I wanted to take the time to write a post this Christmas about what I'm grateful for - there are so many things this year and after a rocky start to the year, I feel very lucky to be ending it this way. The last six months have been a total whirlwind in every aspect of my life, a lot has changed and I'm really happy that it has, but remembering how my life was before that really makes me appreciate every second of how it is now. Now I'm home for my first Christmas with the family in three years and despite it putting travel plans on hold, I couldn't be happier to be home. Sometimes you just need to spend a little time resting and catching up with the people who have always known you, not just spending time with those fleeting travelling friends. This last year, and especially the last six months has been filled with constant travel and it's about time I just took the time to sit, reflect and enjoy where I am. To reassess and make plans for the future before I make my next move, and to take some time off for once! So in this whirlwind year filled with highs and lows, with old friends who have come back into my life, and the new should who have passed through, what am I grateful for?
Once again, travel has given me one of the best years of my life and I couldn't feel more lucky to have experienced the places and people I have met along the way. I feel very privileged to be able to live this nomadic life and to be able to find happiness in it, and I really do appreciate every moment. This year I had the amazing opportunity to explore parts of Australia that have been on my bucket list for years - getting to road trip around Tasmania and all the way up the West Coast - an epic 4,000km trip. Drawing my two year working holiday visa to a close, I feel so happy to have made the most of my time in this amazing country and I left with a smile on my face and a lot of new friends close to my heart. Next up was a fleeting visit to Kuala Lumpur to set off a trip around Asia, before delving into the deaths of Sri Lanka for a month. Travelling the length and breadth of the country, I grabbed every opportunity to soak up the culture, the beauty and whatever adventures came my way. I completely fell in love with the people and the places we visited along the way and was sad to leave. But not quite ready to come home, a few weeks in the sunshine in Thailand was just what the doctor ordered and it was fantastic to return to the place where my travels began three years on - Thailand has changed so much and yet retains that familiarity it will always hold for me.
As I have mentioned, I am so happy to be home for Christmas, it really does mean the world to spend the festive period at home with my closest family and friends after so long away. So much has changed at home with friends getting new jobs, moving away, starting new relationships or even getting married, and one of my best friends in the world is now pregnant - there is so much to celebrate and I'm happy to be home to share in it all with them. But while I'm happy to be at home with the people who have known me from the beginning, I'm also so grateful to the friends and the families I've forged on all sides of the world. To the Melbourne family who absolutely made my experience there, who welcomed me with open arms time and time again, who were always there with endless laughs, a sofa to sleep on and were always ready to make more amazing memories together. I will be forever grateful to you, you made Melbourne home for me.
To Jack and Paul, who have proven again and again and again what amazing friends they are, I will be forever grateful to have met you back in Asia, little did we realise back then that we would be mates for life. The two of you have gone out of your way to fly cross country, and even across the world to visit me, and I was glad to repay with a visit this year. The pair of you will always be people I know I can count on. And of course, I cannot forget my West Coast crew - the beautiful souls I met down in Fremantle who filled my life with much-needed laughter and fun. The reunions with old friends along the way were a keen reminder that travelling friends aren't always temporary and you can have such a huge impact on the lives of others without even realising. And of course, my amazing group that I road tripped the West Coast with - all such different characters brought together by a love of travel and adventure. Every moment of that trip surpassed my expectations and I'm so grateful to have shared it with this motley crew - it will remain one of my best Australian memories.
One of the changes I am most grateful for this year. After spending three years on my own after the break up of my nine-year relationship, there were a lot of points where I thought I might be alone for good if I maintained this travelling lifestyle. I didn't mind, I actually preferred that to being constantly let down, so I focused on myself and all the things I wanted to do. No-one can say I didn't live life to the fullest and I guess it was only when I forgot to put up my guard because I was having too much fun, that I met someone special. It's an amazing feeling to meet someone as passionate about travelling as you are, and since getting together we've travelled half of Australia living in a car together. We've also spent a month backpacking Sri Lanka and a few weeks in Thailand. We're now on six countries together and when he comes over to visit next week, it will be our seventh. I don't know what the future holds, but for now I'm enjoying every second and I'm just grateful that the world saw fit to send someone like him into my life.
