Wow, 2018. To be honest, I don't know how it's even over.

It was a great year. A big year. A year filled with firsts, adventures, (and sometimes, misadventures), lessons and growth. It was a year filled with great travel moments.

2018 was the year I have been waiting for over a decade. It was the year I took a “career sabbatical” and a leap of faith to follow my dreams. To travel the world. It was the year I confronted my biggest fears and left the comfort of a career I've built for the past 10 years to be a full-time traveler. It was intense, but also immensely rewarding.

And it flew by.

We often don't give ourselves credit for all the great things that happen in our lives. We “should” ourselves. As in, should've done more, been more, and so on. I'm no different.

As 2019 gets underway, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on all the amazing things that happened last year. I wanted to acknowledge the impact they each had on me on an emotional, psychological, and sometimes physical level.

Here we go: my top “pinch-me” moments of 2018. 

2018 Travel Wins

I Stepped On My 6th Continent

girl sitting on a ledge overlooking Sydney Harbour Bay and Sydney Opera House
Sick and jet-lagged, but I made it to Australia!

Australia has been on my bucket list for 15 years, and it's always been at the top of the list. Unfortunately, it's so far from Canada that it's hard to do it justice during the typical two-week a year vacation.

When I decided to take a year off from work, it was only logical to start with Australia and finally devote five weeks to seeing it. After all, if you're going to travel 24 hours each way, you better make it count.

I got a little push from the universe when I came across a return flight from Toronto to Sydney for $985 CAD — half-price of regular flights. The catch? I had to go offseason, in March and April, but who cares? SOLD. (By the way, I found the sale through YYZ Deals. If you're from Toronto, keep an eye on them, these come up semi-annually!).

While in Australia, some pretty significant things happened…

  • I managed to fly around the whole country to visit quite a few cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Cairns, Gold Coast, and Brisbane. I didn't realize it until I was leaving that I somehow planned to go to each of the 6 states. I have one territory left (Canberra), and one more landmark (Uluru). I have to go back at some point, of course, but I did pretty well for my first time Down Under.
  • I learned how to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef. I always knew my first time diving would be at the Great Barrier Reef. And, I have to admit, it did not disappoint. I ended up doing a second dive just because I loved it so much. I also snorkeled 3 times while there, I just couldn't get enough.
girl scuba diving behind a coral reef that has fish around it
This may go down in history as one of the best days of my life.
  • I visited Aussie friends I hadn't seen in quite a while.
  • I saw wild dolphins at Monkey Mia (West Coast) and again at Byron Bay!
  • I saw more free-roaming kangaroos all over the country than I could count. Sometimes it was as they jumped in front of my car, but hey, you can't always choose the way your dreams come true!
two kangaroos roaming on Kangaroo Island
Free-roaming kangaroos on Kangaroo Island, near Adelaide.
  • got stuck on Kangaroo Island but saw the clearest sky and the best sunrise, along with the Remarkable Rocks and hundreds of seals.
  • I caught a sunset on a natural beach made up completely of seashells. 
  • I drove along the Great Ocean Road, considered to be one of my most beautiful road trips in the world.
girl leaning on rail looking over the 12 apostles rock formations on Great Ocean Road
12 Apostles, Great Ocean Road.
  • I visited Kalbarri National Park, one of the most beautiful national parks in Australia, and if you ask me, the world.
  • I walked on the pearly white sand of Whitehaven Beach, known as the best beach in the world.
girl walking on Whitehaven Beach with footsteps behind her
Walking on the pearly-white sand of Whitehaven Beach.
  • I did two road trips across Australia, about 1,000+ km each. One trip was along the Coral (West) Coast — solo — and the other one was across Queensland, from Cairns to Gold Coast, with my travel bestie, Meghan.
  • I hung out with adorable quakkas at Rottnest Island. They're known to be the world's happiest animal because they look like they're perma-smiling. It's hard not to be happy around them.
  • I managed to steer clear of all snakes and spiders. I consider it quite a feat, considering how many of each species exist in Australia.

I Road Tripped Across New Zealand for a Month

New Zealand was another country at the top of the list. It's also been hard to get to considering it's at the edge of the world, relatively speaking.

Having ample vacation time gave me a chance to combine my trip to Australia with a month in New Zealand. This became an intense 65-day journey on the Southern Hemisphere.

