Our A-Z of highlights (A short list of nearly everything)

Without further ado, here’s a shortlist of some of the things we loved on our trip around the world in 389 days.

Ascending the Tokyo Skytree for sunset over Mount Fuji ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต

We went up a lot of high things. This was undoubtedly top of the pile!

๐Ÿ“‹ Tokyo, revisited (part I)

Braving the snow in Astana ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

The coldest (and coolest) city we visited on the whole trip. So glad we made the journey up to 51 degrees north.

๐Ÿ“‹ Journeying to Astana – the ‘Singapore of the Steppe’
๐Ÿ“‹ Astana: So good they named it six times

Cycling the temples of Angkor ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ญ

So. much. cycling. And so. many. temples! But beating the crowds and experiencing sunrise alone in Angkor Wat was a genuine life highlight.

๐Ÿ“‹ Sunrise at Angkor Wat (but without the crowds)

Driving around the South Island in our little camper van ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

What an incredible place – we just loved NZ so much.

๐Ÿ“‹ Ridiculously good views from the summit of Te Tapu-nui, Queenstown
๐Ÿ“‹ The roadtrip begins! Cruising on Milford Sound, the eighth wonder of the world
๐Ÿ“‹ Joining the Great Coast Road
๐Ÿ“‹ Glaciers and gold on NZโ€™s west coast
๐Ÿ“‹ Pedalling the West Coast Wilderness Trail
๐Ÿ“‹ Driving to the very end of the road (Punakaiki and Kohaihai) ๐ŸŒด
๐Ÿ“‹ Dophins and waterslides (not dolphins on waterslides!)

Escaping to the desert island paradise of Ko Adang ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ญ

Just like The Beach, except with far fewer drugs and murders.

๐Ÿ“‹ All of our desert island fantasies fulfilled on Ko Adang

Floating above the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ท

Expensive, nervewracking and very, very cool.

๐Ÿ“‹ Flying high above Cappadocia

Going To The Sun in Glacier National Park ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ

Over a million acres of beautiful mountains, lakes and bears beginning in a remote corner of Montana and stretching all the way up into Canada, accessible on the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road.

๐Ÿ“‹ Eating like a grizzly in Glacier National Park ๐Ÿ—ป๐Ÿป๐Ÿฅง

Hiking in the Cinque Terre ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น

Not exactly niche, but definitely worth the hype.

๐Ÿ“‹ Hiking in Cinque Terre

Ice skating on the world’s highest rink in Almaty ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

Kazakhstan in general was a lot of fun and as always, watching people wobble around on ice skates didn’t disappoint, but this was also a truly spectacular setting in the mountains above Almaty.

๐Ÿ“‹ Almaty, our final stop in Central Asia

Joining the Silk Road in Khiva ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

Our first taste of Uzbekistan’s section of the Silk Road had the biggest impact on us.

๐Ÿ“‹ Rejoining the Silk Road in Khiva

Kayaking in Lan Ha Bay ๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ณ

Paddling (somewhat) serenely through one of Vietnam’s most iconic and otherworldly seascapes.

๐Ÿ“‹ Kayaking between the limestone mountains of Hแบก Long Bay

Living like a monk on a Korean temple stay ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท

Probably the most baffling 24 hours of our entire trip, but we wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

๐Ÿ“‹ A Secret Diary of a Temple Stay, by Sara aged 13 ยพ

Meeting the hiking dogs of the Caucasus ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ช

Making friends with some gentle giants while hiking in the spectacular mountains of northern Georgia.

๐Ÿ“‹ Scrambling in Svaneti

Night skiing in Niseko ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต

Genuinely the most (and best) snow we’ve ever seen. SO GOOD!

๐Ÿ“‹ Chasing the powder in Niseko

Observing the New Year festivities at the Hokkaidล Shrine ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต

A very different New Year for us, but we loved embracing Japanese traditions and learning our fortunes for the year.

