Last year I wrote an in-depth review of 2016, a month by month summary of everything I got up to, including receiving my MA, travelling to Italy, Spain, Northern Ireland, Turkey, Israel, and more, and being very comfortably settled in London. It made sense to break it down like that, January to December.
Well for this past year, 2017, I decided to buck the system. Why? Because 2017 was kind of a batshit year for me, fraught with ups and downs of giant proportions. There were some fantastic moments (see: pretty much everything that happened in East Africa). There were some horrible moments (see: moving out of my flat in London). And there was a whole lot in between. This post won’t even mention all of the horrific things that happened around the world, because I think we can all agree that it was a garbage year in general for Earth, and I doubt any of us need reminding.
Instead of just listing things month by month or trip by trip, which – let’s face it – is pretty damn boring for everyone but me, I decided to separate this post into three sections: the good/great, the bad, and then, hopefully making Clint Eastwood proud, the very, very ugly. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this.
2017: The Good (more like THE AWESOME)
I always feel like a spoiled brat saying I didn’t have a very good year because I’m fully aware that I am one of the luckiest, most privileged people on the planet. I get to travel for a living, for god’s sake. And so before I get to any of the shitty stuff that happened below, it’s crucial to recognise that there were many, many, MANY wonderful things that happened to me this year, mainly the four months I spent on the road. 39 flights, 16 countries, a few unbelievable road trips, and some major travel wish list items checked off, this year was truly fantastic in many ways.
My first trip of the year was to Genova, Italy, where I ate a bunch of pesto, drank a bunch of sparkling wine, and got to see Camogli, Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, and Nervi.
I joined up with my dear friend Helen for my first campaign of the year, which was a road trip around Scotland’s North Coast 500. As per my latest blog post, that was one of the best trips I’ve ever done in my life. [Read more: 13 Reasons You Have to Road Trip Scotland’s North Coast 500]
I marched in the Women’s March in London, which was extremely empowering. [Read more: Why I Marched: Thoughts on the London Women’s March]
I was flown to Copenhagen to give a talk on working with influencers, which was a pretty amazing addition to my resume.
I spent a week in Antigua, where the water was so blue I thought I was dreaming. This was another amazing campaign that I was very proud to be a part of. I also turned 33 while on the airplane over the Atlantic, which I thought was pretty cool. [Read more: Antigua: The Perfect Caribbean Holiday]
In mid-May, I met my dad and his wife for four days of great eating and shopping in Florence. I then participated in an influencers conference in Menorca, where I got to hang out with lots of amazing, like-minded people in this industry. [Read more: A Weekend in Menorca, Spain’s Underrated Island]
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Early mornings in Dubai were my favourite time of day there: drinking coffee with a view of the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa – while the sky was bright blue, the temperatures were somewhat manageable, and the streets were quiet. It was my first time to UAE… have you ever been? 🇦🇪
I saw the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, which was pretty dope. I also got to visit Abu Dhabi; I have wanted to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque for a long time, and it was worth the wait.
And then, for the next six weeks, I made all of my travel dreams come true: I travelled around East Africa, including Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania. [Read more: Holy &$@% 2017, Are You For Real? Travel Plans and More…]
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Early mornings in the Serengeti. I spent years saving for this East African adventure, so when I was planning my trip I decided to splurge on any activity I wanted, including a hot air balloon ride at sunrise! I had never been hot air ballooning before and it was such an incredible experience to watch the Serengeti wake up in hues of orange and pink. From our vantage point in the sky we saw dozens of animals, including buffalo, zebras, giraffes, hippos, warthogs, and even lions! It was definitely a highlight of my time in Tanzania, especially with such a great crew (and a champagne breakfast in the brush afterwards). Make sure to check out @serengetiballoonsafaris if you're ever in East Africa! #tlpicks #traveldeeper #beautifuldestinations #bbctravel
Seriously, this was the trip of my dreams. Six safari days, hot air ballooning, trekking with gorillas, trekking with chimpanzees, staying in Giraffe Manor, lounging on the beaches of Zanzibar… I mean it when I say I wouldn’t change a thing (except, maybe, the credit card bills I ended up with). I went with my mum and it was one incredible experience after the next. [Read more: What to Wear in Kenya and Giraffe Manor: Is It Worth the Cost?]
I then spent six weeks in my hometown of Winnipeg; I own a house there, and needed to do some major renovations. I’m counting this as a good because there’s something about painting a wall and rearranging furniture that makes me so freaking happy.
