I love this time of year. I’m not usually a fan of Christmas, but New Year is my favourite time of the year. It’s a time to reflect on the past year, on everything that I achieved or didn’t achieve, on any journeys that I made both geographically and inwardly and to be grateful for all the good things and all lessons that I learned in the last twelve months. I think it’s really important to see how far we have come and to celebrate the wins and moments that brought us joy.
So, as my yearly tradition, here are my best moments and my lessons for 2023.
My Travel in 2023
This year I visited 5 new countries – Syria, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, and Japan. I loved all of these countries but the one that blew me away the most was Syria. I visited another Emirate, Abu Dhabi. And revisited 3 old ones to explore them further – Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea.
I spent a total of two months in the UK, revisiting the country every 3 months for about 2 weeks at a time. I stayed in the Word’s tallest hotel, and tried a capsule hotel in Japan. And attended two travel events: the World Travel Market (WTM) in London and the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai.
My Best Moments
Walking on Nails!
Always one to push myself I couldn’t resist trying this experience when I was at a wellness festival in Dubai. Core Unity had their first festival in Hatta, the mountainous region of Dubai and it was absolutely amazing. I camped for two nights, did yoga in the mornings, drank lots of avocado smoothies, and attended workshops, and one of these was walking on nails.
I can’t tell you how empowered I felt when I stepped off the last bed of nails, my feet feeling still throbbing. If you ever get the chance to try it, I hope I’ve inspired you to do it! I’ve signed up for the same wellness festival this year and can’t wait to come away feeling zen….
I’ve realised the importance of connections last year and one event where I met a really good friend was at Mindvalley. I had been a student of this personal development platform for years and they held a live event in Dubai last year. The event was amazing. The energy, the vibe of the people and I got to meet Marissa Peer! One of my idols.
I swear by personal development as it’s really helped me to release trauma, have a better understanding of myself and evolve. There’s a saying that “if you are not growing, you are dying” by John Vincent Wehbe. And I intend to live my life continually becoming a better version of myself.
I was so excited to visit this country. I love the Middle East and all I knew about Syria was what the media had told me. I love going to places to see the reality on the ground as I don’t trust the mainstream news and Syria was one of those places that blew me away. I had no expectations and that’s always the best way when you’re visiting somewhere new. I have never felt so welcome in a country.
Going as part of a tour for safety (I can honestly tell you that I have felt less safe in other countries), the locals were so curious about us. I felt as though us visiting gave them some hope that tourism was coming back and a glimmer of normality in a country that is constantly been made unstable by war.
Going Back to Lebanon
This year I returned to Lebanon. My Syria trip started from Beirut as the only way that we could travel to Damascus was through the land border. I had been to Lebanon before to visit projects there with a friend but had only stayed in Beirut for a week. This time, I took the opportunity to see more of the country and was really surprised at what it had to offer.
The Jeita grotto had one of the best cave systems I had seen in the world. And the Roman ruins of Baalbek was one of the most impressive sites that could easily be a contender for the Seven Wonders of the World. Unfortunately, at the moment with Israel targeting Lebanon, it isn’t safe to visit but when it is, I recommend a visit to this surprising country.
Realising how kick ass I am as a Samurai warrior!
To escape the summer heat in Dubai, I went to Asia for a month and a half. It took weeks of planning the best flight route but my trip took me to the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. You know when you have one of those trips when everything just flows? That’s exactly how my Asia trip went. Apart from just one day where so many things went wrong, the rest of the time was amazing.
I tried so many new experiences and learnt more about each culture. Every single country was different and it was so nice to be back in Buddhist temples and seeing giant Buddhas. One of the best moments of my Asia trip was dressing up as a Samurai Warrior and learning how to fight. I absolutely loved it and didn’t realise what a natural I was so I can’t wait to to find a kendo class here in Dubai. * Read: Solo Travel in Japan
Becoming a resident of the UAE
Speaking of Dubai – I am now officially a resident! After a year of having to leave Dubai every 40 days (which kinda worked with me travelling so much and having to keep going back to the UK for my jaw check-ups), I can finally relax as I no longer have to leave the country. Woohoo!
I was going to apply for residency months ago but the timing didn’t feel right so once I arrived back in the country after my Asia trip, I finally started the process. I can’t tell you how happy and grounded this makes me. The residency has be renewed every 2 years but knowing that I’m no longer on a ticking clock every time I enter the UAE makes me feel so much more relaxed.
And I can look for an apartment and get a car now that I am finally official! (Hopefully I am also changing people’s perceptions of Dubai from all my social media posts on what I’ve been up to in the city). * Follow me on Instagram here!
Winning the Travolution award for Champions of Content!
In November, I won the Champions of Content category at the Travolution Awards! The Travolution Awards are the biggest annual celebration of the talents and achievements of brands and individuals in the online travel sector in the UK and beyond.
It's been more than a decade ago that I started my blog and it has grown into a number 1 solo female travel podcast, a Facebook community of women from around the globe, a non-profit organisation in the making and very soon to launched, an app! I love travelling to emerging destinations and promoting them to solo travellers and every year I try to inspire more women to feel the empowerment of solo travel by creating challenges and designing new courses for Solo Summer.
