Happy Holidays! This Was 2011

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I’ve been in discussion with people here in Grenada about their meaning of Christmas, and it seems to boil down to harmony, company, and the spirit of joy throughout the holiday season more so than a specific day of celebration.

This year, I’m going with the flow, which seems to be a Grenadian way of life.

This post was originally published in 2011. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

One of the reasons why love this time of year because I always take the time to reflect on the year past.

In so doing I’ve put together an annual video holiday card of sorts (here’s my card from 2010), so you can come along on my journey of 2011, which traversed 13 countries and involved over 73,000kms of travel.

It was a busy year.

In the new year, I’ll be summarizing my 2011 finances, and the cost to travel full-time (just like I did for 2010). Stay tuned.

My plans for 2012 are vague for now. I’ll be back in Grenada for sure by the end of March for another few months of beautiful house-sitting. Between January and March I haven’t solidified my plans, but am toying with options like cruising the Caribbean islands on a sailboat, learning salsa in Cuba, and doing yoga in the Bahamas.

It’s a tough life.

Please enjoy my video holiday card. Alternately, click here to watch the video directly on Youtube.

This Was 2011 (in words)

I started the year in New Zealand at Mana Retreat (a favourite haunt of mine for volunteering), where I enjoyed much contemplation, jubilation, and meditation.

I also traveled around the North Island a bit, checking out the bays, beaches, volcanoes, caves, and even performing a few songs at an Auckland cafe.

After 6 months it was time to move on, and return to my home town of Toronto for a visit – something I usually do every two years, and always in the summer if I can help it!

The city had changed a bit since I was last there two years ago, and I found myself occasionally not recognizing major intersections because they had changed so dramatically.

But the people were awesome as ever, the weather was fantastic, and I even got a chance to enjoy a few weeks of respite in cottage country with some family.

I also took on the No Baggage Challenge this summer, and made a few trips without any bags at all, using Scottevest travel clothing with lots of pockets.

My first trip was a flight to Florida to visit an old friend.

My second No Baggage Challenge trip was to visit Quebec City; a beautiful part of Canada that has the feel and look of a European city. I enjoyed the summer festival and stayed with some good friends.

All of a sudden it was August and I was saying “see ya next time” to my family and friends.

I hopped over to Sweden to explore and spend time with a Swedish friend and his family. I caught some of the action of the city-wide Kultur festival in Stockholm, before heading north to Ornskoldsvik – the town with a giant ski-jump in the middle – to stay with my friend’s family.

Here I experienced northern Sweden’s beautiful nature by hiking and climbing, and explored the colourful fishing towns.

I also tried my hand at a number of Swedish foods, including the Swedish delicacy of Surstromming, which is fermented fish – a “love it or hate it” sort of food with a world-renowned smell. (Here’s a video recount of the event – which has over 100,000 views!).

With only two weeks in Sweden I’d have liked to stay longer, but September called, as did the Ultimate Train Challenge.

This was a collaboration with fellow travelers and bloggers Michael Hodson and Jeannie Mark to travel from Lisbon to Saigon – all by train – in 30 days. (Good thing I love international train travel).

With about 25,000kms to traverse, the month was fast and furious (29 trains in 30 days), but I did get a few chances to get off the train to visit friends and explore.

My first stop was Granada, in the south of Spain.

Then it was up to Barcelona for a quick stop….

Before heading on to Zurich – and even talking my way into the engine car enroute.

Prague was my next stop,

Before hopping over to Lviv, in the Ukraine.

By this point I was already exhausted and still had a long way to go, so I refreshed myself with a quick camping trip in the Carpathian mountains – just what the doctor ordered.

Then it was a few more nights on trains over to Moscow to reunite with Michael and Jeannie, who I hadn’t seen since Lisbon.

Together we hopped aboard the Trans-Manchurian train to experience the world’s longest railway – from Moscow to Beijing. What can I say about this epic week-long journey? I pretty much say it all here.

Reaching Beijing one week later was a victory, we were still only 2/3 of the way through our journey and the clock was ticking. There’s no rest for the wicked – so we headed straight for the Great Wall of China: a place I first visited 18 years ago on my first-ever overseas trip, which brought up some amazing memories.

Hot on the heels of the world’s longest train ride, we took the world’s fastest train ride from Beijing to Shanghai, before moving straight on to Guilin, also brought up many memories of my first trip to China.

One final leg remained on the Ultimate Train Challenge: the massive journey from Guilin to Nanning to Hanoi, and on to Saigon. Fatigue aside, this four day trip (namely the train from Hanoi to Saigon) earned a spot among my favourite train trips, with beautiful changing views, warm weather, good company, and lots of characters along the way.

And celebrating for 10 days in Saigon was the ultimate way to conclude the Ultimate Train Challenge. In addition to getting almost-daily massages and catching up on work, I managed to experience Saigon motorcycle traffic from the inside with a culinary tour led on motorcycle, as well as simply drink in the culture and beauty in the randomness.

Oh yeah, and lots of good food!

