Iron Ore train, Mauritania

First Full Year on the Road, Looking Back and Looking Forward – 2022 Round Up

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Wow!

Where did that year go!

2022 was my first full year travelling and working full time (or travelling as a digital nomad if you prefer) and it’s fair to say it has exceeded all of my expectations. At the start of the year, I didn’t have a long term plan of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see, I was just going to make it up as I went along.

And that’s exactly what I did.

I knew I had my job, a regular 40 hour per week job working fully remotely in SEO, and I had my passport. Apart from that I could go pretty much anywhere I wanted. As long as it had a good internet connection. I know, first world problems.

I’ll take you back to what I’ve done this year, how much I’ve seen, where I’ve been and probably some behind the scenes stuff that you may not know about me or what went on.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a lot of my stories but often that’s a sanitised version of what I’ve already done. It doesn’t have the thought process behind it.

Welcome to Dan Round The World 2022 edition…

Dan with digital nomad backpack

Travel stats

If you know me personally, you know I’m a numbers guy. I have lists on my phone of various numbers and stats of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I even have it in my About Me page on this site.

In 2022 I took 32 flights on 11 different airlines. 12 of those flights were on British Airways which allowed me to get some frequent flyer status which was a mini goal of mine from half way through the year onwards.

All those flights meant I spent 122.5 hours on a plane in 2022, that’s over 5 days sitting in a metal fart filled tube. Add in all the time I’ve spent at airports before the flights, long layovers, getting through airport arrivals and that means I have spent well over a week of the last year in airports or on planes.

That doesn’t include the countless hours spend on various trains, cars, buses, taxis and other forms of transport I’ve taken this year.

I stayed in 15 different hotels, 22 AirBnB’s and a variety of friends houses, guesthouses, hostels and I even rented my own apartment for a month.

I hired a car twice and borrowed a friends van for my trip around New Zealand. I put a lot of kilometres into those cars.

I went to 5 different continents (Yes really I went to 5 of the 7 continents in ONE YEAR!) and went to 15 countries on top of having some time in the UK, of which, 9 were “new countries” for me. E.g. they were countries I hadn’t been to before. You could also include a cheeky trip to Scotland as a new country as it was my first proper time north of the border, but that’s still the UK isn’t it?

With all that travelling between countries, back to the UK and overland in Europe, I crossed a border 25 times, which means showing my well worn passport 50 times over the year.

Gjirokaster, Albania

How did 2022 start

I returned home from Egypt to spend Christmas 2021 with my family in London. This was supposed to be the first “normal” Christmas in a couple of years. But guess what? Omicron reared its ugly head and made it semi normal at best.

As 2021 ticked into 2022, there were still PCR testing rules in place for the UK. I had a wedding in the UK in mid January, but will the additional costs of testing, travelling for that short amount of time became pretty expensive. I spent the first few weeks of 2022 in London and made some plans instead.

I looked over sporting schedules as a seed had been planted a few months previously and booked some flights.

At the end of January, I flew to Barbados to watch England play the West Indies in three cricket matches and then stayed out there for an additional week after as well, soaking up the sun and spending time on the beach.

Dan watching cricket in Barbados
At the cricket in Barbados

Barbados is not a cheap destination by any means but it can be travelled on a budget if you try. The local buses are great to travel on. Some AirBnB’s are a lot more affordable than the resorts. And local food is fresh and tasty. The Bajans are also some of the nicest people I have met, fully deserving of their reputation as the friendliest in the West Indies.

As this was still early 2022 and Covid was still a thing, I had to plan PCR tests and entry forms for my return flight to London. I was then heading off to Abu Dhabi in what turned out to be a crazy schedule over 72 hours.

Saturday night – sleep in Barbados

Sunday – leave Barbados, sleep on the plane Sunday night

Monday – Arrive into London, get home, work a full day. Sleep in London Monday night.

Tuesday – 10am. Get a PCR test that counts as an “arrivals” test back into the UK but also timed it perfectly so I could use it as an “entry” test into Dubai and to use as an “green pass” to get into a football match on Wednesday. Worked on Tuesday. Tuesday night spent overnight on a plane from London to Dubai.

