2016 was the best year of our lives so far: we went to 16 countries, including 12 new ones. We had some great successes with our blog: we worked with hotels, clothing companies, gadget companies and food tours for the first time, and went on our first press trip. We were also featured on international TV again.
We started our vlog which helped make us do something (vaguely) interesting each day.
There were still some super-hard days, but overall 2016 was amazing.
Also this post is super-long, I'm not sure what happened... our 2016 highlights vlog is only 1 minute long:
In 2016, we took a step back from house sitting, mainly because we started working with hotels and companies for the first time and partly because we had specific plans about when and where we wanted to go - we still think house sitting is an excellent way to travel, particularly if you travel slowly with flexible plans about where you want to go.
But this year we wanted to be in certain places at certain times etc. So house sitting didn't play such a big part in our travels, though we still did four awesome sits.
The first one was in January - on a beautiful vineyard in Italy. This was a great sit - we'd done it before so already knew and loved the dogs and cat. It was the perfect place to catch up on work we hadn't managed to do in 2015 (like write about the Harry Potter Studios in London and Visiting Stonehenge for the Winter Solstice). We also did a lot of planning for our three month Asia trip!
We started our first trip to South East Asia like most people do: in Bangkok. I was ready to hate Bangkok (like lots of people seem to), but fell head over heels in love with it - it quickly became one of our favourite cities.
We worked with hotels for the first time ever here and instantly became hooked - I love hotels and am so happy we had the opportunity to do this.
I wrote a long post about my love for Bangkok here: Top Things To Do In Bangkok - which includes where to stay and how to take taxis in Bangkok.
We also started our daily vlog!!! We started a vlog partly to record our travels in a new (and hopefully exciting) way, but also to try and make us do something worth filming each day.
I'm glad we started doing this, it's so great re-watching our videos (even if they are often cringey). I'm not sure if my memory is super bad or what, but there's always loads of things that I'd forgotten happened until I re-watch it!
Anyway, this was our first ever daily vlog:
We only spent five nights in Bangkok before heading down to Krabi.
My first impression of Krabi was that it was super touristy and a bit crappy. Like most of my first impressions, I was wrong. Sure, Krabi is very much on the beaten path, but there is still loads of beauty there and lots of fun to be had.
Our highlights in Krabi were getting our first Thai massage, going on a sunset cocktail tour to Phi Phi Island (where they filmed The Beach), going rock climbing in Railay, trying out the Tree Top Adventure Park and going on a jungle safari. We also worked with some more beautiful hotels in Krabi.
But our tip-top favourite thing about Krabi was the fact that we met such cool people here. Especially fellow bloggers Janet from journalistontherun.com, Tom from traveltomtom.net and Katrin from travelerslittletreasures.com. All three are kind, cool, well travelled and so much fun. But most of all they are inspirational.
We also worked with Shangri-La Singapore - one of the most luxurious hotels we've ever seen: They picked us up in a Mercedes, treated us to lunch, afternoon tea and plenty of champagne - and we even had our own butler!
Our trip to Singapore was rounded off nicely by working with Blacklane - who offer professional chauffeur services. [If you'd like to ride with Blacklane, have a voucher code: 624GRVGP]
Which country do you dream of going to?? We dreamed of going to the #philippines for three years thanks to @justonewayticket who inspired us to go there.. we finally got to go there this year andddd meet her there!! It sure is #itsmorefuninthephilippines 😁😎 new blog post all about #elnido !! (Link in description)
We'd been dreaming about going to the Philippines for three years, thanks to our friend Sabrina. But our trip there started off on a bad note..
Firstly, our connecting flight was changed: we were flying from Singapore to Manila, waiting there for a few hours and then flying straight out to Puerto Princessa. But our first flight was moved back meaning we'd only have 20 minutes in Manila (thanks for that Cebu Pacific). Actually, the Cebu Pacific staff in Singapore were super nice, and bumped us up to seats 1A and 1B to give us a better chance of sprinting through the airport.
We sprinted through the airport, and through the visa people, and just made it to the check-in (phew). Then it turned out that second flight was late anyway.. double phew.