With so much packed into the last few months, I was reeling, and it was time to take it down a notch again, to my preferred travel pace of staying at least a few months and “living” at various destinations.

So my last stop for the year was the Caribbean island of Grenada, to house-sit for three months. Despite a rocky start (complete with dengue fever and heartbreak) I’ve grown to love this island nation – its people, nature, and the way of life – and I still feel Grenada has a lot more to show me.

So I look forward to returning for more house-sitting in late-March 2012.

What Travel – and the Holidays – are About for Me

But what typifies my travel experiences and really makes them what they are, is the people. I travel to experience “life” around the world, and for me that involves nurturing human connections. I made new friends, rekindled old friendships, and amassed a plethora of experiences and memories sharing culture, harmony, and joy around the world.

For me, celebrating and giving thanks for those experiences is the spirit of the holidays.

I’ve always known celebrations on the last day of the year (December 31st) to be called New Year’s Eve.

In Grenada, it is called Old Year’s Night.

I think I like that term even better: celebrating the year past and allowing tomorrow to come with its own ocean of experiences – as it always does.

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9 thoughts on “Happy Holidays! This Was 2011”

  1. Nora,

    When you do the post on finances, could you also break down how much did you have to spend on necessities and how much did you spend ever so lavishly on luxuries? As I recall, last year the number was quite big, a five digit amount. I’m sure there are people who are also quite committed to long term travel, but who’d have to make do with more like a four-digit amount per year, so I hope you’ll keep those folks in mind.

  2. @Eric – Living on about $15,000 year isn’t exactly “ever so lavish” and full of luxuries! Ha ha! If I experience luxury in the course of my travels, they’re usually freebies by nature of my writing career!

    Thanks for the the suggestion though; this year I’ve kept much more detailed records of my expenses, so I expect I’ll be able to break it down much better for the post.

    But you do bring up a great point about travel in general. How many people DO want to travel for less than $10,000/year? What are people’s travel/budget expectations?
    How many people are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to keep their expenses that low? How slowly are people prepared to travel (that’s one of the things that keep costs low)? What activities do people do while traveling? And what destinations are people after?

    These are all very important factors that determine just how much you spend on the road. And the glory of it all – as we’ve discovered through my bi-weekly week-in-the-life series – is that even the “daily grind” of travel is so different for everybody.

    There are ways to keep your costs low while traveling. But maybe my methods won’t be the same as yours. It’s so unique to the individual and what they want to do on this big(little) blue planet of ours.

    Happy Holidays!

  3. Great writeup and narrative Nora. We are also planning for extended travels/living overseas for 2012, so let’s where we end up….



  4. Well, I was being slightly ironic, I definitely referenced this quote you supplied for the 2010 finances post:

    “I could easily have traveled in 2010 for much less than this amount…but since I have enough income to support a more “lavish” lifestyle, I spend accordingly.”

  5. Nora,

    I loved watching your video…I also subscribed to your video channel…(Barbbicycle is me)… Anyways…my dream is to someday fly from Vancouver to Hong Kong (Or better still cross the ocean on a freight liner), then board the train in Hong Kong…go through Shenzhen, shanghai, Beijing, Moscow, across Europe all the way to Shanon Ireland, then cross the ocean to Montreal and fly home to Vancouver or take the train across the country…

    Wishing you a very happy New Year


  6. Nice article.

    I love that idea of No Baggage Challenge. I definitly wanna try this when possible. I am currently living in Tokyo, but next trip I will do I will try your idea… This is great… Than you

  7. @Shawn – And who knows…maybe our paths will cross… 🙂

    @Eric – Ha ha! Duly noted, I did admit to lavishness! (Sorry).
    You know, it’s funny; this makes me think about discretionary income and how we choose to spend it while we travel. I’ve written about this many times before, but the thing is – travel or not – we can spend our money in so many different ways.
    So while in some ways I think I’m living a luxury lifestyle because I focus my discretionary income on things I enjoy, some of the things I do to CREATE that extra cash comes in certain lifestyle choices that others might not be willing to abide by (such as communal living in hostels or volunteer situations).
    Similarly, there are things I don’t want to/aren’t willing to do to save a few bucks, that somebody else wouldn’t blink at in order to create extra cash for their own bit of “luxury” spending.
    Anyway, this is a pretty big tangent, but something interesting to ponder, I think!

    @Baron’s – I think that sounds absolutely awesome! Except for one thing: if you go all the way around the world by boat/train, and you miss out on one of the best parts (going across Canada)…I’m going to internet-disown you! 🙂

    @Tunimaal – Try a No Baggage trip just for a weekend, while you’re living in Tokyo! Once you figure out how to “pack” for 3 days, you can usually go somewhat indefinitely. (Somewhat).

  8. Great video I must say…I won’t say that I’m jealous you’ve seen so many great places, rather than I’m glad you’ve been there and shared the experience with us 🙂 Happy New Year!

  9. @Joseph – Aww….great way to reframe jealousy! Think of it as inspiration for your next trip! 🙂

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