Four continents, 14 countries, dozens of photos! This is my expat-turned-nomad's 2015 year of travel in review.

From Serial Expat to Full-Time Nomad: Life in 2015

Bastille Day 2015, Paris by Expat Edna-11

Let’s skip all the pleasantries and excuses: yep, this recap is a little delayed. Happy 2016!

Regardless of date, I love me a good annual recap. 2015, amiright?? What a year!

This was the year I became a cliché, quit my corporate job, and left the serial expat life to travel full-time. More than that, my travel style completely changed: this was the Year of Friends.

Ile St Louis golden hour -- Expat Edna

Breaking it down, in 2015 I took a total of 26 trips — spread across just 14 countries — of which only two! were new to me (Japan and the Philippines).

Instead of conquering new lands, the year became more of a chance for me to catch up with friends spread across the world, and to revisit favorite destinations for longer periods of time.

This included going to Venice twice, Paris three times, and spending nearly two months in London — and even went back to the States twice in one year (I usually return only once every two years)!

I don’t regret any of these decisions.

HIGHLIGHTS

First, some highlights of the year:

Union Trading Co, Shanghai by Expat Edna-6

Drinks named after me in Shanghai and ParisAt Union Trading Company in Shanghai, head bartender Yao’s spring menu featured the Edna & Joe (above), which combined our love of Cynar & Chartreuse.

After I left Shanghai, Union’s fall menu gained an Edna Bait, made with mushroom bitters (my favorite!) in an attempt to lure me back.

And for the 4th of July, Red House — our favorite bar in Paris — concocted an Edna’s Belated with rye, triple sec, walnut, and angostura bitters.

It’s pretty touching to see your friends show their love in such a physical (and tasty!) way.

Reddit commenter

From a complete stranger on Reddit!

The most amazing Reddit commentI became more active on Reddit this year, especially in the “I Want Out” subreddit. After encouraging someone to move abroad and sharing the story of how it changed my life, I received the above comment from another Redditor.

When blogging brings me down and I wonder if it’s worth it, I look at that comment — and know that it is.

Discovering Snapchat | My new addiction of 2015, Snapchat was made for my over-sharing personality. I love broadcasting snippets of my daily life and travels — and I’ve even made some close friends from it! (Find me there as @expatedna.)

Internet famous! Kind of. | I saw my name on Buzzfeed, Thought CatalogYahoo! TravelRoads & Kingdoms, and closed out the year with Forbes. Not bad for being a nomad for seven months! I feel validated in quitting my job to write about travel now.

Crazy coincidences and long-lost friends | I had so many jaw-dropping moments of kismet this year with people I hadn’t seen in YEARS. Some of the most memorable:

While in Shanghai, two months in a row — at two completely separate Beerfests — I ran into a friend from Dalian I hadn’t seen in six years. And both of them were only in town because they were dating someone working at that month’s Beerfest!

I saw an old classmate for the first time in nine years at Oktoberfest in Munich. I’m possibly more amazed that two people from our small town ended up in Germany at all, never mind the same weekend.

And perhaps nuttiest of all: finding myself standing next to a college classmate from five years ago while in line for a taping of The Daily Show in New York City!

Onto everything else that happened in 2015:

JANUARY || Sydney, Shanghai, Xi’an, Hong Kong

Sydney NYE Edna and Joe by Expat EdnaLamma Island, Hong Kong by Expat EdnaXi'an with Lost Plate Food Tours by Expat Edna

I kicked off the year in Sydney, ringing in 2015 at an incredible private party just beneath Harbour Bridge, with a front-row view of the fireworks. It ranks in my top two of best New Year’s ever.

Shortly after returning to Shanghai, my eldest uncle died. We weren’t close, but his presence in our family apartment in Shanghai was something I could always count on. Looking back, his loss was a turning point: after seeing how I was treated at work in the days after, I realized I had to get out of there.

To cheer me up, my boyfriend took me to Hong Kong that weekend. It was the first time I’d hiked to The Peak (instead of taking the tram) or visited Lamma Island, and two days in nature helped soothe my heart.

It wasn’t enough though, so the following weekend we escaped Shanghai again and went to Xi’an to visit my good friend Brian and his girlfriend. We stuffed our faces testing their new food tour company, ate all the noodles, and I loved being able to show Joe the terra cotta warriors and a completely different side of China.

FEBRUARY || Shanghai, Venice, Paris

Shanghai by night from Hotel Indigo by Expat EdnaChinese New Year 2015 by ExpatEdna.comVenice Carnevale 2015 by ExpatEdna.comOysters and Pol Roger Champagne, Paris by Expat Edna

Thank goodness for Chinese New Year.