Wednesday – Landed in Dubai. Couldn’t get a bus to Abu Dhabi because an app wouldn’t recognise my negative PCR test results from London. Ended up getting a shared taxi to Abu Dhabi where I then had to get another PCR test so that my app would go “green” and I would be allowed in places. Wednesday night, see a football match. Sleep in Abu Dhabi.

Isn’t everyone happy that it looks like the days of PCR tests are behind us?!

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Middle East

After a few days in Abu Dhabi, I headed to Oman, a country that had been on my radar for a very long time.

It seemed like a traditional middle eastern country, not some skyscraper filled playground of millionaires like Dubai or Qatar. All I can say was that I was blown away by how much I enjoyed Oman.

The capital, Muscat, doesn’t have a particular sight to see or centre to visit, but it is traditional, with a lovely coastline and some incredible mosques. I enjoyed spending my time at Mutrah along the corniche. The National Museum was beautiful. Everyone still wears traditional clothing. I felt like I was in the Middle East as it would have been many years ago.

Mutrah Corniche, Muscat

I took some time off work to road trip around the country, visiting the old towns of Nizwa and Bahla. I drove through desert and sand dunes to the far corner of the Arabian peninsular and back up to Muscat taking in the incredible natural scenery Oman has to offer in the form of its wadis, mountains and deserts.

I had a few days to spare after my Oman visa ran out but before my flight home from Dubai so decided to see the little visited Arabian country of Bahrain. I like to explore countries that tourists don’t normally go to and Bahrain is very sparsely visited. I spent three nights in the capital Manama.

Souk, Manama, Bahrain
Traditional souk in Manama

Bahrain is trying to be like Qatar and Dubai by building big skyscrapers and expensive malls with its oil money, but there really isn’t too much to see there. If you’re wondering what to do in Manama for a few days, I have written about it. It was nice to visit but I can’t imagine myself going back soon.

I had a day to kill in Dubai so visited the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, before my flight back to the UK.

Dan in front of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE
In front of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Europe beckons

I had a wedding to go to in England and toured around Wales and other parts of England to catch up with friends before I flew out to Albania.

Why Albania?

Well, I don’t really know. A long time ago when I was looking for AirBnB apartments I could work from, I discovered a few cheap ones along the south coast of Albania in a small town called Sarande.

Promenade in Saranda, Albania
Along the promenade of Saranda

I ended up spending 6 weeks in Saranda during April and May as the weather was getting warmer. I had a balcony that overlooked the sea. There was a beautiful long promenade to enjoy long walks at all times of day. I joined a gym owned by a former Albanian bodybuilder. The weather was great, food and drink was cheap and it was just touristy enough to be enjoyable whilst still being quiet and unknown by the masses.

I took day trips to Butrint, Gjirokaster and Ksamil, all stunning in their own right. I have a terrible feeling that Saranda and Albania will become tourist hot spots in the next few years. From what I’ve read, Albania was one of the few countries that had more tourists in 2022 than 2019.

If you’re reading this and considering it, please don’t go to Albania. Please leave its beauty and isolation for me to enjoy by myself.

Into Africa

Another trip home for a wedding and then my second journey into Africa. My first time in Africa was to Egypt but Morocco was another country that I had had my eye on a while. I’m fascinated my Islamic culture and I wanted another cheap destination to spend some time in that was warm and close to a beach. I also had a slightly ulterior motive for heading to Morocco as it was the jumping off point for another adventure.

Mauritania

I had wanted to ride the Iron Ore train through the Sahara in Mauritania for a few years. After speaking to a friend to try and convince him to come, I decided I was going anyway but was joined by another friend I had met in Transnistria the year before anyway.

Travelling in Mauritania is one of the best things I had done. It was a raw adventure. There was no infrastructure, there was a massive language barrier, there was little information on where to go and what to do. And I fully loved it.