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Although I'd technically been to Tuscany before, in September I had the chance to drive around the region for a few days and oh my, it did not disappoint. Think charming villages, delicious food, and vineyards as far as the eye can see. My suggestion? Hire a car in Florence and just start driving! We stayed in the stunning village of Citerna (on the border of Umbria and Tuscany – this was our view at sunset, when the sky turns that beautiful hazy colour) and used it as our base to explore the region. It was absolutely dynamite. ••• By the way, check out my latest blog post (link in profile) for a super fun giveaway I'm doing this month! ••• 📷 by @zholeman ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••#loveitaly #beautifulitaly #prettylittleitaly #tlpicks #traveldeeper #instatravel #iamatraveler #instapassport #tuscanygram #igitalia #igitaly #bellaitalia #umbriagram #passionpassport #umbria #tuscany #darlingescapes #prettylittletrips #theprettycities #italytrip #italylove #italy_ig #visititalia #visititaly #ig_italia #italyiloveyou #italygram #discoveritaly
Back in London, I quickly flew to Italy for my third time in 2017. First exploring Lucca and Florence by myself, I then met up with my sister Zalie and her boyfriend Ross. We had an amazing road trip through Tuscany and Umbria, including a day in San Marino. We then moved on to Cinque Terre (my third time there), which was filled with sunshine, good wine, and some major laughs.
Shortly after that, I went to the Seefeld region of Austria for a press trip: think fresh Alpine air, snowcapped mountains, and stunning sunsets. [Read more: Olympiaregion Seefeld: The Most Beautiful Place in Austria]
I then flew to Berlin for a week to hang out with my friend Kristin of Be My Travel Muse. We barely did anything but work, eat, and talk for hours, which is just what I needed.
In early November I flew to Toronto, where I spent almost two weeks hanging out with my mum. Again, I just wanted to hibernate and hang out with her. I am pretty comfortable not leaving the house for days if I have good company, good food, and good wine, so we made the most of it.
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I've finally gone through my photos from Central Japan and still can't get over how colourful it was! This photo was taken at the end of November, a perfect time to explore Japan's autumnal beauty; the town of Asuke was particularly stunning. I lived in Japan for over two years (in Osaka) but I never got the chance to travel to this region. When we think of visiting Japan, we may think of the bright lights of Tokyo or the temples of Kyoto, but there's so much more to the country, especially when you start exploring the countryside. Have you been to Japan? 🇯🇵 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••#presstrip #visitjapanjp #visitchubu #gocentraljapan #asuke #shoryudo #aichi #aichiprefecture #japantrip #ig_japan #igersjapan #igersjp #instajapan #instapassport #instatravel #passionpassport #discoverjapan #jtb #iwilbrb #flashesofdelight #mytinyatlas #whereitravel #livecolorfully #thatsdarling #travelerin 📷 by @visual_musings with @japantravelbureau
My last international trip of 2017 was to Japan; I visited Central Japan on a press trip, and it was super fun. Although I lived in Osaka for two years, this was a region I had never spent any time in, and it was amazing to be back in one of my favourite countries.
I ended the year in my hometown of Winnipeg to celebrate the holidays with my family and to question whether or not it’s OK to go for walks in -30 (answer: it is, but you best bundle up).
So yeah, you’re probably like… fuck you and the horse you rode in on, that sounds like the best year ever. And again, I do NOT want to downplay that I am super lucky to have experienced all of those things in one year.
But you know what they say – there’s always more behind the scenes. And because nobody really wants to read about the good stuff (“Look at me! This year I fell in love with my soulmate who is mistaken daily for Jake Gyllenhaal, found my dream career where I make seven figures a month, and travelled to eighty billion countries!” Good for you, but YAWN. Give me the real shit, please), I wanted to pull back the curtain and reveal some of the things that made 2017 a year I’m happy to see the back of.
2017: The Bad
I’m going to start by saying that nothing very bad actually happened to me in 2017 (see above: spoiled brat, lucky, etc). My family and friends are healthy, I didn’t go bankrupt, I didn’t get dumped (you can’t get dumped if you don’t date… my advice for the day), and so on. But there were still some moments that made me sad, mad, and just downright fed up. Almost all of the bad things that happened in 2017 were due to my own faults, so at least I can acknowledge that… it’s easier to fix if you know where the problem originated.
Probably one of the most stressful times and also the toughest emotional upheaval I went through in 2017 was packing up my flat in East London. I absolutely loved that flat, and it was the longest I have ever lived anywhere since leaving my childhood home 15 years ago. This is not to mention the financial costs of packing and moving internationally; with my future in London unsure, I decided the best plan of action was to ship my belongings back to Canada rather than pay for hefty storage fees. I cried many tears upon leaving that beloved flat.
