Reflecting on my 2019 Travels

jana meerman roy's peak wanaka (13)

What a year.

I can hardly wrap my head around the incredible time I've had this year, developing emotionally, personally, physically and mentally. I look back at who I was at the start of this year and then at the leaps and bounds that have decorated my 2019 and I'm honestly floored.

This year, I visited seven countries and lived exclusively in hostels, met people from all corners of the globe, grew my love of photography and blogging, shared my highlights and lowlights, figured out how to live and work abroad, struggled through a broken heart, read twenty-one wonderful books, had no clue where I was going to end up (I booked a lot of one-way flights), fell in love, went back to the ballet studio, hiked more than 300km and best of all, got to spend Christmas with my parents after a year apart.

Here's a summary of everywhere I went this year, with some of my favourite accompanying blog posts for you to peruse alongside:


1. Canada

I started out the year by packing up my life in Canada after twelve years living there. I moved out of my apartment in Vancouver, put some stuff in storage, sold the rest and got ready for an open-ended adventure around the world.

jana meerman storage unit

My Vancouver storage unit

Posts to read:


2. United States

I started out the year with a week in California visiting my parents. I didn't have a place to stay in Vancouver anymore since I had had to give up my lease on December 31. I used those few days before my trip to Oz to escape down south for some much needed love and family time.

jana meerman coyote lake harvey bear ranch california (5)

Coyote Lake Hike, California

Posts to read from my time there:


3. Australia

I hopped on a one-way ticket from Vancouver to Australia on January 6th, 2019, landing in sunny Sydney many hours later after a nightmarish layover in China. What ensued was six incredible weeks circling the country, a place home to quirky animals, spectacular beaches, lively cities and truly unique experiences.

I discovered the hidden beaches and iconic buildings of Sydney, explored the national institutions in the capital Canberra, struggled with the reality of not loving every single place I travel to in Melbourne, navigated a gorge and danced through lavender fields in Tasmania, road-tripped with thirteen other travelers up the west coast for ten days in 40 degree heat, hung out with rescued kangaroos, watched the sunrise over the mystical Uluru, spotted manta rays and turtles on Stradbroke Island, celebrated my 23rd birthday on the beach in Byron Bay, tried my hand at surfing for the very first time and walked the entire stretch of the Gold Coast.

Instead of going back to Canada as per my original plan - and to heal from my recent break-up - I booked another one-way ticket... to New Zealand.

jana meerman bondi beach sydney australia (20)

Bondi Beach, Sydney

Posts to read from my time there:

You can also check out all my blog posts from Australia here!


4. New Zealand

Ohhh New Zealand - I had no idea when I first arrived how much of an impact this country would have on me.

I started out my time here with a five week trip starting in Christchurch and looping all the way around the South Island. With the lack of public transport available in New Zealand, I bought an annual pass on the Stray bus, a hop-on, hop-off bus system that stops off along the way at some of the most important and beautiful destinations in the country.

Traveling north from Christchurch, I visited coastal Kaikoura, hiked in Picton at the mouth of the Marlborough Sounds, visited the smallest national park in the country at Abel Tasman, saw the glacier at Franz Josef, fell in love with Wanaka and its famous tree and Roy's Peak, summitted Ben Lomond in Queenstown, took a drizzly boat tour of the incredible Milford Sound, tackled some of the Great Walks around the country, visited the southernmost city of Invercargill, hiked around Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park (perhaps my favourite place in New Zealand), drove along gorgeous roads, visited aqua blue lakes and generally just spent my time falling head over heels for the tiny country in the South Pacific.

I loved it so much that I applied for my Working Holiday Visa, giving me the rights to stay and work here for up to 23 months. I first set up camp in Kaikoura, a gorgeous seaside town of just over 2000 people, got a job in a cafe and lived in a delightful little hostel.

It was there that I met Nico, a tall, dark and handsome Belgian who is now my boyfriend (and as I write this, is somewhere in dad's workshop making something out of wood and having the best time - we're in California for Christmas). As the months ticked into winter - yenno, being in the southern hemisphere and all, we left Kaikoura for another road-trip around the South Island, this time in Nico's car.

We reversed my route from the spring, visiting some of the more remote regions, many of them famous for being in the Lord of the Rings and the Narnia Chronicles films. We camped en route, often shivering under six blankets in the car, but never wishing for more comfort as the thrill of being on the road was more than enough. We hiked, enjoyed the frost of Milford Sound, marveled at the snow on Mount Cook, drove through a rainy west coast with thunderous waterfalls and danced on empty beaches.

jana meerman mount cook 2

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Posts to read from my time there:

You can also check out all my blog posts from New Zealand here!


5. Indonesia

Desperate to escape the winter that settled into July and August down under and with Nico due to return home to Belgium, I joined Kaikoura friend Ela for a month adventuring around the islands of Indonesia. We had pinpointed a few places we knew we wanted to see but landed at Denpasar airport in the heart of Bali without much of a plan.