It’s the equivalent of Christmas in the West: work slows down in the weeks leading up to it, companies throw lavish parties with a huge gift budget — ours was held with a Masquerade Ball theme and riverside view of Shanghai’s Bund — and you basically get two weeks’ paid vacation.

Most people stay in Asia, but I chose to haul myself to Venice, celebrating Carnevale with friends for the second year in a row, followed by a week in Paris. My trip back to Europe felt like a homecoming; it opened my eyes to just how unhappy I was in Shanghai, and showed me where I truly did — and did not — belong.

MARCH || Shanghai & Beijing

Dongtai Lu, Shanghai by ExpatEdna.comBeijing Lit Fest 2015 by ExpatEdna.com

I stayed in Shanghai for most of March, as I was now in financial hibernation mode for the Upcoming Travel fund.

A highlight of the month was spending an afternoon at Dongtai Lu — an antiques street marked for demolition — just before it was permanently shut down. (Another sad victim of China’s misguided ideas of “progress”.)

However, speaking at the Beijing Lit Fest was a highlight of the whole year! I was part of a three-person panel of authors from our book, How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? I felt so unbelievably at ease reading and cracking jokes in front of the (sold out!) audience, it gave me a huge confidence boost in my writing and life choices.

The rest of the weekend was wicked fun as well — as a result, I think I might prefer Beijing expats to Shanghai expats, for the first time in my life.

APRIL || Chengdu & the Philippines

Hot pot, Chengdu by Expat EdnaTagaytay sunset, Philippines by Expat EdnaTagaytay, Philippines by Expat Edna

Spring hit in full force. We spent a three-day weekend in Chengdu visiting my best friend Feakes and his girlfriend, eating the spiciest hot pot and noodles we could get our hands on.

Two weeks later I finally went to the Philippines for the first time for our friends’ French-Filipino wedding. The event brought much of our Paris crew to Tagaytay and it was quite the Champagne-filled tropical weekend!

When I returned to ShanghaiI gave my notice.

MAY || Dalian, Shanghai, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka

Edna at I-55, Dalian by Expat EdnaDalian tram by ExpatEdna.comDalian, China by ExpatEdna.comChinese Alien Resident Permit by ExpatEdna.com

This month was the big one: leaving my job, turning 26, going to Japan.

May started off with yet another three-day weekend, during which I faced my ghosts and returned to Dalian — the city that changed my life — for the first time since I left it over six years earlier.

I brought Joe and we found the city as warm and welcoming as I remembered it, and I was overjoyed to be able to show him such an important part of my origin story.

Shortly after, I celebrated my last day of work in Shanghai. I handed in my badge, employment papers, and at midnight, popped open Champagne to ring in my 26th birthday.

Ie Tsugu and his guitar by Expat EdnaSunset in Neyagawa by Expat EdnaTwo Geishas in Kyoto by Expat Edna

My present this year was exploring a country I’ve wanted to visit for ages: Japan! Neither Joe or I had ever been, and it blew away all our expectations and then some.

We flew over on my birthday (in business class, oh my god what a treat), and that night for dinner we befriended a magical chef in Tokyowho spoke no English but serenaded us on the guitar.

We took the fast train south and met geishas in Kyoto; we saw the most beautiful sunsets over our rooftop balcony in Osaka. We ate and drank ourselves silly and agreed that one week definitely was not enough.

JUNE || Shanghai

Fuxing park picnic, Shanghai by Expat EdnaShanghai double decker bus party by Expat Edna 17Leaving dinner at Lotus, Shanghai by Expat EdnaUnion Trading Company, Shanghai by ExpatEdna.com

To say goodbye to Shanghai, I spent the entire month of June in the city. My departure coincided with the leaving season for many, so we were able to go out in style with picnics and dinners galore, and one spectacular night on a double-decker party bus.

The last two photos are my Shanghai Farewells: dinner at my favorite Yunnan restaurant, and last call with our favorite bar owner Yao and his fine team of cocktail wizards at Union.

JULY || Paris & Barcelona

Back on Ile St Louis! by Expat Edna4th of July BBQ in Lardy, France by Expat Edna-304th of July BBQ at Red House, Paris by Expat Edna-5Bal de Pompiers 2015, Paris by Expat EdnaBastille Day 2015, Paris by Expat EdnaBastille Day 2015, Paris by Expat Edna-27Barceloneta by Expat Edna-14

If it’s not evident from the first photo, I was overjoyed to be back in Paris — and for two of the best parties of the year! (Getting a steal on business class flights from Shanghai helped, too.)