Professionally, 2017 was pretty blah for me, too. This blog performed better than 2016, yes, but not THAT much better. In fact, December 2017 was my worst month for traffic in the entire year, even though I went over a month in the summer without blogging. What the hell?! [Read: Taking a Break from the Thing You Love]
And that was part of the problem: my motivation hit all time lows this year, and I started comparing myself to everyone and their mother. I came up with tons of great ideas, lots of fantastic blog posts, and so many ways I could take This Battered Suitcase into the future (writing retreats! books! podcasts! yeah right). I vowed to redesign my blog, to write more, and to make this a much better resource for female travellers. Yeah, that’s a big old NOPE in terms of what actually happened. [Read: I Feel Bad About My Blog]
And while I did manage to do some more consulting, public speaking (including at a university in London), and freelance writing, in general I didn’t accomplish anything that I set out to accomplish this year. That’s a shitty feeling. It’s up to me to change that in 2018, AKA it’s up to me to get shit done and keep on moving forward, even if nothing seems to be happening.
In some ways, I felt like my entire working year can be summed up like this:
Email from potential client: “Hi Brenna, we love your blog and are really keen to hire you for this consulting/press trip/public speaking/writing. How much do you charge?”
Me: “Hi! That’s amazing, I’d love to be involved. I charge [not at all an unreasonable rate].”
Potential client: *crickets*
Me: Alrighty then, I guess I’m a total and complete failure so I should just give up.
See?! What a terrible attitude to have!
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"There's a reason you travel solo, sweetheart." The first time I got that comment, years ago, it stung. Who was this anonymous person on the Internet and why were they trying to shame me for being single and/or travelling solo? But as the years went by, and as this lifestyle – choosing to be single and choosing to travel solo – blossomed into a life I couldn't have even imagined living, one that's so much better than I could have ever dreamed it could be, those kinds of comments no longer sting. There is indeed a reason I travel solo; there's many of them, in fact. Travelling solo for the past 12 years has allowed me to explore unhinged, to explore freely. It has unlocked my best self, my most confident self. It has introduced me to a world that is very rarely frightening and is in actuality full of beautiful, funny, helpful, warm people. It has made me realise just how much I still have to learn, and made me excited to do just that. It has allowed me to figure out who I am, good parts and bad, and has allowed me to love – to love others and to love myself. So whenever I get that comment now, I raise my glass to this life, and I smile. There's a reason I travel solo? Damn straight there is: it's the best thing I've ever done. Here's to the next 12 years! 🍷✈️🌎 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••#loveitaly #beautifulitaly #prettylittleitaly #tlpicks #traveldeeper #instatravel #iamatraveler #instapassport #igitalia #igitaly #bellaitalia #passionpassport #manarola #solotravel #solotraveler #theprettycities #italytrip #italylove #italy_ig #visititalia #visititaly #ig_italia #5terre 📷 by @zholeman
And because no round-up post is worth its salt without a few romantic stories – or in this case, oh-my-god-I’m-dry-heaving stories – I can say, without a doubt, that 2017 was probably the worst year I’ve had in terms of dating and relationships since like… kindergarten? For real. Those who read this blog often know that I’m not particularly looking for a long-term relationship – if it happens it happens, I’m in no rush – but I do enjoy dating and flings, especially while travelling.
In 2017, I didn’t meet anyone that knocked my socks off. I did go on a few dates in London in the start of the year that were fantastically bad (honest to God, one dude actually started whimpering when I wouldn’t kiss him goodnight, while another just assumed we’d sleep together even though the conversation was so bad I went and flirted with the 22-year-old bartender for 15 minutes just to get SOMETHING out of the evening). I also had a travel romance gone so, so, SO wrong that I am still trying to collect my thoughts about it (cue the aforementioned dry heaves. I legitimately cannot start thinking about this guy without cringing in horror).
I need a drink
All in all, whether it was work or relationships, I just felt frustrated and annoyed. There was nothing awful about any of it, but there was nothing outstanding, either.
