2016 is already pushing forward, and so are my travel plans. The end of last year was so mad at work that I did not have the energy or desire, even in my spare time, to sit down and plan our my year’s worth of travels properly for 2016. Corporate pressure is still ripe, but I am finally getting around to deciding where 2016 takes me.
I have to make a confession here: I may have overdone it a bit with travel in 2015, when several long-haul holidays and weekend breaks made planning for and recovering from travel almost another full-time job in addition to my existing one. While I usually plan trips months in advance to minimise costs, I was also amazed to discover that spontaneous trips – like my buzz-off to FYR Macedonia last August – were sometimes even more fun that those meticulously contemplated a year early.
Given that I expect 2016 to be crazier than ever before at work, I plan to scale down my travel a little. Faraway trips in exotic places are difficult to give up, but I will try and avoid booking too many weekends away, especially consecutive ones. I am at the stage of my life (and age) when interchanging a demanding job with treks to London airports and abroad destinations endlessly is less fun than before. Being tired somewhere – even places as exciting as Sicily or Wroclaw – has too often resulted in almost forcing myself to get out and take photos without appreciating the experience as much as I should have. Sometimes I would rather just chill in London or travel in a more paced manner, and I plan to do more of it in 2016.
I am not stopping travelling altogether though! 2016 is promising to be exciting and different, with visits to five continents and at least three new countries. Below you will find the list of my planned destinations for this year:
1. Bari, Italy (February): I have never been a big enthusiast for Italy. Fellow philhellenes will understand me here: my total adoration of all things Greece is well known, so why overfocus on a country that looks and behaves roughly like Greece in places, but isn’t one? The language freak in me also prefers to visit countries whose languages I speak at least to some degree, so I will always choose Spain (my Spanish is broken but lives on), the Slavic Balkans (my Serbian is surprisingly resilient despite the lack of practice) and, naturally, Greece (in whose language I consider myself fluent) over less understandable Mediterranean destinations.
And yet! While recently scouring the internet for decently priced European weekend destinations in the off-season, I came across a very competitive fare to Bari from Stansted. A quick image search confirmed that the place was acceptably pretty and by the seaside – and what else would a girl with a camera want? I can even live with being a dumb Anglophone tourist for a couple of days.
2. Chile (March / April): Chile is quite possibly my single most coveted destination of the past few years. I have already visited Argentina, and was left absolutely speechless about Patagonia’s majestic beauty. I very much seek to rekindle this feeling in Chile, which, like Argentina, hosts plenty of Patagonia’s natural wonders.
Chile is by far the most painstakingly planned out trip in my calendar at the moment. It took me many evenings of concentration, but here goes: in 2.5 weeks, I will explore the capital city of Santiago and the remote Easter Island before taking a long transfer to the Torres del Paine National Park where I will spend five days hiking the so-called “W Circuit” of the park from Refugio Torres to Glaciar Grey. I will then backtrack to Punta Arenas in the country’s extreme south and fly a tiny plane to Puerto Williams, a remote settlement on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. Alan will be waiting for me in Punta Arenas when I return a couple of days later.
3. Falkland Islands (April): Another advantage of Chile is that it provides one of only two existing air links to the Falkland Islands (please do not use the “M-word” here), which both Alan and I have wanted to visit for a significant amount of time. We will finally be able to realise this dream in April by visiting the remote archipelago briefly from Chile. Scheduled commercial flights to the Falklands from Chile only run once weekly – on Saturdays, from Punta Arenas – so we will be confined to the Falklands for an entire seven days. Oh joy!
Most tourists visit the islands as part of the (expensive) cruise from Ushuaia, Argentina, to the Antarctic territories. Thankfully, the tourist flow will have subsided by April, and it will be a great privilege to spend an entire week on the Falklands rather than a few days included in your typical cruise. We plan to base ourselves in the main town of Stanley, as well as rent a car to explore the East Falkland island and fly a small government plane to Pebble Island for a couple of days of even more solitude than in the sparsely populated Stanley.