We were picked up by the awesome Hotel Centro, but although we had a lovely welcome from them (with a welcome sign), our bad luck didn't stop:
Firstly we tried almost every cash machine in Puerto Princessa, and none of them wanted to take our debit card. We finally found one but it had a cap of about £100/day (we were trying to get enough out to last us for two weeks in El Nido). Then my debit card got blocked. Then my mobile phone wouldn't make calls to the UK to try and unblock it.
In the end we were saved by Hotel Centro - they let us use their phone to call the UK and I sorted my dumb card out!
This was our first example of how lovely Filipinos are - they are just the nicest people!
We then caught the crazy bumpy bus up to El Nido.
My. GOD. The beaches there are the most beautiful I've ever seen.
But our bad luck wasn't over. We had vile food poisoning after being dumb and not taking proper precautions.
But after those awful 24 hours were over, our bad luck was over, and the good news is I wrote a post for you so you don't have a crappy time in Palawan:
Don't Make These 5 Mistakes in El Nido.
After all our bad luck, we ended up having an awesome time in Palawan and wrote The Ultimate Guide To El Nido
One of the main reasons we had such a great time there was because we met up with Sabrina and GK from justonewayticket.com!! Sabrina is the main reason I wanted to become a blogger and the main reason I wanted to go to the Philippines!! We met her last year in Berlin, and she is such an inspiration! And so generous with her advice. Every time we see her our blog improves tenfold.
Anyway there seemed to be something magical about seeing her in the Philippines which her blog is famous for!!
After two weeks in Palawan we went back to Manila for Easter. EVERYTHING was closed, for basically a whole week - it was nice and quiet though.
We found that we liked Manila, the internet was great and we stayed in a nice Airbnb [get your voucher for Airbnb here]. We started working with SWG Dome - a great device that lets you take awesome half underwater half over water GoPro shots.
We also worked with two really nice hotels here, special thanks to the Linden Suites for the best cake ever:
And New World Makati for having awesome afternoon tea.
We coincided our trip to the Philippines with our 10 year anniversary!!! My only resolution for 2016 was to have an awesome anniversary as the last few were a bit shit (our 8 years was spent in the airport in Sydney, 9 years was spent travelling Ryanair from Estonia to Germany rounded off by eating a kebab)... BUTTT our bad luck clearly hadn't left us, as our 10 year anniversary was ruined by poor Tanbay having a second load of food poisoning. This time it was really bad and he had to go to the doctor. Luckily antibiotics cleared it up really quickly, but our 10 year anniversary was sat around feeling crappy. Hopefully next year will be better!!
Although we loved the beauty of the Philippines and the lovely Filipinos we met, we were slightly scared of the food by this point, so we were super excited to land in Vietnam and eat all of the food!
We weren't vegan at this point and fell head over heals in love with beef Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup). Omg it's so good.
We spent a few days in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), enjoying the food and feeling sad after going to the War Museum (we also learnt the Vietnamese war is known as the American war over there, makes sense).
We went up the capital, Hanoi, and determined not to break one of our other 2016 new year's resolutions (don't sleep in an airport), we slept in an airport pod hotel. It was nice! Especially as there were rats running around the actual airport (don't sleep there).
In Hanoi we fell more in love with Vietnam, partly because of the food but partly because it is so beautiful there! There's a real 'French meets Chinese' feel to the architecture and art here - no doubt because they were occupied by France and China over the years.
We also found Vietnam to be cheaper than Thailand, much cheaper than the Philippines and much, much cheaper than Singapore (of course). We also felt like there were far fewer tourists here, and fewer people that spoke English (great if you want to feel like you're abroad).
We continued our Vietnamese food affair and worked with two excellent companies: Hanoi Street Food Tour and Vietnam Awesome. I highly recommend you try both of these when you come to Hanoi - the first took us through Hanoi to try the street food, the second was a Vietnamese home cooking class, both were so delicious and so much fun!
Chiang Mai, Thailand
We flew across to Bangkok and took a horrible bus up to Chiang Mai. To be fair the bus was just as fine as the buses in Europe, it was only horrible because we took it at night and it was impossible to sleep.
We stayed in an Airbnb for a week to catch up on some work and do some sight-seeing in Chiang Mai. We LOVED celebrating Song Kran - Thai New Year:
At Song Kran everyone has a massive water fight for days, perfect in 40 degree heat!
