We’re almost into the next year (and decade!), so it’s time to look back in the past year. 2019 was once again a great travel year for me. I traveled to 15 countries, of which 6 I had visited previously. As a digital nomad, exploring new places and new cultures is the best things about my life.
The countries I visited were very different: I went to Southeast Asia, North America, Northeast Europe and Western Europe. People often ask me about my favorite destinations, but with so many places to choose from, picking just one is really hard. Each place I go has so much to offer. Everywhere I go I have both amazing and not so great experiences. But that’s not the answer they are looking for 😉
So to reflect on the past year on travel and hopefully inspire you for your next trip, these are my favorite places I visited in 2019:
Koh Rong – Cambodia
Why I loved it: If you are looking for a tropical paradise that doesn’t make you feel single AF (looking at you Philippines), Koh Rong is the place to be. It’s smaller neighbor island, Koh Rong Samloem, is often quoted as being more relaxing and authentic, but I disagree. Koh Rong Samloem in my opninion is a honeymoon destination with beach resorts and couples everywhere. Koh Rong however, has both a party vibe and a chill vibe. To get to Koh Rong, you have to take the ferry from Shihanoukville. Opt for the cheapest option, as the ride will be a bit longer but it’s so pretty that doesn’t matter. The ferry drops you at the main village, which is also named Koh Rong. This is where all the action happends. There are a few other bays and settlements around the island, but they are quite remote so not particularly suited to solo travelers. Instead, opt to stay in town and take day trips to other beaches around the island.
Koh Rong is known as a bit of a party island and there are activities and parties every night. The Police Beach party twice a week (tickets are 10 USD) is the biggest event and totally worth the money. Be careful when it comes to drugs as anything other than edibles are illegal and of questionable quality. Do indulge in the Happy Cookies, those are excellent.
You can also just chill on the beach and relax at Koh Rong. The beach right by the port is pretty dirty and polluted so it’s worth walking a bit further to the end of the beach or to 4K beach (15 min walk).
I think Koh Rong is an absolute must when visiting Cambodia. It’s stunningly beautiful and much more chill and less touristic than the Thai islands. As it’s an island, prices are slightly higher than on the mainland but still affordable. If you want to stay more than a few days, do what I did and get a job on the island. The restaurants, bars and hostels are always looking for staff (just look for a “staff wanted” sign) and will give you food, accommodation and staff discounts in exchange for work. I loved my job as a waitress at Rising Sun and ended up staying for 2 weeks.
When to go: Weather wise, Koh Rong is great year round as the rainy season is not that intense there. However, the island is pretty dead during the low season, so you won’t get to enjoy the real island magic. High season runs from November to May, which is also dry season. The peak is between December and February when humidity is the lowest and the temperatures fluctuate between 25-30 Celcius. Of course, prices for accommodation also go up during the high season.
Where to stay: hostels are not the way to go in Koh Rong. The few western style hostels that are available are not going to be the best value for money. Instead, opt for a guesthouse or bungalow if you’re not traveling solo. As a solo traveler, a lot of guesthouses in Koh Rong also have a dorm, which is way cheaper than a regular hostel dorm. Most places don’t have online booking (and wifi is unreliable at the island anyway). So it’s best to just show up and ask around to find a good spot, especially during the low season. Location is everything in Koh Rong as all of the action is concentrated at the main town. Pick somewhere there or at 4K beach at the furthest, you don’t want to have to walk home for hours after a night out.
New Orleans – USA
Why I loved it: I had mixed emotions during my 3-month trip through the US. Some places I really liked, some couldn’t win my heart. In the US, I got homesick for the first time in a very long time. Somethings reminded me of home, but just not as good. As much as I liked most places I visited, I never felt at home and I missed Europe.
Except for New Orleans. I immediately fell in love with the Big Easy. The people were warm and kind (and I love the Louisiana accent!), the food was flavorful and spicy and the architecture reminded me of Europe. Nothing but good vibes in New Orleans.
I ended up staying in New Orleans for a month indulging in the lovely weather, great Jazz music and far to many cocktails. There is just no way you could ever get bored in New Orleans. Between the rich history and culture all around you and the lust for life, NOLA won’t disappoint.
I would say New Orleans the most beautiful city in the US (that I have seen) and the most European in terms of style and atmosphere. Not to mention that it came at exactly the right time when I’d started to grow tired of American food. Because creole, Cajun and Louisiana cuisine is amazing. Still not exactly healthy, but full of flavor, hearty and perfect to soak up the booze 😉
When to go: New Orleans is not a summer destination. Due to the climate, summers in NOLA are excruciatingly hot and humid. It’s like walking around in a sauna. Instead, pick New Orleans as your winter getaway and enjoy the sunny and mild weather. It’s also wise to consider the big annual events. Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest are amazing parties, but also the most expensive time to visit NOLA.
Where to stay: Auberge NOLA is one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. The hostel is comfortable, super clean and most of all: fun! The staff is really friendly and organizes daily activities and barcrawls. The perfect way to explore New Orleans legendary night life and make new friends.