๐Ÿ“‹ New Year in snowy Sapporo

Paddling through the rice paddies of Luang Prabang ๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

Making friends with Susan the water buffalo and learning how to grow sticky rice. Who knew it could be so fascinating?!

๐Ÿ“‹ Ten steps to the perfect Lao sticky rice

Quaffing wine in the vineyards of Marlborough ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

Gorgeous weather and a whole day of NZ wine. Perfection!

๐Ÿ“‹ Marlborough by tandem, fuelled by wine

Riding the Otago Central Rail Trail on two wheels ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

Four days of spectacular cycling through a wild, arid and sparsely populated corner of NZ’s South Island.

๐Ÿ“‹ We actually finished something! Cycling the Otago Central Rail Trail

Soaking in a snowy onsen in Tazawako ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต

Bathing in the forest while surrounded by deep snow drifts was a magical experience.

๐Ÿ“‹ Beef tongue and snowy onsens in Honshu
๐Ÿ“‹ Japan in 12 hot baths

Taking the slow boat down the Mekong river ๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

An incredibly peaceful few days drifting along the Mekong River through Laos.

๐Ÿ“‹ Messing about on the Mekong

Urb-exing the sanatoria of Tskaltubo ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ช

An afternoon exploring a spa town full of crumbling sanatoria near to Georgia’s second city, Kutaisi. Fascinating and unnerving in equal measure, and totally different to anything else we did on this trip.

๐Ÿ“‹ Urbexing the abandoned sanatoria of Tskaltubo

Visiting Meteora’s mountaintop monasteries ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ท

We loved exploring these precariously-perched monasteries in mainland Greece. The area is apparently one of Greece’s biggest tourist destinations (except that no one seems to have heard of it!).

๐Ÿ“‹ Walking the mountains of Meteora

Wading through the travertines of Pamukkale ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ท

A weird and wonderful landscape unlike anything we’d seen before.

๐Ÿ“‹ Wallowing in the Cotton Castle

eXploring Singapore by night ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ

(Please forgive the shoehorning of the letter X in here – if only we’d had the foresight to do some xylophoning on our trip.) We do love a free activity and Singapore’s supertree light show didn’t disappoint.

๐Ÿ“‹ Celebrating the finale of our Southeast Asian leg in Singapore

Yodelling our way around Salzburg ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น

Salzburg way exceeded our expectations – another city to add to our list of places we’d happily live.

๐Ÿ“‹ ๐ŸŽถ The hills are alive with the sound ofโ€ฆbeer halls ๐Ÿป

Zooming across Japan on a bullet train ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต

Japanโ€™s rail network has got to be the best in the world, and boarding a Shinkansen felt more like getting on an aeroplane than a train. What a way to travel!

๐Ÿ“‹ Getting buried alive in Ibusuki
๐Ÿ“‹ Christmas in Hiroshima and Osaka
๐Ÿ“‹ Four together again in Tokyo
๐Ÿ“‹ New Year in snowy Sapporo
๐Ÿ“‹ Itโ€™s called Hakodate, mate*
๐Ÿ“‹ Beef tongue and snowy onsens in Honshu
๐Ÿ“‹ Memoirs of a geezer (in Kyoto)

We realised two things writing this post:

  1. We experienced way, way more than 26 highlights during our nearly 13 months away
  2. Fitting even 26 highlights neatly into alphabetical order was really quite difficult!

But you might also notice that there’s very little mention of food here – we had to make this a rule, or else all 26 entries would have been about what we ate! We might just have to write a food highlights post too. It’s making me hungry just thinking about it…

Southeastern & Central Europe round up ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช

The final leg of our journey saw us travel 3,270 km over land and sea from Corfu to London. After taking a ferry to the seaside resort of Sarandรซ, we made two further stops in Albania to climb Gjirokastรซr’s hilltop castle and explore a Cold War bunker in Tirana. We then crossed the border into Montenegro, where we swam in the Moraฤa River in Podgorica and took a day trip to the old town of Budva. From Podgorica, we hopped aboard the Bar-Belgrade railway to enjoy one of Europe’s most spectacular railways on the way to the capital of Serbia. Next, we paused for only two nights in lovely Ljubljana en route to Austria, where we reenacted the Sound of Music in Salzburg and took a hike in the mountains above Innsbruck. We spent our last four nights in the beer gardens surrounding Munich and Cologne, before visiting Brussels for the day and taking an evening Eurostar back to London.