We met up with best friend Janet again and met Claire from www.curiousclaire.com. We went to Chiang Mai's Grand Canyon together where Janet, Claire and Tanbay had fun jumping off cliffs into the water and I did it once and found it so horrible I quickly assigned myself as chief bag watcher and photo taker
My absolute favourite day in Chiang Mai, and from the whole year actually, was meeting real elephants!!!
Riding an elephant has always been at the top of my bucket-list, until I found out that riding elephants is actually really cruel and shouldn't be done.
At the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, you're not allowed to ride the elephants but you can feed, mud bathe and swim with the elephants! The elephants at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary are rescued from pulling logs or being ridden on. It was a magical day.
Our final few days in Chiang Mai were spent working with some more hotels including the Rachamanka:
A beautiful hotel with an excellent library (and brandy!) right in the centre of Chiang Mai, but cleverly designed so it's tranquil and quiet inside.
We also worked with the Panviman which was probably my favourite hotel of the year. Everything was so instagramable (the infinity pools, the peacocks, the jacuzzi on our balcony...), we had an awesome massage there and the staff were so lovely. Highly recommended!
We really loved Chiang Mai, it was a lot cheaper than Krabi and felt more authentically Thai: fewer tourists etc. A lot of digital nomads/bloggers live in Chiang Mai and I can see why - we will definitely go back!
We took the bus back down to Bangkok and this time took it in the day - much better idea - and they gave us lunch! We stayed for one night in an awful Bangkok hotel (with bugs) near the bus station.
The next morning we caught another long bus to Cambodia, ha.
Crossing the border from Thailand to Cambodia on a bus was kind of a nightmare because there were scams from all angles. I'd still recommend you take the bus though, but read this post first to know what you're up against:
3 Scams at the Bangkok - Siem Reap Crossing (and how to avoid them).
Despite the initial scams, we absolutely loved Cambodia. Like Vietnam, your money goes a lot further here - low prices for good quality. It's also a breathtakingly beautiful country.
We had one of my other top 3 days here: seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat!!
Omg it really was the most fantastic thing. We were lucky that it wasn't a cloudy day and we could see the sun (apparently lots of people don't). We wrote an entire Guide To Visiting The Temples At Angkor Wat here.
We worked with two more hotels here, the Pavillon d'Orient which was the absolute best hotel to visit Angkor Wat from - they offer a complimentary tuk-tuk driver to take you to and around Angkor Wat. They'll also prepare a packed lunch breakfast for you if you go for sunrise (or your tuk-tuk driver will take you back to the hotel for breakfast).
We also worked with the Heritage Suites which was very luxurious and we had a massage here that was the best one we had all year.
We met up with four Instagram fans in Cambodia, all four of which were cooler than us. They were all so nice!!
Taking the bus back to Thailand was a lot less dramatic - apart from the fact that it was almost impossible to find our bus because they'd moved locations and hadn't told anyone. We gave our tuk-tuk driver a 500% tip for helping us find it in time, we would have been stuck otherwise!
We spent our last few days in Bangkok. I really love Bangkok and we will be spending a whole month there next year!
We worked with two more hotels - the Oriental Residence where we had a fully equipped kitchen and the Maduzi Hotel - which had an infinity-jacuzzi-bathtub.
Our flight back to Europe took an unexpected turn when Sri Lanka Airlines decided to stop flying from Sri Lanka to Rome.
Luckily it worked out well, they put us up in Sri Lanka for 24 hours, and then on a Qatar Airways flight to Qatar and then onto Rome.
Thus we got to spend a day in Sri Lanka and our airline paid for our meals and hotel - yey.
There was a fantastic storm whilst we were there, so unfortunately we didn't see much of Sri Lanka, other than our hotel and the beach we quickly ran out onto before it chucked it down.
The food was all so delicious though and we'd love to return to Sri Lanka!
After our awesome day in Sri Lanka, we landed in Rome. We were staying with the nice people we'd house sat for in January. Unfortunately our flight landed late at night and having promised ourselves we wouldn't sleep in an airport in 2016, we took the night bus over to the east coast of Italy.
