2018 has been my biggest and most rewarding year yet in terms of both travel and this blog. It was the year I finally started taking Wander-Lush seriously—I worked hard to quadruple my traffic, I partnered with businesses for the first time, and I finally started monetising the site (a bit more on that here).
I spent the first eight months of the year living in Hanoi and travelled extensively throughout North and Central Vietnam. I also got the chance to visit (and re-visit) some of my favourite places in East and Southeast Asia. In August/September, I spent a blissful six weeks at home in Australia, and then, in October, Ross and I set off on an open-ended round-the-world trip. This is our biggest adventure yet—and it’s only just begun.
Fair to say I’m pretty excited about what 2019 will bring. But before that, I wanted to take a quick look back at the year that was. Instead of the usual ‘Year in Review’ blog post, I thought I’d try something a little different and reflect on 2018 through the Instagram photos you loved best.
What makes it onto social media doesn’t always reflect reality. Far from it. This is especially true of 2018—12 months of intense highs and extreme lows. When I searched for my top nine photos, I was surprised to see a good mix of shots that pretty accurately match the ups and downs of the year.
My Top 9 Instagrams of 2018
Here are my top nine photos from 2018 (according to Instagram, anyway) and the stories behind the images.
1 | Old house, new house
Eight of the nine images featured here were shot in Vietnam—fitting, since we spent the first eight months of the year living in Hanoi.
When we arrived in August 2017, there was the usual mix of emotions that come with relocating to a new city. It was the third time in as many years that we had picked up our lives and relocated to a foreign country. We had both visited Hanoi before—once together in 2012, and Ross again with friends in 2017—but I had forgotten most of what I knew about Hanoi and had the pleasure of re-learning it all over again.
By January 2018, I had found my footing at work, had settled into our apartment and local neighbourhood, and was enjoying the rhythms of daily life in Hanoi. Walking out onto the street every morning and seeing scenes like this started to feel like part of my routine. The visual complexity, the juxtapositions between old and new, public and private—this photo perfectly captures what Hanoi means to me and the excitement of those first few months living in the city.
2 | Market mornings
Weekends quickly became my favourite times in Hanoi. Almost every Sunday I would set out and explore pockets of the Old Quarter by foot, my camera my only companion. The beautiful thing about a city like Hanoi is that it never gets boring. The same street might transform completely over the course of a few hours, days or weeks. The city’s markets alone are a never-ending source of entertainment and inspiration.
Dong Xuan Market on the northern edge of the Old Quarter is one of my favourite photography spots in the city. This colourful spread of fruit and veg set against a canary yellow wall is one of my favourite photos of 2018.
This image was one of three of my Hanoi photos featured by World Nomads on Instagram.
3 | Common threads
Even when I was in Hanoi, I was still dreaming of our trip to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2017 and plotting our return. I tried my best to be present and appreciate Vietnam—but I still spent almost all my free time either writing about the Caucasus for this blog, or making plans for our next chapter of travel.
I knew I wanted to visit Eastern Europe next, so that part of the world was always on my mind. In Hanoi, it’s not difficult to find threads of connection—Lenin Park, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, propaganda posters, Brutalist architecture.
This ‘Commieblock’-style apartment complex in Hanoi took my breath away when I saw it for the first time on a city tour with Backstreet Academy. A little hint of the former USSR right in my backyard.
4 | Small town vibes
I tried to get out of Hanoi as much as possible to escape the buzz and seek out fresh air. Over the course of 12 months, I set about systematically travelling to almost every small town, village and nature spot I could find on the map. Exploring Northern Vietnam was my most rewarding travel experience of 2018.
This photo was taken in Haiphong. Most tourists would know Northern Vietnam’s second-largest city as the jumping-off point for Cat Ba Island; but Ross and I decided to spend a few nights in the city itself instead. The French Colonial architecture and local markets made it an instant favourite.
5 | Dreary days
It was March when things started to change for me. I had just returned to Hanoi after two weeks of holiday for Tet, Vietnamese New Year, and trips to Ha Giang (with my dad) and Taipei. I was relaxed, refreshed, and should have been on a high. But I just wasn’t enjoying Hanoi any more.