This year has been incredible for blogging and writing opportunities despite me taking more time off from the blog than ever before. I have worked with some amazing companies all over the world and have had the chance to live some of my wildest dreams such as a hot air balloon ride and safaris surrounded by wild leopards and elephants. I've stayed in some truly incredible accommodations from being the first blogger to visit the first gay-friendly luxury resort in Sri Lanka, to staying on the other side of the fence to a national park in luxury safari camping, and even sleeping in tree houses! Finishing the trip in a truly incredible 5* luxury resort in Thailand was an absolute highlight and the perfect way to end the holiday. I feel so grateful for these amazing opportunities, but I also feel grateful to my parents for instilling this work ethic into me, without being proactive, determined and hardworking, none of these opportunities would have happened.
Unless you're one of the people who have met me in person over the last 18 months, you won't know how bad my skin has been. Last May, I flew to the UK and on my flight the air hostesses sprayed a pesticide chemical inside the plane to kill any stray bugs. I instantly had the worst allergic reaction of my life, my eyes and face swelling up, my skin breaking out into open wounds on my arms. It was horrific. I should have claimed compensation, I should have followed it up but when I got home, I got the flu and was bedridden for weeks. When I finally turned a corner, all I wanted was to get out and have a life again, to forget it all, but I was left with huge scars on my arms and white patches where my skin had healed. Over the next year, these white patches spread to cover more and more of my arms and even my chest, back and face. I went to multiple doctors in the UK and Australia but no-one could tell me what it was, no-one could help me. The more sun I got and the more the rest of my skin tanned, the more noticeable the white patches were, it was always there and I couldn't hide it.
Complete strangers would come up to me at work and start talking to me about it on a daily basis, or they would make jokey comments about it. They hurt, it was horrible have to laugh and brush them off like they didn't affect me or I didn't hear them all day, every day. Everyone thought they were a dermatologist, everyone thought they knew the answer, the cure for my problems. They meant well, but I was sick of hearing it, sick of my skin always being the topic of conversation when it had nothing to do with these people. I've always suffered from eczema and skin allergies, but I never realised until this point how utterly debilitating it is to have such a noticeable skin problem. How you're constantly aware of the eyes glancing over your arms and lingering as they wonder what the hell is wrong with you, how you take photos with friends and then can't bear to look at them because all you can see is the patches. Without realising, it really does take over every aspect of your life, no matter how much you try and put on a brave face and how much you pretend it doesn't bother you.
So now I can tell you why being the sickest I've been since travelling while I was in Sri Lanka, was the best thing that could have happened to me. I went to the doctors because medicine wasn't helping my upset stomach and was given some homeopathic remedies that solved all my problems within an hour. But even better, the doctor, who spoke very good English and had previously worked in the UK, was a dermatologist and recognised immediately what the problem was with my skin. He recognised the infection and knew exactly how to get rid of it, he promised me he could prescribe homeopathic treatment - a mixture of pills and creams - that would see a noticeable difference within two weeks and if I kept it up for a few months the patches would be unnoticeable, and the pain and discomfort I suffered would go away. The words I had been desperate to hear for so long, and least expected to ever hear come from the mouth of a doctor after being let down by so many. I started the treatment - still very sceptical of whether it would work but praying it would - and within two weeks the patches were already significantly better. Now two months on, most of them are barely noticeable and the rest get better every single day. The patches on my face are gone, my arms are mostly better and my chest and back are back to normal. I can't tell you how grateful I am that the treatment worked, and that fate brought me to that doctor out of the various other medical centres on the street.
I feel very lucky the way this year has turned out, the way I feel now couldn't be more different to how I was at the beginning of the year. I've grown, I've changed and it's all because of the amazing experiences I've had and the people I've met along the way. I'm very excited about what the next year holds for me and I can't wait to share every moment with you guys. Thanks for being there every step of the way and I hope you all have a lovely Christmas.