It was probably the most off the beaten path travels I had done since I visited Papua New Guinea. Me and my friend met one other tourist and we were the only westerners that we encountered for the entire week we were there.

Mauritania was an incredible adventure. You can read more about riding the Iron Ore Train through Mauritania here.

Iron Ore train, Mauritania
How I looked at the end of the journey!
Iron Ore train, Mauritania
At nearly 3km, it is one of the longest trains in the world

I headed back to Morocco, spending some time in Marrakech, then went to the relaxed beach town of Essaouira.

On the face of it Essaouira is lovely. It has an incredible beach, some good bars and restaurants, the history of the city walls and the traditional Medina. It was like Marrakech but without the hassle.

But for some reason, I couldn’t get along with it. I struggled to get into a good work ethic. The internet wasn’t great which caused me stress with work, which meant longer hours getting the same amount of work done. I was staying a bit out of the town, a nice apartment on the beach but a bit soulless and I struggled to meet anyone. I moved to an apartment in the Medina but I still just couldn’t get into the groove of working.

Essaouira was nice. There was nothing to dislike about it, nothing that told me to leave, but I just…. didn’t feel it. I don’t know why. After trying to love it for 3 weeks, I booked a flight leaving Morocco.

Essaouira, Morocco
The Medina at Essaouira, Morocco

The next day, I booked into a coworking space at NOQTA space. I met the owners, who were great. The coffee was delicious, the vibe was there, the internet was excellent which made me so much more productive at work. I got that groove back.

But alas it was too late. My flights were booked and my love of Essaouira was too short in the end. I passed through Marrakech again and spent a few days in the underrated Casablanca before flying out.

Eastern Europe calls

I stick a pin in a map for every place I visit. Asia and Oceania are pretty well covered at this point. Western Europe has plenty of pins as well from school trips and family holidays when I was younger. But there is still an area closer to home that has a big empty space.

Eastern Europe started getting filled last year when I went to Ukraine, Poland and Moldova but there was still a lot more to see.

I couldn’t decide between Romania and Bulgaria. Both had pro’s and con’s. I knew a few people that were going to Bulgaria for Nomadfest, however the real reason I went to Bulgaria is a little bit more nerdy than that…

The cheapest flight I could find between Morocco and Eastern Europe was on Qatar Airways. (This was in the summer of 2022 when most European airlines were going into meltdown with everybody wanting to travel for the first time in years but the airlines and airports not having any staff to deal with it. Avoiding major European airports at this time was wise. I know, my carbon footprint is not low this year).

Casablanca to Doha is classed as a long haul flight in terms of how many frequent flyer points I would get. As is Doha to Sofia. But Doha to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, isn’t as far as Sofia so I wouldn’t earn as many points and I wouldn’t hit my status target. So the real reason I went to Bulgaria is because I would earn more frequent flier points than the other destination I was considering.

Sad and nerdy or clever and ingenious? You decide.

Dan, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria
In front of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

After a week exploring the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, I ended up spending 7 weeks in Bansko, a small ski town in the Pirin Mountains. I loved my time there. I met some great people, rented an apartment for a month, joined a gym and went to one of the best coworking spaces I have ever been to at AltSpace CoWorking. Bansko is a great place to go if you’re a digital nomad.

After travelling quickly for a while, it was nice to slow down and have my weekends free to enjoy myself rather than planning where I was going to go next. Bansko also had the lowest cost of living of anywhere I went in 2022. For the month I was in my apartment, I spent under €500 for the entire month!

Although my plan of staying put and relaxing worked, after 7 weeks I had itchy feet again. I had that urge to travel and explore more. It was during this downtime that I penciled in my travel plans for the rest of the year.

I had made plans to go to Romania. But then Chelsea were drawn against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League with the match being played in Zagreb in just a few days time.

I put Romania on hold, much to the disbelief of a travel mate, and made the 13 hour overnight bus journey from Sofia to Zagreb, with a 6 hour stint driving through the dark of Serbia. Those are the times you realise that travel isn’t all glamorous and Instagram photos.

