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.
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.
First, some highlights of the year:
Drinks named after me in Shanghai and Paris | At 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.
The most amazing Reddit comment | I 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 Catalog, Yahoo! Travel, Roads & 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
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
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
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
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 Shanghai, I gave my notice.
MAY || Dalian, Shanghai, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka
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.
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
DECEMBER || NYC, Pennsylvania, Edinburgh
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.