Rocky Mountains – Canada
Why I loved it: Honestly, the picture above says it all: incredible views. The Canadian Rockies are just so breathtakingly beautiful. From rugged snow capped peaks to crystal clear glacier lakes, the Canadian Rockies are one of the most beautiful places on earth. No wonder it’s so popular!
I’m not exactly a trained hiker, but I do love hiking in the mountains. Which is why the Rockies were at the top of my list for places to visit in Canada.
And hiking in the Rockies was even better (and harder) than I could have hoped. Do not underestimate the height of the mountains, the wildlife and the rugged terrain when hiking here. The Canadian are a vast area where the weather can change in an instant and there are lots of bears around. So make sure you prepare accordingly. That being said, try to avoid some of the more touristic highlights and go explore off the beaten path. The lovely people at the visitor information center can help you out with picking the right trails for you.
The Rockies are divided into several different National Parks, so if you want to visit them all, you might want to invest in a Discovery Pass. Although Banff is the most famous of these National Parks, the other ones (especially Jasper and Glacier) are definitely worth visit too.
When to go: This really depends on what you want to do. The Rockies are best either in summer or winter. In summer, these mountains are perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, kayaking and such. This is also the only time of year you can camp in the Rockies. But be warned, temperatures still drop at night, even in August! In the winter, the Canadian Rockies are a winter sport paradise with ski resorts booking out months in advance. Weekends are always the most busy, any time of the year with lots of people driving up for a couple of days.
Where to stay: There aren’t any hostels in the Canadian Rockies, but that’s okay. Because there is really only one way to properly explore this beautiful place: camping. You can get a car and a tent, but I recommend a camper van. That way you’ll be more mobile and it’s easier to find free camping spots. Use Wikicamps and iOverlander to find spots to park and sleep.
Hoi An – Vietnam
Why I loved it: Hoi An is one of those famous places that lives up to the hype. It’s a beautiful city, despite being very touristic. I love old colonial architecture and colorful buildings, so the bright yellow historic center of Hoi An was a dream. And the lanterns everywhere make it even prettier, especially at night! Hoi An was a bit of a rest stop for me during my month long trip through Vietnam. I had just completed a two weeks solo motorbike trip and was in dire need of some TLC.
So treated myself to a day at the beach, a couple of wonderful massages and a bunch of tailored clothing. Hoi An is known for the many tailors that can make you high quality custom clothing for a fraction of the price that you would pay in Europe or the US. I ended up buying a beautiful long dress and a custom bathing suit. Yes, you read that right: a custom bikini made specifically for my measurements. It fits like a dream.
The rest of the time in Hoi An I spend making friends, wandering around and eating lots of delicious food. Hoi An is a great place to eat a variety of Vietnamese dishes with a mix of both north and south Vietnam cuisine.
Out of all the places I visited in Vietnam, Hoi An was definitely my favorite. That was partly due to finally having some nice weather, but mostly because of the lovely atmosphere. Everyone in Hoi An had a smile on their face.
When to go: Vietnam basically has two seasons: dry and wet. The rainy season in central Vietnam runs roughly runs from August to November, with the heaviest rainfall in October and November. Temperatures also vary throughout the year. November, December and January are the coldest and definitely not beach weather. February to June is the best time to visit in terms of weather as it will be dry with pleasant temperatures. Of course, this means it is also the most popular and most expensive time to visit.
Where to stay: Hoi An is home to the popular Tribee hostels. Each Tribee hostel has a slightly different vibe, but they’re all excellent. Comfortable, clean and lots of amenities and perks for their guests.
Riga – Latvia
Why I loved it: During my time in the US and Canada, I missed Europe and realized how much of my home continent I still hadn’t seen. The Baltic States were high on my list. They are an increasingly popular destination in Europe and I had heard nothing but good things. So, when I saw that Riga would be the host city for the first ever Women in Travel Summit in Europe, it felt like fate. I immediately signed up to be a volunteer at WITS and started planning a whole Balkan trip around it.
Riga is one of those cities that should be a lot more famous than it is. Seriously, in my opinion it rivals big hitters in Europe like Paris and Rome. It’s obviously a lot smaller but has the same combination of beautiful architecture, rich culture and delicious food. From the Old Town to Alberta Street, Riga is also super Instagrammable! I loved the art museums, Central Market and just strolling through the Old Town.
I am a sucker for eastern European food (everything tastes better pickled), so the Latvian cuisine was right up my alley. It’s a bit of mix between eastern European, central European, Nordic and Russion influences. Think lots of meat, fish, pickles, sour cream and rye bread. But it’s also surprisingly vegetarian-friendly!
When to go: The Baltics are rapidly gaining ground as a vacation destination in Europe. As a result, Riga gets pretty crowded in the summer. Although not nearly as bad as cities like Rome or Paris. Riga, and Latvia as a whole, is a great summer destination, but also shines in the low season. It’s far quieter, but still as pretty in the fall and winter. If anything, Riga is even more charming when covered in snow.
Where to stay: If you’re looking for a great budget option, check in to Cinnamon Sally. It’s not the most comfortable hostel I’ve ever stayed in, nor the quietest, but the staff is really nice and the location is great. They also serve a delicious waffle breakfast in the morning.
What were your favorite destinations you visited the last year? Or trips you’re planning for next year? Tell me all about them in the comments.
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