I always get excited to enter a new year: dreams are fresh, travel plans limitless and optimism overflowing.
I have now enjoyed a decade of regular travel while working full-time. It hasn’t always been easy: some years I admittedly struggled to fit my ambitious travel agenda into a busy working schedule. And it is without doubt that my obvious passion for travel has slowed my career progress – while I am good at my job and do my best to keep the quality of my work high at all times, the public perception has generally been against me. Unfortunately we live in a society where having high-profile hobbies outside work is seen as a certain lack of commitment (“She travels? Is she not serious about her job?” kind of thing).
READ MORE: HOW I TRAVEL A LOT WHILE WORKING FULL-TIME
I have no plans to fight the system just yet. What I am planning for 2018 though is to continue doing well in my day job – to keep them pennies flowing to allow me to discover more of the world’s remote places! I really want to make 2018 memorable by visiting some of the countries tucked away far into the deepest corners of my dreams. Now is the time to drag them out to the surface and make them reality!
But which countries? I have visited 93 (as meaningless as I find such counting) and run out of new countries easily reachable from London over a weekend. Travel planning has become somewhat tricky as I venture further and further out of London and into less discovered territories. For comparison, I have graduated from visiting places like Morocco and Turkey in 2007 – both relatively “easy” destinations – to Madagascar and Iraqi Kurdistan last year, both of which were a major logistical challenge. I guess I have to accept the fact that travel planning isn’t about to get any easier!
READ MORE: 2017 NEWSLETTER
My travel choices in 2017 made me understand something important: I feel incredibly comfortable in an environment where I command the language well. As a native Russian speaker, I feel I never fully appreciated the new travel horizons that the language opened – I sort of always took it for granted that I spoke it. But speaking Russian made all the difference in Turkmenistan and Moldova last year. Locals visibly relaxed hearing a familiar language, readily answered questions, posed for photos and fought for endless selfies. I feel like my most meaningful travel experiences to date have been in places where I could freely converse and connect with locals – ultimately resulting in better (I hope) quality of photography and writing.
And so it is decided: in 2018 I will focus on the places where I could explore deeper, report better and interact as freely as possible with the locals. This includes the entire CIS (where Russian is very much a lingua franca), most of the Balkans (I used to speak Serbian well and still generate correct sentences in correct situations) and, of course, Greece (weirdly enough, I am fluent in Greek).
Take a look at my 2018 travel plan below – followed by some non-travel resolutions for the year!
These high school graduates in Mary, Turkmenistan, refused to let me go before having countless selfies together
MARCH 2018: FARO, PORTUGAL
After such a long banging-on about prioritising places where I understand the language and the culture, it might be strange to start with one where neither applies. Please don’t judge: I will be heading to Faro, Portugal, for a weekend in March and plan to be very lazy about it. This will involve wandering aimlessly around the old town, eating lots and generally catching a glimpse of the sun I know I will miss during the long January and February spent in the wintery greyness of London and Riga. I might throw in a scooter rental to tour the nearby beaches or an odd surfing lesson (something I have never tried before), but will otherwise be taking things easy.
I find Portugal a very likeable country: it is the UK’s longest ally, which, as a recent citizen, I find oddly charming. Visiting Faro off-season gives me comfort that I won’t be bumping into holidaying Brits at every step – the reason I would probably never consider visiting in the summer. To my shame though, the main reason for booking this trip was to maintain my “Silver” status with British Airways (here… I said it!). I was missing only a handful of Avios, and the airline was having a huge sale – it was thus a no-brainer.
I have been to Portugal several times before, most recently to the capital of Lisbon. I haven’t been to Faro yet though.
MARCH 2018: SUDAN
I considered a myriad of options for a short Easter trip and, logically, settled on… Sudan. During my research, I was very excited to discover that the well-known Acropole Hotel in Khartoum is run by three brothers of Greek origin (any Greek connection is a bonus in my books!) and am using their help to arrange my entry permit into Sudan.
Sudan is a country I have wanted to visit for a very long time, and I am beyond excited to be so close. While I won’t be able to stay more than a few days, I know that I will use every moment to see as much as possible. Basing myself in the capital of Khartoum – where I look forward to exploring the souqs and using my rudimentary Arabic to make myself (mis)understood – I will make day trips to several sights of interest. My itinerary is not yet final, but I will definitely visit the pyramids of Meroë (it would be criminal to skip the single best known attraction of Sudan) and try to catch a glimpse of Sufi dancing and camel market in Omdurman. I would also love to watch some Nuba wrestling, but doubt that any would be happening in the beginning of the scorching season (or that, as a woman, I would even be admitted). As far as the scorching season, wish me luck.
Isn’t this the best view in the world? The closest I have been to Sudan was in Aswan, Egypt (pictured here). I will catch up with the Nile in Khartoum!
SPRING 2018: AFGHANISTAN
My first big trip of the year – and the one I have most apprehension about – will be to an even less visited destination. At some point during spring, I will spend nearly two weeks exploring the safer areas of Afghanistan: the Persian-influenced western city of Herat, the stunning blue-tiled tomb of Hazrat Ali in Mazar e Sharif and the spectacular scenery around Bamyan, among others. I cannot give any further details at the moment for safety reasons, but will be writing much more – and posting countless pictures – on ANJCI ALL OVER after my trip.