We waited on the beach until the sun came up and we could catch a bus to our friends' house. It wasn't as romantic as it sounds though - it was freezing!!
But we soon warmed up and had a great time working the vineyard during the day, and working our wine glasses at night.
And we recored another viral YouTube video here too:
After Italy came Hungary. My God I love Budapest, it's so cool, there's loads to do and it's really pretty! We stayed here for a whole month, we worked with lots of tours and saw my best friend, Flo!!
In Budapest we did so many fun things like cycling tours, food tours and wrote another long post about the Best of Budapest.
Our favourite day was Tanbay's birthday where we worked with the beautiful Aria Hotel and the Szechenyi Thermal Baths
This was around the time of Brexit, which was a big shock. Despite being in another country I did manage to vote (to remain) thanks to my mum. I was very angry with the result, but looking back on it now I can understand why some people voted to exit - it seems that if you're in a crappy situation, any change, even a change into the unknown is better than no change. 6 months later no one is sure what's going to happen to the UK, but I hope things get better for everyone!
We finally met Alesha and Jarryd from nomadasaurus.com - these guys started blogging around the same time we did, but they're already a lot more successful than we are. They're super nice and cool and I hope our paths cross again somewhere!
One of the things I'm most proud of this year though, is how we joined up with Budapest Bike Maffia To Help The Homeless in Budapest. Budapest has a sadly high number of homeless people, and since we lived there a month, we started to recognise certain people.
Whilst we were in Budapest we decided to have a weekend out to visit Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
We only spent 24 hours in Bratislava but did kind of feel like that was enough, it's a nice city, but quite small and feels more like a town. We liked it a lot though!
We especially liked working with the Danubia - they have a great sparkling wine welcome and an awesome breakfast.
We still had a great time in Prague - we saw the sights, our friends from San Diego and our friend TJ who we haven't seen since I left school!
We also bumped into the Governor from the Walking Dead!! That was crazy.
We also worked with Hotel Seven Days in Prague which is in a great location and they give guests postcards.
We absolutely loved our time in Budapest, but after a month I was ready to leave, we'll definitely go back there again, and I would even think about living there for a while, but nothing beats being on 'the open road' at the moment.
We took the bus over to Croatia. Taking the bus from Budapest to Bratislava and Prague had been a piece of cake - you don't even stop at the border. But because Croatia isn't part of Schengen, you do have to stop at their border. It was nothing compared to the Bangkok/Siem Reap border, but it was still annoying, and they took our passports off us!! The officials walked off with them for 30 minutes, while we hoped they'd come back with them. Obviously they did.
We didn't have very long in Croatia and only got to see Zagreb. We really liked it though and can't wait to go back and see the country properly.
We worked with the first bnb in Zagreb - Studio Kairos and two more awesome tours: a tour of Zagreb with Hello Zagreb and Fast & Simple Food Tour with Best of Zagreb. We recommend both of them - take the first to learn about the history of Zagreb and where everything is, and the second to taste authentic Zagreb 'fast' food - fast hear meaning that it's made quickly, not that it's crappy kfc.
Omg where do I start with Slovenia? We were invited there on a press trip with Big Berry to spend 12 days seeing what Slovenia has to offer.
I think it might be something to do with the fact that I'd never really heard much about Slovenia - I didn't learn about it in history and it's not an uber-famous European country like say Spain, so I didn't know what to expect, but honestly I wasn't expecting that much. OMG!! I was so wrong, it's sooo beautiful:
Everything is either blue or green because nature is everywhere. The food is incredible - we tried lots of locally sourced foods and drinks. And the locals are absolutely lovely. If Slovenia isn't at the top of your bucket-list, you should put it there right now. Also read this post if you need some more convincing: 10 Reasons You Should Travel To Slovenia. YOU HAVE TO GO.
Additionally, Big Berry itself is the best. Glamping is our new favourite way of travelling and we made so many new friends there. Special shout out to Alejandro!
We also made some new blogging friends!!! Aileen from IamAileen.com Gogo from www.spiccandoilvolo.com and Shanti from www.awanderphile.com these three girls are all so awesome.
Still, I wouldn't say no to going back there! Nor would I tell you not to go there.