ALL OF THAT BEING SAID, I did manage to write some of my very favourite blog posts, and ones that you really related to as well. These include:
My Month Without Alcohol (And Men) (a series of four blog posts, this remains one of my favourite set of posts to write, ever)
The Last Time I Saw You (Part Six) (still one of the more popular series on the blog, all about l-o-v-e)
Every Single Thing I Know About Social Media (written when I was feeling more positive about this blog)
When Did Travel Blogging Get So Boring? (some bloggers were sooooo butt-hurt over this post without actually reading it. I got some very nasty, hateful comments in those “we empower other female travel bloggers!” forums on Facebook… hmm. Funny that)
Please Stop Telling Me I Just Need to Meet the Right Guy (definitely one of my favourites I’ve ever written. I aim to write more like this in 2018)
Why You Should Buy Souvenirs (just like people who brag that they don’t count countries, I’ll never understand why some people brag about not buying souvenirs. How about you do you, I’ll do me, and neither of us judges the other for how they choose to travel?!)
On Belonging: A Story from Japan (a long-form narrative about my time living in Osaka)
Every Single Thing I Know About Instagram (spoiler: I kinda hate Instagram)
What to Wear in Colombia (for a travel blog, it’s funny that my most popular posts are all about fashion and relationships)
What If I’m Single Forever? (just a happy little thought I absolutely never ruminate on when lying alone in bed at 3am)
Trust Me, Your 30s Are So Much Better Than Your 20s (another blog post I loved writing. Oooohhhh and if anyone wants some gossip, I actually hung out with the guy I talk about in that post again [don’t judge me] and HE CLAIMED TO NOT REMEMBER ANY OF IT. Hmmm, OK. Moral of the story? Don’t hang out with exes? Don’t put too much faith in drunken encounters? I’ve still got it……?!)
Because in the End, I Choose Travel (true, always)
The Last Time I Saw You (Part Seven) (this one hurt a little bit)
On Hitting Publish: Everything That Goes Through My Brain Before Publishing a Blog Post (true story. In the eight hours it has taken me to put together this blog post, I have also: tried to buy JLo tickets in Vegas, read a column online by Roxane Gay, researched if you can eat too much spinach in a day, ordered a book on Amazon even though I just got two books delivered this morning, stared into the flame of my candle and tried to meditate just like that short story by Roald Dahl (anyone else know what I’m talking about?), stopped to read a few of my friends’ blogs, flossed, and spent half an hour bookmarking new quinoa recipes. Send help)
This is How Your Heart Breaks (*sob*)
Nah Dude, I’m Not Going to ‘Lighten Up’ About Your Rape Joke (perhaps one of the most important posts I wrote this year, this article went down really well with the anti-feminist basement-dwelling trolls who like to comment on my Facebook page every now and then again. All they serve to do is motivate me to write more posts like this, so thank you, dudes wiping the Cheetos dust off your hands onto your sweatpants so you can rage-masturbate for the fourth time today! I owe ya)
How I Got Started: My Journey Through 11 Years of Travelling and Writing About It (I get asked about this ALL THE TIME [Hey there, I just found your blog today and was wondering how you started? How do you travel so much? How do you make money? What are all of your freelance contacts? Can you please write me back with 1,000 words in an email so that I can never respond to say thank you?] so I finally wrote it all down in one place)
The Best Books to Become a Better Writer (hopefully more about writing coming on the blog in 2018!)
How To Feel Comfortable Eating Alone (I’m going to try to write more practical travel-related guides like this in 2018, as they go down well)
I need another drink
2017: The Oh So Very Ugly
The good news is the ugliest part of this year was solely because of me (either my brain or my body). The bad news is the ugliest part of this year is solely because of me (brain + body, so, yeah, ME).
I’ve hummed and hawed about making this information public, because so much of what I stand for online is solo travel and being happy with being single. I am an independent woman! I love being on my own!! But, oh yeah, I also suffer from crippling loneliness.
The truth is, living in London for the past five years has been a dream come true. I LOOOOVEEEEE London so much, as I’ve often waxed on about. [Read: Why I’m Staying in London] But one aspect I haven’t really written about in the past is how lonely a city like London can be. Despite being surrounded by eight million odd people, trying to make friends when you’re single and work from home obviously comes with great challenges. Add to this that London is one of the most transient cities in the world – and sprawled out over a huge area of land – and you’ve got yourself a problem.
Coffee on one of my daily walks around East London
I often talk about just how amazing the pub next to my flat has been over the past few years for me, and it truly has; I have fully immersed myself into East London, or more specifically Bethnal Green, because of the community surrounding this pub.
But – and I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a snob – I’m one of the younger regulars there. When I visit, it’s to drink, watch football, and shoot the shit. I don’t often hang out with people from the pub outside of the pub, but when we do, it’s to go to another pub. You can see how that’s not the healthiest lifestyle.