We purposefully planned our return to France to coincide with a friend’s legendary 4th of July party, as well as the Paris Firemen’s Ball, and the best fireworks show of the summer: La Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) at the Eiffel Tower. Absolutely worth camping out on the Champ de Mars for 11 hours!

I also met up with an old acquaintance from Singapore to spend a week in Barcelona; my first time in the city. I unexpectedly fell in love with the tapas, cava, and Mediterranean and now I’m even more hooked on Spain.

AUGUST || Paris, Wales, London, New England

Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-7Camping in Wales by Expat Edna-18Covent Garden balloons by Expat EdnaWoods of New Hampshire by Expat EdnaBoston, Mass by ExpatEdna.com

August was a doozy. So many good friends descended on Paris for Marina’s wedding, and for a moment I swore it was 2013 again and none of us had ever left.

From there Joe and I went to Wales — for his birthday I rented this groovy 1973 Volkswagen van, and we spent a full week driving and camping around northern Wales. The things we do for loved ones’ birthdays!

We set up base in London for a short while afterward — by the end of the year I’d have spent almost two months total in London. I’m starting to forget I don’t actually live there.

Rounding out the month was more camping, this time with my boyfriend’s entire family. It was my first time properly exploring New England, and while I wasn’t totally swayed by New Hampshire, I was overjoyed to finally check out Boston and hear people talk about oystahs and Harvahd Yahd.

SEPTEMBER || Iceland, London, Venice, Munich

Glacier Lagoon, Iceland by Expat Edna

London from the Eye by Expat EdnaMurano, Italy by ExpatEdna.comHacker tent, Oktoberfest 2015 by Expat Edna

From Boston we flew straight to Iceland, for YET MORE CAMPING. We went around the whole island in one week, where I became very good at getting dressed inside a sleeping bag.

We might have spent the entire month in London, had we not heard from our good friend Enrico that his father was selling the family deli in Venice. That deli is possibly my favorite culinary place in the entire damn world, so we went back for a long weekend with two other good friends. One of us fell into a canal.

More time in London to round out the month, and then a return trip to Munich for Oktoberfest with the Paris/Philippines friends. We were joined by that old high school classmate (the one I hadn’t seen in nine years), and I found it refreshing to have a hometown friend to catch up with in a tent full of literally thousands of strangers.

OCTOBER || Cork, Glengarriff, Dublin

Cork, Ireland by Expat EdnaGarinish Island, Ireland by ExpatEdna.comWindow at dusk by Expat EdnaDublin in Autumn by ExpatEdna.com

October was a month of self-imposed exile in Glengarriff. We rented a gorgeous house in the middle of the Irish countryside — the town was so small they didn’t have a single ATM! — and when we weren’t working, we were building fires, taking baths, and watching the Rugby World Cup. It was so idyllic, I’d happily spend another month or two there.

This extrovert couldn’t do a whole four weeks without city time, however, so we also spent a few days in Cork during the Jazz Festival and ended the trip with Halloween weekend in Dublin.

NOVEMBER || London, Sheffield, Paris

London architecture by ExpatEdna.comGaleries Lafayette Christmas, Paris by ExpatEdna.comFluctuat nec Mergitur by Expat Edna-8Thanksgiving in Paris by ExpatEdna.comCelebrating 2000 Days by ExpatEdna.com

Before heading back to Paris, I took a detour through London for World Travel Market — where I finally met so many of my fave fellow travel bloggers! — which also randomly led to a weekend trip to Sheffield. For an underwater hockey tournament. True story.

I’d only been back in Paris a week when the attacks of November 13 occurred. It hit terrifyingly close to home, both literally and figuratively; my heart aches for our friends who’ve been terribly affected. But I was inspired by the way Parisians responded in the days that followed, living their lives with defiant joy instead of succumbing to fear.

By the end of the month I was extra grateful for friends who continued our annual Paris Thanksgiving traditions, and I also celebrated 2000 days (over six years!) on the road.

DECEMBER || NYC, Pennsylvania, Edinburgh

Rockefeller Christmas by ExpatEdna.comChristmas 2015 by ExpatEdna.comEdinburgh Torchlight Procession 2015 by ExpatEdna.com

In December I returned to New York City for the first time in six years (my first trip as a legally drinking adult)! It was also my first holiday season at home in Pennsylvania in six years — but I couldn’t miss celebrating my Dad’s 60th, obviously.