Carbon ๐ŸšŒ๐Ÿš†

Our journeys from Corfu to London by ferry, bus and train emitted only 196 kgCO2e, while a direct fight for the same route would have emitted more than three times this amount of carbon. On the graph below, our carbon emissions are barely visible next to those from flights we’ve taken to cross seas and oceans, although this is partly because the total for this leg was spread across seven countries.

I’ve rounded up the total emissions from our whole trip to the nearest tonne of CO2 and purchased one last carbon offset from Gold Standard’s Climate+ Portfolio. In this case, we’ve helped fund a small scale Rural Methane Digesters Project in Guizhou Province, China. In total, we’ve now spent $210 (USD) offsetting the carbon from our travels.

Overall, our journey around the globe emitted 13.5 tCO2e. For comparison, a return flight for two people from London to Auckland via Doha would emit 11 tCO2e. Given that we were away for nearly 13 months, I think we got pretty good mileage out of a similar amount of carbon.

Although we travelled less than half our total distance in the air, our flights made up 83% of our carbon emissions. This statistic has further convinced us that the easiest way to reduce our carbon footprint from travel is by minimising flying. Almost any other form of transport is better for the climate, with the exception of cruise ships. The only way we could have further reduced our travel footprint would have been to alter our route in order to fly fewer kilometres, such as turning around before crossing the Pacific Ocean and heading back to London over land through Asia and the Middle East. Of course, this comes with its own geopolitical challenges and closed borders…

Cost ๐Ÿ’ฐ

The final leg of our journey added six new bars to our cost tracker and updated Greece’s total (which we also visited on the first leg of our trip). The Balkan countries (Albania, Montenegro and Serbia) were all relatively affordable despite our peak-summer timing, while Slovenia, Austria and Germany were predictably more expensive. On top of this, our visit to Cologne clashed with the annual Gamescom festival, which helped push prices up even further!

We were surprised to see France and Spain top the table of daily expenditure as they felt relatively affordable compared to New Zealand and the United States, for instance. However, a large chunk of our spending in these two countries was on transport, and indeed on closer inspection we travelled faster through France and Spain than nearly any other country. On average, we travelled about 600ย km per day in both countries, making full use of their high-speed rail and long-distance coach networks. In contrast, we averaged only 285 km per day in New Zealand.

Cats ๐Ÿˆ

All three Balkan countries were great for cat spotting, with Montenegro swooping in to pinch the bronze medal from Malaysia right at the last minute. We had less success in Slovenia, Austria and Germany, which offered poor cat value for our Euro spend.

Time for some animal awards…

๐Ÿ…Most polite breakfast companion

Just look at this chap. Wouldn’t you share your pancakes with him?

๐Ÿ…Best reason for putting our entire travel day at risk

We were already a little late for our bus from Serbia to Slovenia, but these kittens still stopped us in our tracks. The more we looked, the more kittens we saw emerging from behind the fence. Cute! Thankfully, we just about caught the bus, but if we hadn’t, we could have just returned to hang out with the kittens, I suppose.

๐Ÿ…Spikiest dinner guest

Sara was delighted when we found the hoggy source of all the rustling that had punctuated our dinner in Podgorica.

๐Ÿ…Overall winner; worldwide cat category

After counting 1,839 cats across 27 countries, Thomas will always be our #1.

And that’s our last round up! Sara and I spent our final day of the trip in a sunny square in Brussels recounting each of our highlights of the whole trip – coming soon!