After nine months of being away from the UK we were vaguely excited to go back. What did we find on our arrival? Rain of course! We spent a few days in London and Brighton before heading back to my family in the South West.
In London we worked with the Hoxton which is set in the coolest section of London: Shoreditch.
Down in Brighton we worked with Nineteen - breakfast in particular stands out as a highlight here.
We also bumped into my oldest friend Katy!! She's really old.
Back at my mum's we had some home comforts, saw about half of my family and saw some of our friends: Chloe, Sophie and Webby!!
We also did a house sit with my mum and her partner John in beautiful Stroud. The dogs were awesome!! Two Hungarian Vizslas who are just so funny. It was great to be able to see my aunt and uncle too :)
We spent a weekend exploring the castles on the English/Welsh border with my dad - these castles are unbelievably old it's amazing they're still around.
We also did lots of work in the UK - with Woodspex sunglasses, FAIR shoes, Holi-Bobs Solid shampoo and Pictrip:
On Tuesday we had a professional photo shoot with @pictripofficial and here's one of our favourite shots 😍🇬🇧 we loved the entire experience and highly recommend it - are you as obsessed as we are with getting the 'perfect shot'?? 🙈 #nofilter - of course!!! (Sunglasses by @woodspexshop ) and thanks @artistresidence for hosting us!! 😘😘😘
Our Pictrip was one of our favourite days of the year: Pictrip take professional photos for you whilst travelling (no more bad selfies)! We met them in London and enjoyed feeling like superstars.
Whilst we were back in London we worked with another great hotel: Artist Residence - they are literally in the most centrally location in London.
We finished our time in the UK by celebrating my 25th. This was the first time in 3 years I'd celebrated a birthday at home (22 was in Australia, 23 Spain, 24 Portugal). It was actually really nice to spend it with family and have some great food. We also went to Puzzle Wood which is the most enchanting place I've ever been.
Like my 21st birthday, although I didn't spend my actual birthday abroad, I did go somewhere awesome a few days later:
I'm really pleased that it actually happened!!! And Iceland was just out of this world.
Before the trip it looked like it was going to be a disaster: we had problems with our accommodation, our car hire company and Emily forgetting the sat-nav.
But in the end everything worked out: we worked with a different car-hire company which was perfect (Lagoon Car Rental) and with a perfect accommodation (Minniborgir Cottages). We also worked with Laugarvatn Fontana and the famous Blue Lagoon!
Iceland really was one of the most beautiful countries we've ever been to - and so unlike everywhere we'd ever been to! The people are lovely (and all really, really good looking) and although the food is kind of crap and everything is crazy expensive - it's 100% worth it!
I also finally got to say I can drive! I passed my test three years ago, but I've never had a car and am nervous about driving. But in Iceland driving is an absolute must, so I was determined to get confident (plus I hated the idea of my little sister being better at driving than me). Heh.
After driving non-stop in Iceland though and fairing such dangers like parallel parking and bay parking, I finally feel confident saying that I am confident driving.
I also wrote a post about everything you need to know about the Golden Circle!
After Iceland we spent a few days in Manchester with my best friends Jo, Chloe and Harry.
But a day before we were meant to fly out to Germany I had a call from my mum - there'd been a death in the family.
I'm so grateful we were just a train ride away, and could go back that very day. My heart really goes out to people who are on the other side of the world, or even 'just' in a different country when a loved one dies. If I'd had to make the decision about going back or not from another country, it would have made everything so much worse!
The next two weeks were horrible, but I'm so grateful I got to be at home. I went through a million different stages of grief and had some crazy thoughts about my own future: from thinking I would throw it all in and become a lawyer, to thinking I would do a maths masters in Berlin, to thinking I would go to the South Pole.
In the end I decided to carry on as I am, but with a more urgency to it - we've always wanted to go to Japan, but we're just going to do it in 2017 instead of just hoping to do it one day... what if that day never happens?
I've got to say, the thing that helped me through my grief the most was planning for the future, and specifically planning my future travels (that and watching the entire two seasons of scream back-to-back).
Unfortunately it put a stop to our daily vlogs - even after I felt better I didn't feel into vlogging. :( until we got to Rome.