Dan, Chelsea v Dinamo Zagreb, Croatia
Chelsea v Dinamo Zagreb

A week in Zagreb came and went in a flash (Chelsea lost the match if you wanted to know) and it was another long bus journey to Timisoara.

Like Saranda, I knew little about Timisoara other than it had a cheap AirBnB and looked like a cool little city from the limited research I did. What I found blew me away.

The cathedral at one end of town was one of the most beautiful I had seen. The three squares in the city each have their own bit of charm. The colourful buildings give the appearance of a fairytale. Having a gin and tonic by the river, sitting in the warm Autumnal sun was perfect after work. It seemed like every night there was a different festival going on, bringing the place alive and rightly giving it the status of a European capital of culture in 2023.

Timisoara, Romania
The fairytale place of Timisoara

A short trip to Budapest and Bucharest followed. For a period of 6 weeks I took a days holiday from work every week, only working a four day week as my travelling became intense. I flew back to London for barely 48 hours before I was back at Heathrow and off to Milan for another football match. London again, then Scotland to catch up with a friend. Then two days later I took off on my longest flight of the year.

Back down under

I landed in Sydney not realising it had been over 5 years since I had last been there. I was there to watch England play in the T20 Cricket World Cup.

Back in Morocco in June, I had heard that the T20 Cricket World Cup was being played in Australia. Again a seed had been planted. The trouble with planting those silly seeds in my head is they normally start sprouting silly ideas. I ran the numbers and even though I knew it would be expensive, I could make it work.

I had spent two years living and working in Australia from 2015 to 2017. As the world locked down for two years, it meant it had been a while since I had gone back and seen all those friends I had made. I saw cricket in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and caught up with friends in all those cities as well.

Sydney, Australia
Looking tired after a 24 hours journey
Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Australia
The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

But by now I was so tired!

At this point it was early November. My last free weekend was in August. I had been working 4 day weeks, but I still had plenty of work to do when I wasn’t travelling.

The socialising, the working and the travelling was catching up with me. Going to bed at midnight after getting into your hotel from a cricket match, to then be up at 4am to catch a flight to the next city where you have to do a days work before you can meet with your friends that night. That is on top of all the planning of getting to those places, booking accommodation, checking flights, how to get from the airport to the city, having back up plans for work. It was slowly taking it out of me.

I was a zombie, knowing my schedule for the day, making my way through it then starting again the next day knowing it was only a few more weeks likes this to go.

I needed to slow down.

The Land of the Long White Cloud

Being on the other side of the world from London in Australia but not going to New Zealand would seem like such a shame.

I lived in New Zealand for three years until Covid hit and it sent me packing back to London. I had seen a lot of the South Island and it made it my favourite country but I had barely touched the north so I borrowed a friends van, took a week off work and did a road trip around the North Island of New Zealand.

Van life made me happy. New Zealand made me happy. Pure travelling without anything else on my mind made me happy.

I remember one moment clearly. I was driving in the van towards Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island. The sun was setting, the orange sky, contrasting to the lush green of the fields around me where sheep were grazing their last meal of the day. I rounded a bend and saw the hills in front of me. At that moment, I smiled. I just smiled to myself at how happy I was at that one moment in time.

I just loved everything about that moment. The weeks of stress building up to it, the tiredness, the planning, the worrying about flights and visas and accommodation and the rest of it, was suddenly all forgotten.

Just bliss.

A stressless, peaceful bliss.

I need to do more of that in 2023…

Sunset, Cape Reinga, New Zealand

Seeing friends in the North Island and spending time in Christchurch, what felt like my second home in New Zealand, was incredible. I’m so glad I managed to get that time to do it and it’s given me something to think about in future.

Back to where it all began

In early December, I flew to Malaysia, the country of my first solo travels in 2010.

If New Zealand is my favourite country, then Malaysia is a very close second behind it. I’ve been to Malaysia four times and passed through it another couple of time as well. It’s a place I know well. I understand the culture, a bit of the language and know a lot of the country. It’s my go to country in south east Asia.

