A Year of Travel / Where to Travel in 2019

Ben Holbrook in Wadi Rum

Words & photos by your loyal roving reporter, Ben Holbrook.

I’ll be honest, I don’t really like these self-aggrandising “my travel year in review” type things.

They’re typically published by us bloggers to show off about all the amazing places we’ve visited in the year, to remind you and ourselves just how wonderful our lives are. And I can’t always see how they offer value.

I can appreciate how this blog may come across in that vein at times, but this has never been my ambition.

My mission is to help and inspire you to discover the world and all that it has to offer, whether it be from the comfort of your armchair or on your own travels.

So with all that said, rather than simply listing every single place I’ve visited this year, I’d like to share a few of my favourite destinations and experiences.

If you have any questions then please leave me a comment at the bottom of this post, or join me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter where I’m generally quicker to respond.

Vamos!

Asturias, Northern Spain 

… for a different taste of Spain

Gijon Sunset, Asturias, northern Spain - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.comI began the year with a small exploration of Asturias and Cantabria in northern Spain. I was actually there to visit my girlfriend’s family, and to be there for the birth of her cousin’s baby.

Northern Spain is so completely different from the south, from what we typically think of as being “Spanish”. Sure, the tapas and vino is insanely good, but culturally and geographically it is refreshingly unique.

As more famous destinations in Spain like Barcelona and Seville begin to buckle under the weight of over-tourism, I will be spending more and more time exploring the relatively untouched regions of Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias. If you need a fix of España this year, I suggest you do the same.

Wengen, Switzerland

… for a dreamy introduction to skiing in the Swiss Alps

Wengen Ski Resort, Switzerland - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.comMy father’s obsession with sailing and my personal passion for surfing meant I grew up as a definite “sea/beach person”. But the older I get, and the crazier the world becomes, the more I am drawn to the solitude of the mountains.

I’ve been skiing just two or three times in my life, so I don’t have much to compare it to if I’m honest, but I truly fell in love with the tiny little chocolate box village of Wengen in the Swiss Alps.

The skiing is world class, but it also offers an excellent insight into mountain life in Switzerland. If you’re looking for somewhere to go for some snow fun this winter, definitely check out the post I recently published to find out more.

Rome, Italy

… for a classic taste of Europe

Gelato in Piazza Navona, Rome, ItalyWhat can I say, Rome is Rome – an infuriatingly beautiful tangle of ruins and restaurants and temptation. It is impossible not to fall in love with, a must for anyone interested in European art, history, culture and gastronomy. But you already knew that.

It’s definitely one of those cities you need to prepare for, so be sure to see my Rome guides here.

Naples, Italy

… for an overdose of that Neapolitan hubris

Naples Street Photography - Scooter Riders without Helmets - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.comNaples makes Rome look tame in comparison. It’s a fascinating and seemingly lawless city, a ballet of bravado, but somehow it still managed to seduce me.

As my regazzo Matteo, who’s from Rome, explained: “Is not Italy, eh, is Napoli. Is different.”

It’s funny, I was quite happy to get the hell out of there after a few days, but now I reflect on it and feel quite desperate to return. I’ll have a full post live ASAP so be sure to follow me on Facebook to see it.

Sète, Southern France

… for a chance to make Frenchy fisherman friends

Sete Market, Southern France by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.comDon’t you love discovering places that you’ve never even heard of? Tucked away in the south of France, just a quick 3-hour journey on the RENFE SNCF train from Barcelona, Sète is one of those little fishing town gems that seems to have flown under the radar of most travellers.

I adored bimbling around the port and tucking into champagne and oysters in the local market. If you’re in Barcelona and fancy visiting France for the day, this is the place. I’ll have a full post live ASAP so be sure to follow me on Facebook to see it.

Marseille, Southern France

… for a different type of France altogether

Drinking pastis in Marseille - Sete Market, Southern France by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.comMarseille is to Paris as Naples is to Rome. It is the oldest city in France and the country’s largest port city. But although it oozes with that laid-back Provençal vibe, its historic ties with North Africa, Asia and Corsica mean it is one of the most culturally diverse cities in Europe.

It has a history of being dangerous and politically volatile, which only adds to the charm of the place in my opinion, but today it’s as safe and stable as anywhere else you might think of visiting.

If you like destinations that are intriguing as well as beautiful, a little off-beat and edgy, Marseille should tickle your fancy. I’ll have a full post live ASAP so be sure to follow me on Facebook to see it.

Montpellier, Southern France

… for artsy vibes and a charmed experience 

Montpellier, Southern France - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com-1-3Montpellier, as with Marseille and Sète, is within day-trip distance from Barcelona on the RENFE SNCF train.

It was honestly one of the most charming cities I’ve ever visited: refined and elegant, but with a creative, youthful edge, owing to the city’s 50,000 students.