We flew over to Germany a little later than planned so unfortunately only got to spend two weeks with Tanbay's lovely family. It was a short but sweet stay!
Then we did a two week house sit in Hamburg. This is one of our favourite ever house sits, though ostensibly it sounds crazy: three dogs, two cats, four geckos, koi and goldfish?! But, like most houses with lots of animals, everything works really smoothly - the animals all knew what they were doing and we lovveeeed them!! Especially little Elly, omg I love her.
The house was lush - with a jacuzzi and sauna and the home owners were so nice and considerate: they lent us their car and stocked up the fridge with vegan friendly snacks for us!!
I wrote one of our most successful posts of the year here: Around The World in 80 Instagram Photos
After Germany we flew down to Italy to our January house sit again. The owners really kindly leant us their car which was lots of fun (Italian roads are crazy).
But although we were enjoying being around the dogs and cat, I still wasn't feeling right: I'd fallen out with friends and was feeling lonely and confused, mainly because I was still grieving. It all came to a head though when I did the dumbest thing ever: accidentally turned the blender on when my finger was in it!
We were saved by an Italian angel: San Pietro - he took me to the hospital in Italy and spoke all the Italian. He even brought us a pizza and helped me get my antibiotics! I needed 7 stitches!
I relearnt an important lesson: everything will be okay in the end. When bad things happen (especially whilst travelling) it's easy to get caught up in it and feel like it's the end of the world. But 9 times out of 10 it will past, time heels all wounds and that. And sure it's 3 months later and I'm still only typing with 9 fingers, but it all worked out.
Most of all it put things into perspective for me and dragged me kicking and screaming out of my slump.
ANYWAY, despite injuries we got a lot of work done here. I wrote a load of posts: 5 Reasons To Become A House Sitter TODAY, 10 things to know before you go to Paris, around the world in 80 Pinterest photos and one I'm most proud of: what it means to have Christmas in the UK - all about how awful it must be to be homeless at Christmas and how shameful it is that we don't look after people in worse situations than ourselves.
ANYWAY, despite injuries and feeling crappy, we did manage to get a lot of work done in time for our trip to Rome.
I love Rome.
We spent a long weekend in Rome last year, and loved it, but my God it was so hot we didn't even go in the Colosseum. Winter weather suits Rome a lot more and there's the added advantage of there being far fewer tourists!
We worked with some awesome hotels in Rome: the Blue Ho(s)tel - literally still a bit unsure about why it's called a hostel, the rooms were the nicest we saw in Rome; the Beehive - eco-friendly rooms at cheap prices; the Retrome - unbelievably central and cool; and iRooms - the best jacuzzi rooms in Rome.
We also worked with some wonderful tours: Eating Italy Walking Tours - where we ate our way through Testaccio; Showaround - where you meet up with real locals who show you around; Vizeat and Bonappetour - dining with locals. And we finally went in the Colosseum.
I need to write a Rome post!!
We were sad to leave Rome but happy almost straight away when we arrived in Naples - we'd never been to Naples before but we LOVED it almost instantly. It's got this real authentic, ancient grunginess to it which is like nowhere else - it's actually older than Rome and around every corner was some kind of fascinating beauty.
We had one of the best Italian meals ever here: a raw vegan lasagne and a vegan pizza.
Our final stop this year was Sicily. Sicily was a nice surprise for us - we had no idea it would be so sunny here! We swam in the sea on Christmas day and it was lush!
We house sat with my family here and Tanbay and I celebrated our 11th Christmas together :D
On New Year's Eve I took my mum on a wine tasting in Sicily, this was the nicest wine tasting I'd done all year and the dessert wine was amazing!!
At midnight we all watched the fireworks from a hill - the fireworks go off on the beach and we had a great panoramic view of all of them.
We already have a few concrete plans: January we will be headed to Canada and the US for press trips :) and then back to Bangkok.
After Bangkok we want to see Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Myanmar and the Maldives by June.
I also really want to see Taiwan, UAE, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Egypt, Israel, India and New Zealand, so watch this space!!
We're Laura and Tanbay, a British/German couple who have successfully weaselled our way out of the rat-race and want you to do the same! We also want to make it clear that we sometimes use “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use personally and believe will add value to our readers.