Dan in front of the Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

After travelling so quickly, I decided I needed somewhere to chill. Somewhere I could go and spend 3-6 months or so and just relax. Still work and explore but just not travel as much. Ideally somewhere with a low cost of living as Australia and New Zealand definitely don’t tick that box. But Malaysia ticked all of those boxes for me.

A week in Kuala Lumpur and then to Penang where I hope to base myself for a bit and where I’ll be bringing in 2023…

What I’ve learnt in 2022

My love of travel hasn’t diminished. If anything it’s grown. There are so many places I want to see and spend time in, if anything, that list is getting longer, not shorter the more I see.

But I’ve learnt I need to slow down. Travelling quickly is great if you want to see a lot and experience a lot in a short amount of time. But it’s nearly impossible to do that and work 40+ hours per week. As it’s the work that funds the travel, that has to come first.

Work desk laptop, Abu Dhabi, UAE hotel
How I actually spent most of my time

Travel hacking, using credit cards and points to help fund your travels, has been a massive thing for me this year. I had used it in the past in Australia where I collected enough points that I got a couple of very cheap flights out of it. But this year I have been tactical with it to get the most points and the biggest benefit.

The flight to Bulgaria is a prime example of this. Right now I’m still building up the balance, but one day I will spurge and it will be so worth it. I will probably write a post on it soon as many people have asked me about it.

My goals for 2023

I’m caught in two minds about this, but as of right now, I think I’ll settle for the current answer.

In 2023, I’m going to slow down my travelling. Not stop, just slow it down. There was a period in September to October where I visited 7 countries in 6 weeks. No matter how much I loved it, that speed wasn’t sustainable with a full time job. I didn’t have time to fully enjoy where I was, experience the culture and plan the next steps.

I think I’ll spend the next few months in Malaysia, with some weekend side trips around the country thrown in to keep things ticking over.

Qatar Airways B777 Casablanca to Doha sunset
There was still time to enjoy the sunset after I had finished work

Slowing down will also allow me to spend more time on this blog. I feel I’ve neglected it a bit over the last few months. I haven’t had the time to travel, work, plan travel, explore AND write about it in the quality way I want to. Slowing down will allow me to focus on danroundtheworld.com and hopefully one day, maintaining this website will be my full time job.

I want this to be a place where people come to find out information on the lesser travelled places. Nobody needs to see another blog on Bali or Paris. Some of my most read pages are on Gjirokaster in Albania and Manama in Bahrain.

The post that has been read the most is How Much Does It Cost Travelling As A Digital Nomad. I think this is something that people are genuinely interested in and I’ve had a lot of questions about it from strangers online and on social media. I could turn the focus of this blog to Digital Nomadism or I could focus purely on travel with the work bit on the side. That’s a 2023 decision.

I don’t have any goals for travel this year, but I do want to keep doing a few silly things per year. Last year I rode on a train in the Sahara. In 2023, I do have a few ideas in mind, watch this space…

On a personal level, I want to improve my knowledge and usage of Lightroom. I feel my photos are getting better, but by getting better at the post production, I can take them to the next level. I go to all these amazing places, I may as well try and show them in the best way possible.

And a final thing I want to in 2023 is to spend some time in the UK. It may sound counter productive but I’ve barely been in the UK since 2015. I lived in London during Covid times but I couldn’t see many people or do too much for obvious reasons. Now I go home for a week, see as many people as possible and leave again, the entire week being a blur of socialising (that’s not just the alcohol!). I’m thinking of spending a month in the UK at some point and actually seeing the people I’ve been meaning to see.

SUPing in Barbados, Dan sea

So that’s it. That is 2022 in a nutshell and a few brief notes on what I hope to do next year. If you’ve found it interesting, please let me know. I’m always keen to hear feedback through any of my channels.

I want to take this blog to the next level in 2023 with more travel tips and info to help people go to places that tourists don’t normally go. If you have any ideas on where that might be, I’m all ears.

Safe travels,

Dan

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