Returning to London (Thomas awaits! ๐Ÿˆ)

In one long travel day, we made the journey from Cologne to London by train (although when I say long travel day, I should probably clarify that most of our time was actually spent in Brussels, eating waffles ๐Ÿง‡ and drinking beer ๐Ÿบ). We’d previously taken the Eurostar many times but had only really considered it a feasible option when our end destination was in the same country as where the Eurostar terminated, but actually, the whole journey was remarkably straightforward and I’d definitely choose this over flying to most places in Europe in the future.

โฐ 09.30: Cologne HBF to Cologne Ehrenfeld

We joyfully packed up our bags one last time, with me telling Oli that I finally felt like I’d nailed my speedy packing in the last few weeks. He brought me down a peg or two by pointing out all the things that weren’t in my already-zipped bag and I realised that actually I hadn’t got better, I’d just become more cavalier!

A quick walk to the station and a pretzel later and we were ready to board our first train: a quick hop from the central station to the out-of-town high-speed station. Here, we waited patiently while our long-distrance train was nowhere to be seen – either on the platform or any of the departure boards. At least we weren’t in a hurry – another British couple approached us for a chat and they were on edge because their Eurostar connection left them only 35 minutes between trains, and check-in closes 30 minutes before departure. We made our best attempt at sympathy, but seriously, who would book that tight a connection?!

โฐ 09.55: Cologne Ehrenfeld to Brussels Midi

The InterCity Express arrived in the end (only 10 or so minutes late) and we hopped on. We’d decided to save a few pennies by not reserving seats (this costs extra in Germany), and although the train was busier than we’d hoped, our bet still paid off when we found seats near one another. We didn’t need to chat, anyway – trains are strictly for blog writing or napping! Less than 2 hours later, we pulled into Brussels. It was such a smooth journey that there’s not much to mention other than the train’s impeccable 10/10 toilet score!

โฐ 11.35: Waffle and beer consumption

We thought we might as well give ourselves an afternoon in Brussels before boarding our final high-speed train of the trip, so we left our bags at Brussels Midi station (making sure to get an XXL locker so that we wouldn’t jam the lock with our bag straps – our debacle in Seoul still haunts us!) and hopped on a local train into the city centre. After much Googling, we think that this journey was included in our Eurostar tickets, but as no one checked we never found out for sure!

Once there, we paid a quick visit to the Grand Place (beautiful but no match for Salamanca’s amazing Plaza Mayor) before getting onto the serious business of eating and drinking.

At my request, our first stop was Le Roi de la Gaufre for a Belgian waffle. We knew we’d come to the right place when the lady asked if we had a few minutes so she could make us a fresh one, despite having a huge pile of cooked waffles in front of her. She then smothered it in dark chocolate and it was well worth the wait – as you can probably tell from the picture below, I was quite excited!

At Oli’s request, our next stop was Delirium Cafรฉ, which is a Brussels classic where you can choose from a literal book of beers – over 2000 of them! Sadly, we only had time for one round so we didn’t get too far through the menu, but there’s always next time…

โฐ 18.50: Eurostar to London St Pancras

We then headed back to Brussels Midi with plenty of time to spare to wrestle our backpacks from the storage locker and find something convenient to eat on the train for dinner. Then, we headed through security (where the Swiss Army knife was scrutinised one last time but ultimately returned to us), exited the Schengen Area and passed through the UK border before hopping on the train. In less than 2 hours, and after 389 days away, we were back in London!

โฐ 19.45: Gah! A rail strike

We still needed to cross London to reach Oli’s parents’ house (aka Thomas’ billet ๐Ÿˆ) so we were delighted to learn that there was a rail strike in progress ๐Ÿ˜ฉ. At least this gave us an excuse to take the Elizabeth Line, which got fully up and running while we were away, but the long and busy bus ride was less welcome.

But really, the journey was all worth it when we arrived back and were greeted by our best friend in the whole world, Thomas. He was home alone as Oli’s parents were away on holiday, and we were relieved to find he hadn’t forgotten us at all in the year we’ve been away. What a little legend!