one evening to catch up with Steph & Tony in Bangkok!
Meanwhile, in early April I had started job searching and a couple of weeks later I had an offer in Shanghai. So I flew back to Singapore, got a visa tout suite, and started my new job the following week.
May was spent learning the ropes at my new job, getting reacquainted with Shanghai after being gone five years, and grabbing a few of my best friends from Paris and Singapore to visit to help me celebrate turning 25.
I went home in June to see my baby sister graduate high school, and to help my parents humor her as we all joined in the Color Run in Hershey. The start of summer is a great time to be in Pennsylvania and it was great to catch up with good friends I’ve known since elementary school.
July: Shanghai – Chengdu – Hong Kong
In July I moved into my first proper adult apartment — a place I found on my own, paid for on my own, and was totally brand new for me to decorate and make a home. It’s gorgeous and I’m still in love with it.
Also, this photo above technically has me in it, as the reading material in Joe’s hands: I was published in a book!
To curb my growing wanderlust, having settled in Shanghai for a couple months by this point, I spent a weekend out west catching up with my best Aussie mate Feakes, whom I hadn’t seen in over two years and now lives in Chengdu.
Shortly after, work sent me to Hong Kong to finally get that elusive, precious document: the Chinese residency and alien employment permit. While there I happened to run into Brian, my good friend from Singapore who had just moved to Xi’an, and was also getting his residency permit! It’s a small place, Asia.
Aaand of course, just after getting said residency permit, I was somewhat detained in my local police station related to said residency permit. Just when you think you’ve got it all sorted in China…
Luckily, the rest of August went far more smoothly, especially with the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games in town. I’d pop over after work on Friday and spend my weekends in Nanjing, catching up with old friends and colleagues, introducing the newbies to authentic Chinese food, and even catching a couple YOG events.
As Shanghai cooled down in September I started going to more birthday parties and group dinners, as I became more settled in my group of friends. But I was getting a little stir-crazy: because I’d cashed in a large chunk of my holiday leave to go home in June, I was one of the few who didn’t go away for summer vacation and still worked all of August.
So for the Mid-Autumn Festival weekend, Joe took me on a trip to Qingdao, one of the few large Chinese cities I hadn’t visited yet. We stayed on the beach and spent three days on stools in the street, eating fresh clams and drinking unfiltered dark beer from the Tsingtao factory.
(Shanghai photo above courtesy Wendy Lee)
October: Los Angeles – Seattle – Kuala Lumpur – Shanghai
For October holiday — the first week of October where everyone in China gets time off — we decided to go West Coast and traveled to LA and Seattle. Joe introduced me to all of his LA haunts from his many years living there (both to visit and to eat) and we got to catch up with our Paris friends Danielle and Kerri.
Meanwhile in Seattle, we stuffed ourself silly with oysters and beer, caught beautiful sunsets, and I reunited with old school friends I hadn’t seen in nearly ten years while also seeing Erica in her natural habitat.
Straight off the US I traveled to Kuala Lumpur, where I joined my Shanghai Gaelic teammates to compete in the All-Asia Gaelic Games. After a long weekend of football and after-partying and sunshine, it felt good to go back to chilly Shanghai, where I then became a Tetris block with three good friends in our greatest Halloween costume coup ever. (Blog-wise, this was also when I started bringing back the monthly recaps.)
(Gaelic photo above courtesy Ling Teo, Shanghai GAA)
November was pretty settled and mostly consisted of food-based activities — the greatest, of course, being able to host expat Thanksgiving at my own place for the first time.
December: Shanghai – Melbourne – Sydney
The last month of the year has flown by, and life has been good. I feel more stable in Shanghai these days, my mom came to visit for three weeks, and I met the Irish president for the second year in a row. The holiday lead-up involved Secret Santa exchanges and silly Christmas jumper parties at work, plus a hilarious night at the outrageous German Christmas market.
And to top things off, we’re in Australia for the holidays! I’ve been checking off bucket-list items left and right in Melbourne and Sydney, and am looking forward to ringing in the New Year here — celebrating one of my favorite holidays of the year with one of my favorite fireworks shows in the world.
Thanks for the good times, 2014, and cheers to 2015!
To everyone who’s stuck around with me another twelve months in this crazy adventure, thanks for reading, for commenting, for being supportive and for being you. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Neil Gaiman, and what I wish for every year:
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful … and I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.