Most importantly, Alan and I plan to get married in the Falklands. We have always wanted to elope, so why not do so to some place eerily isolated yet sharing English legislation? I was never one to dream of a big wedding – a sole idea of even a small wedding sends shivers of horror down my spine – and tying the knot in the Falklands would ensure that nobody would ever want to invite themselves! May our friends and family please forgive us.
4. Serifos / Paros / Antiparos, Greece (June): I make my pilgrimages to the Greek shores yearly; thankfully, Alan appears to be coming out equally a fan. In June, I will first visit the Cycladic island of Serifos alone before meeting Alan on Paros and jointly visiting the latter’s smaller satellite, Antiparos. Besides enjoying the obvious magnets of Greece like the sparkling Aegean and fresh seafood, Alan and I plan to engage a professional photographer to take our wedding photos on Paros. The professional in question is from South Africa but permanently based on Paros, takes amazing pictures and has won awards – needless to say I am glad we booked him early.
So will we be getting married again on Paros, I hear you ask? No – we will in fact shamelessly cheat as we pose in our wedding attire in the backdrop of the stunning Greek blue and white, so alone and unburdened by the dark aspects of your typical English wedding.
5. Bolivia (August / September): As you can see, my 2016 is shaping up to be heavily tilted towards South America! I have long planned to visit Bolivia, and have chosen the local winter time to do so. British Airways are starting to serve Peru’s capital Lima soon, and, as a loyal BA fan, I plan to take that flight to catch a connection to La Paz in Bolivia. I will then take things easy as I acclimatise, spending some quiet time in La Paz and on the magnificent Lake Titicaca before visiting the colonial gems of Sucre and Potosi and descending to what possibly is the world’s most famous salt flat, Salar de Uyuni. I will spend 2-3 days freezing to my bones there and then cross the border into Chile.
Yes, with Chile being a stretched out country that it is, I stand absolutely no chance of visiting its northern part on my earlier 2016 trip. Thankfully, the beauties of Chile’s Atacama desert are within easy reach from Uyuni. I plan to explore the area in detail before flying out to Santiago and onwards to London.
6. Ishigaki, Japan (October): I had originally planned to visit Turkmenistan for a week in October, but changed my mind after realising, in Bhutan, how difficult it was for me to follow an organised tour (there is no way to visit Turkmenistan independently). I put forward a number of alternative destinations to Alan, who chose Japan – naturally, as he is a big fan. I have already been to Japan twice: first on a 2.5 week zoom around the “mainland” in 2013 and second on a 2-day stopover in Okinawa with Alan in 2014. My fiancé got so enamoured with Japan he has been talking about revisiting ever since – and of course I love Japan too!
It is a lesser known fact that Japan owns several tropical islands, located nearer Taiwan than Japan proper. Given time constraints, Alan and I will focus on Ishigaki, the second largest island of the Yaeyama archipelago. We also plan to take day-trips to Taketomi and Iriomote islands in the vicinity. Okinawa was the place with the best food on my travel memory, and I very much hope that Ishigaki will live up to the same high standard.
7. New Zealand (December): I know – I have been “planning” to visit New Zealand for about four Christmases now, but always changed my mind at the last minute. This time it is hopefully all set: I will fly to New Zealand at the end of the year to be among the first citizens on earth to clock in 2017. I am not fully clear on the itinerary yet, but I have a feeling I will need to stick to either North or South Island and leave the other for another visit. Since I am keen on warmth during the European winter, I may choose the tropical North Island. On the other hand, I imagine the South Island as superior in natural beauty and striking vistas. As said, I am undecided – any advice on this is welcome.
So that’s the plan! There will of course be other trips: I will probably slot in places like Spain and Romania in the mix at some point. I have also had the Channel Islands grow on me recently, and will try to visit a new island in the archipelago in 2016. And there will most certainly be at least one trip each to my old haunts of Helsinki and Athens, as well as multiple visits to Riga.
So please stay tuned and I hope I will be seeing many of you this year. Have a good one!