Because of this industry I’m in – travel blogging – it is nigh on impossible to make solid plans with the friends I’ve made through it. Very often I’ll hang out with people who are visiting London, which is fantastic, but finding travel bloggers who live in London AND live close enough so that you’re not spending your weekend on public transportation AND happen to be in town at the same time as me is pretty fucking difficult. On top of that, in 2016 and 2017, a lot of my non-travel blogger friends in London moved away or got really intense jobs that left them very few free hours.
I really hit a wall, friendship-wise. Though I have many great friendships around the world, ones I nurture through social media and Skype, nothing compares to going out to lunch with someone, or watching a movie with someone, or going out dancing with someone. I started to feel very, very lonely in London. I mean it when I say I’m happy being single, but I started to crave more friendships in my life. I can always find a friend who wants to Skype with me or travel with me, but finding someone to go for brunch with in London started to feel arduous.
Long story short, I missed my family and my friends in Canada like crazy after 15 years (!) away. I’m also my own worst enemy, because I also love staying home, crave my own time, and hate going to social events where I’m the “new” one (so tagging along with a group of friends who all know each other already feels awkward, but because many people in their 30s already have established friend groups, this was often the case).
This was coupled with one of the worst years I’ve had health-wise, because my goddamn sciatica just won’t quit. For those who don’t know, sciatica is a condition where you get a pinched nerve in your lower back that is often accompanied with an inability to move without a shooting pain reverberating down one entire side of your body.
I had no less than FOUR sciatica attacks this year, all of which left me down for the count for at least a week. When I visited Italy with my sister and her boyfriend I could barely walk. It was so bad in Uganda that the staff at the airport wanted me to use a wheelchair after I burst into tears trying to lift my suitcase. I was in so much pain hiking in Austria that, even though I was on a press trip trying to work, I was constantly thinking of when I could get my next massage at the spa, €75 a pop be damned.
I don’t want to say that my sciatica ruined those trips, but it certainly put a damper on them. Not being in control of my own body for weeks at a time while trying to move internationally as well as travel to some places not exactly known for extreme comfort (hello, road from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara) really started to take a toll on me both physically and emotionally. It’s very, very easy to feel miserable when you’re bed-ridden, let me tell you.
I’m not going to lie: I felt very sorry for myself because of these two issues. There were a few weekends earlier this year when, bed-ridden due to my sciatica, I realised it didn’t really matter: nobody was texting me to hang out anyway. I know, I know, boo hoo… but fuck. That sucked.
And that, ladies and… ladies (85% female readership on this blog, woo!), is one of the reasons why I decided it was time to say goodbye to London as a permanent base. I haven’t really written about it yet, but anyone following along on my social media or reading between the lines on this blog would be able to suss it out.
Another huge reason was the fact that my visa is expiring in a couple of months, and to apply for a new one would mean a heck of a lot of money and bureaucracy for… nothing, except another year of residency. The visas I have been on for the past five years do not count toward citizenship, so I would have to keep finding ways to stay, year after year after year, only to be very likely kicked out anyway.
Not only that, I recognised – yet again – that I’m happiest when I’m on the road for long periods of time, but I can’t afford to keep an expensive flat in London AND travel with the frequency/length of time that I want. As someone who works solely online, it seems like a shame to not take advantage of this freedom. This definitely isn’t a goodbye to London – I’ll be there for many months of every year – but it won’t be my permanent base anymore.
So to combat some of the issues I faced this year – essentially not being very healthy physically or emotionally – I decided it was time to change. To majorly shake things up. To make some huge decisions that would affect my life and this blog.
…But those to come soon, because this damn post is too long already.
As you can see, 2017 was a year of ups and downs for me. The travels were out of this world, but the rest of the year just sort of fell flat, mainly down to my bad attitude and my lack of ambition. I’m feeling really optimistic for 2018, however, and hoping to make the necessary changes in my life to stay motivated, stay healthy, and stay happy.
To the half-million or so of you who read This Battered Suitcase in 2017 – thank you for letting me ramble on the Internet. Thank you for your continued support. Thank you for all of your thousands of comments and messages on this blog and on its social media (except you, Cheetos trolls, I think your mum is calling you for dinner, best to go upstairs now). A special thank you to those who were able to come to one of my meet-ups in London or Winnipeg, and another thank you to those on my Facebook page, a thriving community of amazing travellers.
Here’s to a happy, successful, fucking fantastic year for us all. x
How was your 2017? What are you looking forward to most in 2018?