After my dad’s birthday party Joe and I spent another week in NYC, semi-spontaneously drove up to Connecticut to visit his parents, then swung through New Jersey to see some of our closest friends before heading back to York for Christmas.

On our way out of the US, we stopped in Philadelphia for the cheesesteak (no joke, totally worth it) then flew into Glasgow for an afternoon before heading to Edinburgh for New Year’s Eve.

So what’s next for 2016? 

A metric ton of question marks, that’s what. I’m in Europe until at least early March, but the rest of the year could go in 32701469 different directions.

All I know is: I’m beginning to burn out, it’s an Olympic year, and the dollar is strong. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears! If not…stay tuned.

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Comments

  1. Ashley and Alex says:

    Miami! You know you want to ?

    • I know, I know…but Miami would be a short term fix! I’m looking for a long-term solution ;)

      • Ashley and Alex says:

        I know! But it would be fun for a bit ?. We also are looking for a long term fix like figuring out how to work online…..

  2. What an amazing year Edna! So glad I got to meet you while in Iceland, your story really is inspiring!

    • Aw thank you! :) It was so great to meet you in Reykjavik, hopefully we’ll cross paths again this year!

  3. Damn. That’s a ton of travel! It’s crazy to see how all of that was just this year. It is no wonder you’re starting to burn out. Does that mean you’re looking for a place to settle for a bit? Either way, I am curious to see where it goes! I’m sure that it will be exciting and interesting whatever path you choose.

    • Oh you’re good — that’s exactly what it means. And thanks for the vote of confidence! I have something shaping up for the spring I think, and possibly the fall? If only bureaucrats and paperwork would stop being such a pain in my side…

  4. Oh my gosh Edna your life is just incredible. I’m so proud of you and so proud to know you! xx

    • Aw thanks Louise! Sorry we didn’t get to visit you though! I want to see your new place! xo

  5. What an incredible 2015! I’m sure your 2016 is going to be just as awesome. I wanted to stop by and tell you that I recently started following you on Snapchat, and you are seriously killing the snapchat game! You’ve got to be one of my favorite travel accounts on there by far. :)

  6. Love your recap! What a year 2015 was for you! I’m so glad our paths got to cross a few more times in Paris :-) And I’m giggling that Jersey made the list! I never got to ask you how you found those bagels from SAM’s to be?!!

    • I’m so glad we got to see you so often, and for so many special occasions (Carnevale, Marina’s wedding, Thanksgiving, Christmas)! And those bagels were pretty good, but the Taylor ham was exactly what you guys had made it out to be!

  7. Edna,

    I love this post. What a full year! A little down time is probably in order after all of those adventures.

    It is incredible how the death of a relative can change the trajectory of your life. My grandmother passed in August and I quit my job in November to work for myself. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve come to see just how linked those two moments are. I am so sorry for the loss of your uncle.

    It looks as though quitting your job was the right choice! Glad to see that for you 2015 was overall a happy year despite the difficult times.

    Excited to see where you end up next!

    • Thank you Erin, and condolences on the loss of your grandmother. It really makes you reevaluate the important things in life, doesn’t it? I hope 2016 sees you in amazing places, too!

  8. You really did have a super-fabalicious year! And I look forward to seeing 2016 be even better!

  9. What an incredible year – it’s crazy to see how much ground you covered in 2015! So glad we were able to meet up when you were in Edinburgh as well :)

    • Me too! Thanks again for meeting me, it made my trip to Edinburgh a little better after the New Year’s debacle! :)

  10. you had such an amazing year! i hope 2016 treats you well! as from your snapchat stories, it seems to be going awesome so far <3

  11. I can’t believe that drink is named after you! I’ve ordered it! lol. My favorite bar in Shanghai! <3

    http://www.adventurousappetite.com

    • Haha which one, the Edna & Joe? I still haven’t had the Edna Bait, but hopefully in a couple weeks I’ll be able to make a surprise visit back :)

  12. What an exciting year for you! So excited to see the adventures 2016 holds! xx

  13. Dubai, maybe? Sunshine all year long and some great food to be had :)

    • I’ve been to Dubai for work, have to say I was not a fan of the city or expat culture :/

  14. Someone fell into a canal in Venice?!?!?! Um, I think I need to hear that story! Sorry I’ve been awfully behind on my blog reading – I moved out of the US around New Year’s!!!

    • Congrats!! I’ve been following your snaps (you’re in Portugal currently, right?) and your travels look fantastic. If we ever cross paths, I’ll be sure to tell you all about the canal story :)