To make this trip a reality, I am enlisting help of a travel agency well known for organising trips to Afghanistan. As much as I would love to travel like e.g. Lost With Purpose – independently and cheaply – I am simply not brave enough to do so. Also, travelling independently in Afghanistan requires a lot of discretion, but, as someone who carries heaps of photo equipment, I cannot guarantee being able to sit still and not identify myself when a perfect photo opportunity arises. For my peace of mind, I will travel with a local guide who will be (I hope) perfectly informed about the latest safety developments. Language-wise, my study book for basic Farsi is about to arrive, and I hope to waddle through sufficiently to have some meaningful small talk with the locals.
Rocking it in Kashan, Iran, in my salwar kameez – and headscarf rebeliously off! I look forward to dressing up similarly in Afghanistan.
Having a private guide makes this my most expensive trip to date (by a huge margin), but I was very keen not to join a group: yes, there are scheduled group tours to Afghanistan, and the majority of them go without incident. I know my trip will, too.
MAY 2018: BAHRAIN
After leaving Afghanistan with thousands of photos (and many more memories), I know I will be relieved to spend a few days in a much more chilled (if slightly less exciting) place. On my way back to London, I will be stopping over in Bahrain to do… well, not much. It is mainly an excuse to visit a new country and celebrate safely leaving Afghanistan over a (much missed) drink. I have found a relatively inexpensive 4-star hotel in Manama and hope to spend plenty of time by the pool.
Besides, my in-laws met and got married in Bahrain a few centuries ago, and I am also infinitely curious to visit a place where Alan’s family history began. My only concern is that I will be in Bahrain when Eurovision Song Contest takes place. I am probably the biggest Eurovision fan ever (look it up!), and hope that I will be able to watch the show online in the middle of the night.
This isn’t Bahrain: this is a sunset view over the business district in Doha, Qatar. My expectations for Bahrain are somewhat similar though.
JUNE-JULY 2018: ANAFI AND IOS, GREECE
I wouldn’t be me if I failed to squeeze in a week in the Greek islands somewhere! Despite having visited 46 to date (I know… Greece has many islands), I never seem to run out of new ones to head to. My favourite Greek islands tend to be a long way away from major hubs. Last year I had a fantastic experience being a sole visitor to Antikythira, an island tucked away into deep periphery of the Aegean, where I met the entire population (I counted about 20 people) and walked everywhere. And, a few years ago, I was blown away by Tilos, a Dodecanese island with spectacular hiking trails and infrequent boat schedules even in the high season.
READ MORE: 6 LESSER KNOWN AEGEAN ISLANDS
I am excited to be travelling to a brand new Greek island this summer: it is called Anafi and very few of you have probably heard of it. Anafi’s nearest neighbour is Santorini, an island enjoying popularity enough to overshadow most Greek islands. While many boats travel to Santorini, very few continue to Anafi, with few travellers on-board even at the peak of the summer. Anafi is one of those places where the time stands still and little disturbs the serenity of a remote Greek island – besides perhaps the lone Greek flag flapping in the wind or the magnificent Aegean sounding its timeless song in the distance. I am getting almost teary here at the memory of Greece, so please pardon the poetic platitudes.
Isn’t this just universally recognised as a quintessential Greek island sight? Your blue skies and your white church (and the flag) on Antikythira.
Anafi is notoriously badly connected to Piraeus (as well as any other islands), so, for the sake of a realistic schedule, I will need to leave the island at an ungodly hour one morning to travel to a more mainstream place. I have settled on Ios – a “party” island which thankfully doesn’t have an airport and has been spared the fame of the likes of Mykonos. I hope to find plenty of quiet hilltop chapels to rest in and eccentric locals to chat to.
AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2018: TAJIKISTAN
I was divided between Mongolia and Tajikistan for my next big trip of 2018. Both would have been perfect, but, in the spirit of putting my language skills to good use, I am so far leaning towards Tajikistan. Russian is widely used in the country and, if it isn’t the case in the remote areas, my basic Farsi will hopefully come to rescue.
This trip is all about the mountains. I will be joining forces with Alan to explore the capital city of Dushanbe before heading out into the Pamirs for two weeks. The journey will take us along the Pamir Highway, the second highest road on earth, along the Afghan border and past some of the world’s most breath-taking scenery. We may also have the time to make a trip west of Dushanbe towards the Fann mountains, or continue to Osh in Kyrgyzstan to avoid backtracking on ourselves. I look forward to waking up surrounded by spectacular nature and meeting locals living in some of the most remote corners of the world.
The closest I have been to Tajikistan is in Uzbekistan – in fact, Samarkand (where this photo is taken) is only a short distance from the Tajik border.
If you can recommend a reputable local agency in Tajikistan able to organise a car with a driver – both Alan and I can drive but would prefer outsourcing it this time – any ideas are welcome.