Everyone here, from the waiters to the supermarket attendants, seemed to boast some sort of artistic flare or quirk… a style or way of dressing and/or personalising their uniforms. Everyone in Montpellier appears to be some kind of artist/writer/musician/jester/poet.

I’ll have a full post live ASAP so be sure to follow me on Facebook to see it.

Seville, Southern Spain

… for a serious fix of Spain

Cruz de Mayo Religious Procession Parade in Sevilla - by Ben Holbrook (Copyright Ben Holbrook)As one of the big three cities in Spain, along with Barcelona and Madrid, Seville is another obvious destination for travellers looking for a taste of Iberia.

I visited in early spring and completely fell in love with the place. Yes there are plenty of tourists, but it doesn’t feel like the city belongs fully to tourism just yet.

I highly recommend visiting in spring or early autumn (probably best to avoid the peak summer months due to the ridiculously high temperatures and visitor numbers). See my guide here.

Chipiona, Spain

… for a chance to holiday like the Spanish

Chipiona, SpainJust a couple of hours’ drive away from Seville, Chipiona is one of few gems that the Spanish have managed to keep secret for themselves.

Looking back on all the destinations I visited in 2018, it’s this ridiculously pretty coastal town that seems to have been filed away in the dream banks of my mind.

If you want sun, sea and siestas without the tat of some of Spain’s more famous seaside resorts, you should definitely consider Chipiona. See my full guide here.

Ibiza, Spain

… for a surprisingly low-key island escape

Cala Saladita, Ibiza - by Ben HolbrookIbiza has always been one of those places I thought I’d never visit. I’m not into clubbing and recoil at the thought of being trapped on an island with hundreds of stag and hen groups – lads, lads, lads.

But visit in spring or autumn, like we did, and you can enjoy a genuine island escape – and even find secluded beach coves to enjoy all to yourself.

Check out my ‘Ibiza for Couples’ guide and discover ‘a different kind of hedonism’.

Formentera, Spain

… for pristine beaches and a chance to reconnect with nature

Located just five miles off the coast of Ibiza, Formentera is the smallest and most natural of the Balearic Islands. You could literally see the entire island in just one day – on a bicycle!

Less than 20km from tip to toe. Unsurprisingly, it has long been something of a mecca for nature lovers and naked hippies.

See my full guide to Formentera here.

Valencia, Spain

… for all the sun and culture of Barcelona, but without the stress of over-tourism

Valencia's Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences)I’ve visited Valencia countless times and have been impressed each and every time. So much so that I’ve often toyed with the idea of moving there.

It has all the good bits of Barcelona (the culture, the food, the sun, beaches and architecture) but much less of the bad bits (the pickpockets, crowds and inflated prices).

If you’ve already been to Barcelona and want something similar, I would highly recommend Valencia. A fantastic city for everyone from couples to families. See my various Valencia guides and journals here.

Delta del Ebro, Spain

… for some quality time with Mother Nature

Things to Do in Delta del Ebro, Tarragona - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com9Just two hours away from Barcelona, or an hour from my beloved Tarragona, the Delta de l’Ebre nature reserve is home to Catalonia’s largest wetlands.

It’s a paradise of fauna-filled lagoons and vast empty beaches, offering a truly peaceful and rejuvenating escape.

See my full guide to the Delta del Ebro here to find out more.

Jordan, Middle East

… for a beautiful introduction to Middle Eastern culture

The Treasury at Petra, Jordan - by Ben Holbrook from DriftwoodJournals.com-1-5I’ve saved the best for last. Visiting Jordan was by far the most rewarding trip I took this year. It was my first time in the Middle East and I was bowled over by how welcoming and sincere the people were.

From the historic sites of Petra and Amman to the otherworldly beauty of the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum desert, Jordan is one of those special places that really gets you thinking. And, yes, it’s absolutely safe.

I’ll have a full post live ASAP so be sure to follow me on Facebook to see it.


Looking Ahead to 2019

A lot has changed in the world since I fell in love with travel and started this blog. And even more has changed within my own head.

I read a lot about the negative effects of over-tourism, both on cultures and the planet as a whole, and often ponder the ethics of travel.

The more I travel, the more I see and read, the more I worry about… pretty much everything.

But I still firmly believe that travel can and should be a force for good, especially when done wisely, sustainably and responsibly. And I still believe that life is for living and should be celebrated to the fullest wherever possible. That those of us fortunate enough to be able to travel truly are the luckiest of all.

In 2019, I hope to learn how we can all make our travels more sustainable while enriching our experiences rather than making sacrifices, to celebrate how different-yet-similar we all are. To celebrate and protect the beauty of the world.

I’ll look forward to sharing the journey with you, my fellow drifters.

Here’s wishing you a happy and healthy new year – let’s make 2019 a great one!

Ben xx


What were your favourite travel destinations of 2018? And where will you go in 2019?

Let us all know in the comments below and join our community of drifters on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.


 

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