A big part of it was down to the weather. From mid-November to as late as April, Hanoi is cold and wet and extremely polluted. I’ve always considered myself a winter person (I still do), but I had no idea just how much a prolonged grey winter could affect one’s mental health. To make matters worse, things were becoming difficult for me at work. I was frustrated, and every day started to feel like a struggle. Luckily I had one colleague and friend, Hang, who was there to brighten things up for me. If not for her, I probably would have called it quits and left Vietnam early.
6 | Lotus season
When spring finally came to Hanoi, I was pretty stoked to see the sun again. We first noticed a change in the weather after we returned from a trip to Ipoh, Malaysia in the first week of May. I embraced the warmer weather, put on a brave face, and decided to make the most of the time I had left in Vietnam. In my spare time, I doubled down on the blog and started to see great results, which was excellent for morale.
Hanoi’s mood started to shift, too. Under winter’s coat, the city felt so unfamiliar to me. I’m used to a scorching hot Southeast Asia, and by the end of May, that’s exactly what we had again. Lotus season was one of my favourite periods in Hanoi, when you can see extravagant bouquets like this being carted all around town by vendors.
7 | Behind every closed door…
Towards the end of my time in Hanoi, I fell in love with the city again. I started going out by myself for photo walks more often and exploring nooks I had previously overlooked. I busied myself with blog posts and freelance writing. I pitched ideas and was accepted. I had to make a spreadsheet of all the things I needed to photograph. I had been wishing the weeks away, then suddenly a few months didn’t feel like long enough to see and do everything I wanted to.
One afternoon I stumbled on an Ancient House in Hanoi’s Old Quarter where this scene revealed itself behind a door that was left ajar. It’s nothing special, but that’s the essence of Hanoi: Absolute beauty in the mundane.
This image was featured as part of #MyHanoi for the Vietnam Tourism Board.
8 | Two old friends
In August we packed up our apartment, said some rather difficult goodbyes, and flew out of Hanoi. The next six weeks at home in Brisbane was exactly what I needed to replenish and reset. I knuckled down on work, started a new long-term freelance gig, and caught up on blogging. Just a few days after arriving home, I already had my bag packed in preparation for our next adventure.
We departed Brisbane on October 23 to fly to Colombia—a new country and a new continent for me. We had a great six weeks travelling around as a couple and later with friends as part of a wedding party. Fast forward to December, and we found ourselves back in Europe for the first time since 2013. These colourful facades in Lisbon sum up our week-long stay in Portugal: Perfectly imperfect, and always vibrant.
9 | I wonder what she’s doing now
Despite the trying times, I have no regrets about our year in Hanoi. Enough time has passed now that I feel nostalgic for our days in Vietnam. I miss the city, the routine we had, and the friends we left behind. I’m looking forward to re-visiting some day and reconnecting with Hanoi.
What you can expect from my Instagram feed in 2019
2019 is still a work in progress. For the first time in years, I’m ringing in the new year with no fixed address and no firm travel plans. Ross and I are now deciding where our next home base will be—New Zealand is the current running favourite—but we don’t have a set date yet for when that will happen. For now, we’ll continue to slow travel in Europe and work/study from the road.
After New Years with friends in Sofia, Bulgaria, we’ll be pressing north into Romania where we’ll spend two weeks getting to know the capital, Bucharest, before exploring Transylvania by rail. Our plan is to then continue by train into Hungary and Slovakia. We’ll re-visit Vienna, a city we blazed through on our first Euro Trip, before travelling back into the Balkans, starting with northern Croatia. That takes us to mid-February.
Apart from a few vague ideas—visiting friends in Serbia, meeting up with family in Italy and Albania—the rest of 2019 is still TBC. I feel extremely lucky to be able to say that.
Wherever I end up, you can look forward to lots more travel pics in my Instagram feed and plenty more blog posts here on Wander-Lush. If you haven’t yet, please consider subscribing to my newsletter to receive a round-up of new posts on the last day of every month.
As always, sincere thanks for your readership and support. Happy New Year!