Here are all the amazing things that filled my heart with excitement and love while in New Zealand:

  • I pretended to be a hobbit for an afternoon while visiting Hobbiton. I dreamt about doing it since the first Lord of the Rings came out. It was every bit as magical as I expected, even though it torrentially rained throughout my whole trip. Had it been sunny, I might've never actually left, so it worked out.
happy girl at Hobbiton with hobbit house in the background
Can I just live here forever?
  • I learned to drive on the left side of the road and got to practice even more during my month in Australia. I tackled this because an Aussie friend of mine had pulled out of a road trip we had planned through Western Australia. I was relying on him driving the whole way, but this ended up being so great for me. Learning (and later, mastering!) driving on the left made me feel so confident and empowered. Now I just need to learn to drive a manual car, and I'm golden.
  • Saw bottlenose dolphins swimming in the wild at Bay of Islands. 
  • Saw a sperm whale on the coast of Kaikoura, and then we got a surprise visit from a blue whale who was in passing through the region. SCORE.
  • Received an even bigger surprise after the trip above when a pod of 50+ dusky dolphins surrounded our boat. My heart could barely handle it.
three dusky dolphins swimming around a boat in Kaikoura
A pod of Dusky Dolphins off the coast of Kaikoura.
  • Witnessed little blue penguins (the smallest species of penguin in the world) coming home at night in Oamaru. I saw them again in Melbourne a few weeks later. They're my favorite and I could honestly watch them for hours on end.
  • Came across hundreds of seals around the country. I even walked an hour (each way) to see a seal colony of hundreds of seals chilling along the coast near Kaikoura. Another time I had a chance to watch hundreds of baby seals playing rock pools. I have no words to describe the experience.
  • Rounded up my animal-in-the-wild tour with the yellow-eyed penguin and sea lions on the coast of Dunedin. Yellow-eyed penguins are the rarest in the world and my heart skipped a beat seeing them waddle away from the ocean and up the hill. It's a wonder I even left New Zealand after seeing so many animals — I considered staying on a daily basis, trust me.
Yellow-eyed penguin waddling out of the ocean in Dunedin
Yellow-eyed penguin coming home at night in Dunedin.
  • Hiked among 600-year-old Maori trees that put life in perspective.
  • I went on my first helicopter ride over Fox Glacier. The most amazing part of this day was the fact that we only had an hour of sun the entire day. Helicopter rides get canceled when it rains so I spent the day chilling outside the tour company and getting bi-hourly updates. They were so on it, as soon as we got a bit of sun, up we went! It started raining as soon as we landed. Lucky day!
Fox Glacier seen from the helicopter
Helicopter view of Fox Glacier.
  • I drove along 90-Mile Beach which is considered a highway (how cool!) but can only be accessed by 4WD vehicles and during specific tide times. Ironically, it's actually 88 km long, but every bit spectacular.
  • I went sandboarding. It was scarier than I thought it would be.
  • I learned about the Maori culture and got to see natural geysers and kiwis, their national bird. I also learned that kiwis have no wings because there were no predators in New Zealand, so they never had to evolve to run. How fascinating!
  • Drove to Cape Reinga, the Northern-most tip of New Zealand, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. New Zealand likes to show off.
view of a lighthouse on a hilltop and the meeting point of Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean
View of Cape Reinga lighthouse, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.
  • I trekked through 3 caves in Waitomo that were created over 30,000,000 years ago, and are still growing. Saw thousands of glow worms. I learned that limestone is created so slowly, it takes 100 years for an inch of limestone to be created. Mind. Blown.

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I Spent the Summer in Europe

I moved to Canada when I was 12 (here's my story), and since then, I always wanted to spend a few weeks backpacking through my birth country, Romania. Seeing a country as a tourist is so different than as a local.

I spent a few summers in Romania but I was 16. I didn't get to do much backpacking around the country aside from frequenting the mountain areas and the Black Sea region.

This year, I took advantage of my extended summer vacation and spent most of it in Europe! I spent half of it in Romania, reconnecting with family and friends and being a tourist. The other half I split between visiting Croatia, Slovenia, and Greece.

Here are the highlights:

  • I road-tripped for a week through the lush landscapes of Slovenia, from Ljubljana, Maribor, Lake Bled, Predjama, and Koper. Despite a little hiccup during the trip, I discovered that Slovenia is one of my favorite countries.
girl sitting on a bench in front of Predjama castle in Slovenia
Predjama Castle, Slovenia.
  • I partied in Croatia (Split & Dubrovnik) after two national World Cup wins. It was pretty wild.
  • Saw David Guetta at ULTRA Europe in Split, Croatia – my second time seeing David Guetta live abroad. My first time was in Ibiza, Spain in 2017. It doesn't get old.
  • I Went to UNTOLD Festival in Romania, one of the biggest electronic music festivals in Europe. Considering 355,000 other people attended, it might actually be the biggest and most underrated festival in the world.
  • Saw Armen van Burren twice, at Ultra Europe and UNTOLD. And he was epic both times. In Cluj, he actually set a record for the longest set, playing for 7 hours until about 8:30 am. The man is a legend.