What ensued was a month that seemed to work out entirely in our favour in a most interesting manner - discovering the tourist towns and famous temples and waterfalls of Bali, island-hopping on sketchy boats, meeting Brazilians in the middle of the ocean and scootering around Nusa Penida on less than questionable roads, discovering the reasons that people flock here from around the world, eating our weight in tempeh, living in huts on Gili Air, avoiding hagglers on Lombok, getting lost on a mountain, taking a 24-hour overnight bus/ferry/bus/ferry journey to Flores, getting ripped off on a day trip to world famous Komodo National Park but still having a perfect day, ending our trip in a Balinese hospital for an infected blister on my toe and quite honestly experiencing the absolute best of Indonesia.

jana meerman kelingking beach nusa penida (3)

Posts to read from my time there:

You can also check out all my blog posts from Indonesia here!


6. Fiji

With the relatively cheap flights between the various tropical destinations of the South Pacific - at least, in comparison to flying all the way from North America - I decided to continue my winter escape and headed from Indonesia via Sydney to Fiji. Landing at Nadi Airport, I was greeted by the friendliest locals I think I've ever come across. Everyone's always laughing, grinning, smiling and polite - a refreshing change from the culture I had left behind in Indonesia.

I spent two weeks island-hopping the famous Yasawa Islands off the western coast of the main island of Fiji using the Awesome Adventures flyer, a massive catamaran that every day leaves the main port and travels through the islands picking up and dropping off travelers at their various destinations. I lounged in hammocks, trekked to viewing points for sunrise, ate delicious home-cooked meals, snorkeled incredible reef and sunken shipwrecks, drank out of fresh coconuts, read countless books, enjoyed epic sunrises and sunsets, worked out on the beach, swam in pristine waters and lived the true island life.

I also witnessed a ravaging bush fire that ate up every living plant and tree on Nacula Island while staying at Oarsman's Bay Lodge. The staff were incredible, burning down the green belt around the lodge to protect us from potential damage, and we were lucky enough to get to hike through the remains the next day and witness the immense power of a natural disaster.

jana meerman snorkeling yasawa islands (4)

Snorkeling off the coast of Nacula Island

Posts to read from my time there:

You can also check out all my blog posts from Fiji here!


7. Vanuatu

Another one-way flight from Fiji and I ended up in the little country of Vanuatu, an island nation. I landed in the capital of Port Vila, got talking to someone at the airport and convinced them to come with me to explore the town and local surroundings the following day.

I checked into my hostel on the coast for a week of island adventures. Less developed than Fiji, this was a fascinatingly different perspective on island life and the day-to-day activities that aren't completely infiltrated by tourists. With my new friend from the airport, we picked up snacks at the local market before spending the afternoon climbing through the Mele Cascades, an impressive trail of waterfalls and glistening pools that certainly hinted at having magic in them.

I hopped on an inter-islander plane to get up to Espiritu Santo, an island in the northern region of the country, famous for its blue holes, these epic swim holes with crystal clear blue water. While my stay here wasn't as pleasant as expected, mostly because I was the only guest and the wifi was down so loneliness was imminent, getting to experience the blue holes as well as the wrecks I snorkeled from World War II was quite surreal. Vanuatu feels like one of those places still a bit untouched by tourism and still open for discovery.

jana meerman matevulu blue hole espiritu santo vanuatu (6)

Matevulu Blue Hole, Espiritu Santo

Posts to read from my time there:


8. New Caledonia

My last island destination for this traipse around the South Pacific was New Caledonia, a French province situated off the coast of Australia near to both Vanuatu and Fiji. It was truly like a slice of Europe in the heart of Oceania!

I based myself in the capital of Nouméa at the only youth hostel in the country home to scores of French speakers. I took my week here slowly, enjoying meandering around the city, exploring the local beaches, wandering up to view points and enjoying a strong wifi connection! I joined a few of my roommates on some day trips - road-tripping through Parc Provincial de la Riviere Bleue, hiking up Mont Dore and heading out on the ferry to the Isle of Pines.

jana meerman isle of pines new caledonia (15)

Isle of Pines

Posts to read from my time there:


9. New Zealand II

I returned to New Zealand (and felt like I was going home) in late September, just in time for spring. I settled into Wellington, the capital city on the southernmost tip of the North Island, accessible by ferry from the South Island through the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds. It's as windy as they say it is, the culture and liveliness is bursting at the seams, I got a full-time job working in government administration (!!!), joined a fabulous gym, started going to weekly ballet lessons, settled into a happy rhythm and, best of all, Nico returned from Belgium to extend his Working Holiday Visa and join me down under.

On weekends, we hike up Mount Victoria, wander along Oriental Bay, browse the local op shops, cook in our big hostel kitchen, try all the local restaurants and enjoy the sunshine of the approaching summer.

My favourite highlights in the spring were day trips out to Putangirua Pinnacles and Cape Palliser, the Red Rocks Reserve and the wine town of Martinborough.

jana meerman cape palliser wairarapa (2)

Cape Palliser, Wairarapa

Posts to read from my time there:


10. United States II

For the final week of the year, it was only fitting to end it where I had started it, back in California with my wonderful parents. I brought Nico along and together we all celebrated a most wonderful holiday season - a delightful Christmas filled with the magic of the season and beautiful gifts from around the world, Nico's 23rd birthday celebrated in San Francisco, the happiest New Year's and start of a fabulous new year and new decade.

Posts to read from my time there:


We're flying back to New Zealand in early January to continue our adventures down under. I have high hopes for 2020 - watch this space!

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