OCTOBER 2018: AZERBAIJAN
After all this travelling around, it is indeed a miracle that I will still have a week in the autumn to squeeze in yet another destination. My original top picks for this trip were Abkhazia and Armenia, both of which would be perfect for listening to the locals’ stories and photographing from dusk till dawn. But Azerbaijan eventually won: I am keen to visit the country before heading into Armenia, and Azerbaijan would be a more logical continuation to my recent years’ visits to the region.
Thanks to my work, I have been to the neighbouring Georgia several times, but have been postponing a visit to Azerbaijan for as long as I can remember. A recent thawing of the visa rules gives me plenty of hope, and I can’t wait to explore this relatively small country at a relaxed pace. From the glamorous capital city of Baku I will head into the mountain village of Khinaliq and the historic town of Sheki. I also hope to visit the landlocked exclave of Nakhchivan which borders Iran, Turkey and Armenia but not the main territory of Azerbaijan – exactly the remote kind of place I know I will love.
Timeless Tbilisi. Is there a more spectacular city in the entire world? Let’s see how Baku fares this October.
DECEMBER 2018: BOTSWANA
It is getting ridiculous, but I should have enough holiday left for yet another trip this year (Christmas holidays are my best friends here). Late December is most certainly a peak travel season, and I always find it challenging to travel to a destination not flooded with tourists. I struggled in Cambodia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand over winter breaks of the recent years: while they were fantastic, I found the throngs of tourists overwhelming. Of course it is my own fault that I travel at the same time as everybody else and their grandmother, but I really miss going off the beaten track when I have the easiest opportunity for a relaxing holiday. The only destination I have truly enjoyed over Christmas was Myanmar in 2014 – there were hardly any other visitors there and I had an absolute blast.
Alan was being creative and suggested that we head to Bishkek for Christmas. It would certainly fit in with some of our other destinations in 2018 geographically – only geographically, perhaps – but, when London plunges into grey unfriendliness, I am generally keen to head somewhere warm.
Why not Botswana? I have never visited southern Africa during the winter (and their summer) season, and it is actually low season for tourism. There is a reason for that – the rains would have started and we may be punished with uneventful game drives – but I think we’re going to end up in Botswana anyway. If you have any other (unusual) ideas for the Christmas break, do fire away!
Not Botswana. Let’s hope we see at least as much wildlife as I did in Etosha National Park (Namibia) a few years ago.
And here goes for my travel plans! I will probably squeeze in a few weekend trips on top – I know, I know I didn’t include any Balkan adventures in the above list! In addition, I would love to revisit Chisinau (I LOVED it last year) and am tempted by Wizzair’s convenient weekend flights from Luton to Varna (Bulgaria) and Craiova (Romania). You can also count on me to head to yet another Greek island (I have a free flight from Aegean and hope to use it to visit the island of Samos in May) and Riga (where I am around every 6 weeks at least). So stay along for the ride!
I had a good laugh reading my non-travel resolutions from last year. Most of them have actually been met: I certainly upped my photography game (now shooting exclusively in manual mode, on an upgraded camera and with an arsenal of lenses), improved my language skills (passing the Greek C2 exam, yay!) and continued my rigorous exercise regime (have you seen those muscles?).
My biggest achievement last year was related to my working environment. It isn’t a secret that it was affected to a large extent by one person whose words and actions made my everyday presence in the office insufferable. Feeling I was nearing every limit of my emotional stability, I stepped over myself and had a long conversation with the person in question a few months ago, after which, miraculously, our interaction improved. This was one of the most difficult conversations in my life and a very grown-up thing to do – and I am infinitely proud of taking this step.
READ MORE: 2017 TRAVEL PLAN AND RESOLUTIONS
In 2018, I would like to take things further. In photography, I would like to become much better not only at taking photos but also at editing them post-trip. I have already started experimenting, like leaving behind my comfort blanket of a universal (wide range focal length) lens when going on a trip and solely relying on specialised lenses instead (changing them every minute is a drag though). And I plan to take a few photo editing courses to improve my photography further. Share away if you can recommend a good course in London (online?)!
In languages, I have booked myself into another Japanese class and am starting self-study in conversational Farsi. Despite ardent promises, last year I failed to practise several languages I used to speak well but have now largely abandoned: the list includes German, Norwegian and Serbian. Let’s hope that 2018 brings some progress to those. And yes, I do realise that I will probably fail on this metric miserably yet again.
Blogging-wise, I am happy with the way ANJCI ALL OVER is going at the moment. After spending years talking about it, in 2017 I finally had the blog moved from an archaic Blogger format to WordPress, and had a fabulous web designer create a customised theme for me. And, after succumbing to a writer’s block for a very long time, in 2017 I returned to blogging regularly. I had sorely missed writing, and derive great pleasure from knowing that some of you find my articles helpful. My readership is modest at best (is anyone reading this right now? Hello?), but I am happy with every reader out there. Blogging is my hobby and will remain so for the time being: my resolution for 2018 is to continue writing about this world’s remote places – and you know I will be heading to plenty!
And those were my plans for 2018! What are yours?