girl in front of a crowd at an outdoor space with soccer game playing in the background
In Split, watching Croatia play during World Cup 2018.
  • Stayed in Cluj with friends after UNTOLD and had a chance to explore the Cluj area, where my dad went to university.
  • I lived in Romania for a month, visiting and reconnecting with family and childhood friends around the country.
  • I traveled solo through Romania (for the first time ever!) and saw Sighisoara, Sibiu, and Alba Iulia.
  • I then did a one-week road trip with my mom and extended family through the mountain-region. We saw the famous Transfagarasan road, Bran Castle, Peles Castle, Brasov, and ended up in Bucharest.
  • Visited my mom's birth city for the first time in my life. 
  • Had the opportunity to attend a good childhood friend's wedding at Cincis, in Romania.
  • Had a reunion with my classmates from Grade 4!! Our teacher made a surprise appearance and it was pretty darn awesome to be in the same room with old friends, some of whom I haven't seen in more than 20 years.
  • I became fluent in Romanian again — can finally check this off my list. Sigh. Languages are so hard to maintain!
girl sitting on the side of the read with Romanian mountain range in the background
A pit stop during my Romania road trip.

I Lived in Milos, Greece for a Glorious Three Weeks

One of the things I desperately wanted to do during this year was to live in Greece for a month. I had intended to live in Athens – I know, it's one of those cities you either love or hate, but I quite frankly fell in love with it during my first solo trip to Greece in 2016.

girl in front of Firopotamos beach in Milos Greece
Sail tour around Milos, first stop: Firopotamos beach.

Athens didn't work out, though I did find my way to Milos. I initially wanted to spend 10 days on a working holiday but extended my trip because I loved the island so much.

Here are my highlights:

  • Swam in pirate caves, something I didn't even know I wanted to do until after I did it. It was pretty darn awesome.
boats anchored at Kleftiko Bay on Milos Island in Greece
The clear water at Kleftiko Bay, Milos, former pirate lair.
  • Had a badass view of the sunrise every morning, which was an awesome way to start my day for three weeks.
  • Beach-hopped to the best beaches on the island. What can I say, I am ambitious. There are 75 beaches in total so I left some for my return visit.
  • Did a lot of hiking, walking and driving around – pretty sure I saw almost every inch of the island.
  • I went to Athens on two separate occasions and spent more time exploring the capital.

Other Moments

Australia, New Zealand, and Europe were big buckets. Sprinkled between all these are other moments that are no less important than the above.

Here are my ‘other' highlights:

girl on a camel at sunset with the pyramids in the background
My proof-I-was-here selfie, before heading back to the airport.
  • I spent three days in San Francisco. Had a couple of adventures while there, but also had the best time.
  • I survived long term travel! I did three legs over 2018, and each one was about 2 to 3 months long. Aside from studying abroad in university (which doesn't count as long term travel because I had a home base for a year), this was my first time doing such long trips. Surviving out of one suitcase and a backpack (full of gear) for 2 months is not easy.
  • I undertook the longest solo adventure of my life, and lived to rave about it! Solo journeys aren't for the faint of heart and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared shitless at times. Other times, I was overwhelmed. The majority of the time though, I was so happy and present.
  • I spent an amazing weekend in NYC with a friend I met on a Pangea Dreams retreat in Tulum in November 2017. 
night view of New York City skyline
NYC skyline at night.
  • I improved my photography skills. Big time. I also finally learned to use my camera in manual mode. Game changer! I also took my solo photography to the next level.
  • I took countless courses on all things blogging, from SEO to Pinterest, to Instagram and everything in between.
  • I mastered Lightroom editing and improved my Photoshop skills. I don't know how it took so long to discover the magic of Lightroom, but better late than never!
  • I came back to Toronto post-Greece and caught up with friends, family, and my doggy, Jessie. 
  • I figured out what I want my travel blog to be and started putting it together. If you're reading this, it means I finally had the courage to press ‘Publish'. I also did it all from scratch and by myself, something I'm very proud of.

My Goals for 2019

I have a feeling that 2019 will be a big year for me. Some of my goals are to:

  • Launch my travel blog as a resource for cultural travel, solo travel, and adventures around the world.
  • Network with other bloggers, starting with TravelCon 2019 in Boston.
  • Spend a few weeks roaming around Bali.
  • Road trip in South America — Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina are at the top of the list.
  • Explore more of Canada, from coast to coast.
  • Continue to develop personally and professionally.
  • Stay open to opportunities that come up (if you are looking to work with me, e-mail me!)

What are your goals for 2019 and what were your favorite moments of 2018? Share them below, would love to hear what you were up to!

Pin It for Later

pinterest pin: The Best of 2018: Game-Changing Travel & Personal Moments
pinterest pin: The Best of 2018: Game-Changing Travel & Personal Moments
Ioana is on a mission to see the world and share it with you. Having traveled since she was a toddler, she's explored 34 countries and looking to make it an even 100. Ioana recently left a successful career in the corporate world to follow her dreams and start her own business where she can incorporate her passions of traveling, marketing, and photography.

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