To be recognised from hundreds of entries for innovative thinking and creativity means so much! It really means that I am on the right track and to keep aiming for the stars!
Seeing Formula One!
I grew up with Formula One and even though I haven’t followed the sport for a few years, there is still something exciting about watching the Grand Prix and hearing the roar of the engines. So to be given the chance to go to the practice race in Abu Dhabi on the Saturday of the final Grand Prix of the year was really exciting!
To see the cars from a yacht whilst drinking Prosecco and eating lobster and sushi felt as though I had stepped into another reality. It was the most amazing experience especially when jets performed acrobatics above us during the event. It really made the whole day special! For 2024 my aim is to see the actual race 🙂
Other Great Moments
Seeing a starfish whilst snorkelling in the Philippines. Having the best massage in Japan and taking my photo with the masseuse after! Seeing monkeys on a boat trip in Brunei, meeting a woman at the airport in Brunei who then let me use her luggage allowance so that I didn’t have to pay extra. Having the funniest tour guide in Taiwan and staying in the most amazing 5 star hotels with hot springs in my own room!
Trying a naked spa for the first time! Apparently this is a big thing in Asia and although there are spas where you can wear your swimsuits (and a swimming hat that is mandatory for Taiwan), there are plenty of naked ones too. Spending my birthday at a waterpark! I haven’t screamed so much in ages. I honestly felt like a kid again.
Not So Great Moments
Feeling helpless as the situation in Gaza escalates. (I am sure that many people feel the same). The genocide is such a dark moment in our history. I can only hope that it has woken people up to who runs the world and what their real agenda is. This world can be a really dark place and it's really hard to understand the inhumane actions of others.
Now living in the Middle East and being so passionate about the region, I felt even more helpless than in previous situations. I visited Palestine about 6 years as a volunteer in the West Bank, picking olives with the Palestinians and was so touched by the people. Here's my short story:
”What's your name?” the children shout in an excited manner. “Want to play football?'”
Palestine is so welcoming.
On a tour through one of the villages, the people all shout “hello”, smile and some even invite us in for dinner. This is a far cry from the West Bank that I have seen portrayed in the news.
This little village is home to 3800 people, many of whom have faced prison for speaking up for their rights. Having the presence of volunteers here for the olive harvest each year eases the tension from the Israeli government and reduces the people's fear.
As we are shown around before we start our olive picking the following day I feel as though I have stepped back in time. Small stone houses stand before me with the most colourful array of doors I have ever seen.
These people live in peace and rely on their olive trees and agriculture to survive but their lives are constantly threatened and their olive trees are being taken away. They have lived this way for hundreds of years yet a wall divides Palestine from Israel, and the Palestines need permission to leave.
Israelis are here to volunteer and help the Palestine families with their olive harvest as a sign of peace and respect for their community. If this sentiment was echoed throughout the whole of the West Bank, the world would be a much more peaceful place.
Feeling helpless, all I can do is donate (I donate to War Child), and share awareness on Instagram. I can only pray for peace and offer Reiki to the Palestinian people when it's safe to do so.
Being hit by a Google algorithm in October and seeing my traffic and income nose dive. I’ve been blogging for 11 years and this was the first time that I had been hit by a Google change. I spent the last few months re-organising my site, getting rid of any content that is no longer helpful and making some changes that have just started paying off.
For the second time in my blogging career (first time was covid), I felt vulnerable in my business. It made me realise how much power Google has and not to put all my eggs in one basket so my goal for 2024 is to diversify.
Missing my flight to Pakistan!
In March I paid to join a group tour to Pakistan for a long weekend. I was nervous about travelling alone and thought that the only way I could visit the country was on a tour. I arrived at the airport at 2:30am in the morning and met the rest of the group. Then when we went to check in, I was told that my visa had the wrong date. instead of that month, it was for the following month. I quickly reapplied for another visa and waited patiently for it to come through.
I was still there when the check-in desk closed and had to admit defeat and go home whilst the others flew to Pakistan. I had applied for the correct dates but the Immigration Office had issued it for different dates and I hadn't checked!
After being annoyed at myself for not being so vigilant (which is really unlike me), I took it as an expensive lesson that I wasn't meant to travel to Pakistan as part of a group and that I would do it for a longer period alone and see more than one destination when I travelled there. Every situation has a silver lining!
A family member passing away in the Autumn and finding out when I was on my solo Asia trip. And not being able to leave the country at Christmas as my Emirates ID was in process, when I may have needed to. Luckily, everything is okay now but it was just a reminder to me of the life choice that I had made to be so far away from my home country.
I end the year in a much better place than I did last year. My goal from last year was to have a more balanced year with plenty of wellness, positivity and moments of joy. Although I’m still working on the wellness, I definitely had a year of more positivity and joy.
I am grateful to end the year as an official resident to a country that I love and I am blessed to have finally found somewhere where I belong (for now anyway :)). Now it’s about stepping up and really making an impact in my business, my foundation and placing some roots for a brand new home.
I hope you enjoyed my looking back on my 2023 and that maybe I inspired you to try a new experience, attend a live event, visit a new country or even to uproot and move to pastures new. I encourage you to look back over the year and see what you were grateful for and what you would like to bring into 2024 with you.