2018: our year of epic change
2018’s been quite the year. It began in our adopted home of South Korea as we busily prepared to launch Going The Whole Hogg; it’s ending back home in Scotland with our first British winter in four years. In the intervening twelve months we’ve started the blog, wrenched ourselves away from much loved Tongyeong and travelled through nine amazing countries.
There’ve been some incredible highlights along the way, but a few disappointments too – that’s travelling. With the blog at the centre of it all, we’ve fundamentally changed the way we travel and completely altered the course of our lives. No strangers to change, we’ve had years that felt significant before, but 2018 feels different, is different, and will be hard to beat.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
First then, the highlights. The reason why we do it all. Finding those places and experiences that give us something different, the ones that stay with us and keep us wanting more. In a year where we travelled in East Asia, Australia, Central Asia, the Himalaya and Middle East, we saw some of the world’s dramatic landscapes, and got a taste of their unique culture and history. Among them all, two places stood out – one a country, the other a region.
The country, our last and most recent stop, was Oman. Having visited for ten days back in 2014, we were excited to return for a month. With the freedom offered by our rental 4WD, we bumped, rolled and sped over 5000 km of this fantastic country, wild camping every night. From the mountains of Musandam to the sandy beaches of Salalah, we were constantly amazed by the country’s ever changing beauty. The ease of travel and friendliness of its people, along with the sheer stunningness of its natural landscapes, made Oman a stand out travel experience. Expect to see lots in the new year about what is now one of our all time favourite countries. If you’re a fan of the outdoors and wondering where to go in 2019, Oman should be seriously considered. We could’ve easily spent another month, and we’ll definitely be back.
A ‘WOW’ day in Oman, like so many days here
A Central Asian place of awesome spectacularness – Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains. A land of high, dry multihued mountains pocketed with countless lakes of brilliant blues and emerald greens, the Fanns are a hikers paradise. From all the trekking destinations we tackled in 2018, this stood above all else. It was stunning, a photographer’s dream. Quiet too. We bumped into a few groups and some independent hikers, but mostly, it felt like we had it to ourselves. It was a first for us too. We spent 11 days hiking and camping, carrying our own gear and food over a succession of mountain passes – a physical and mental challenge that pushed us both, and made us stronger for adventures to come. Like Oman, we’ll be back. If you fancy a challenging trekking trip in 2019 yourself, it has to be the Fanns.
Our Teenage Fannclub
AND THE REST…
Now while Oman and the Fann Mountains were our clear favourites, there was plenty more to get us excited in 2018.
It’s easy to forget that we visited Taiwan on a whim back in February, a trip that left us wanting more. We were instantly charmed by the country, and the street food culture was a revelation. We managed to squeeze in a six day camping road trip round Kyushu in Japan, just a few short weeks before leaving Korea. From the charming Onsen town of Kurokawa and the characterful quirks of Nagasaki, to the surprisingly beautiful beaches of the southern islands, it’s yet another place calling us back.
Take us back
A whistle-stop tour of Australia to see friends was the perfect transition back to full-time travel. Our Gobi tour and epic journey to the Tsaatan Reindeer Herders were the standouts from Mongolia. In Kyrgyzstan, the World Nomad Games were a cultural treat and trekking in the Tien Shan Mountains threw a few more challenges our way. We rediscovered our love for Soviet art and design by photographing fascinating bus stops along the Pamir Highway, and hunting out Soviet era mosaics and monumental art in Bishkek and Almaty. And before we reached Oman, we tackled our longest trek ever, a 35 day monster in Nepal, covering three of the country’s main trekking regions.
Kim’s new reindeer pal in the Taiga
And a few more in the Pamir
Exploring Almaty through its Soviet Era Mosaics
As I said, not everything went to plan. Our biggest disappointment turned out to be one of the things we’d most looked forward to – Nepal. We arrived in the country with such a buzz, excited to start on one of our biggest adventures yet. The first 12 days on the Manaslu Trek were great, but as we joined the Annapurna Circuit and later Upper Mustang, the pace and nature of development, the walking on roads rather than trails, it all began to wear us down. Hiking in Nepal among the world’s highest mountains has such a cachet, but more often than not we were left thinking about the Fann Mountains – the comparison was not a favourable one. There were still outstanding moments, and our forthcoming posts will highlight these, but more and more we’re left wondering about the future of trekking in Nepal.
On a high at Larke La Pass on the Manaslu Trek
STARTING THE BLOG
You’re on it, and we’ve lived and breathed it for the last 18 months – from it, all change leads. We started Going The Whole Hogg because we love travel. Our time in Korea was primarily motivated by a desire to save money, to be used to fund our future travels. As in the past, we gave very little thought to the future beyond, other than some vague ideas about teaching again when the money ran out. But as the travel blog seed was planted and the idea began to grow, suddenly we had a plan that if successful, would shape our lives for years to come.
When we started 2018, we were coming off the back of six months of preparation – building a website, constantly learning new skills and writing articles to get us started. Launching in February, life was a blur as we worked full-time jobs and used every other hour to get things off the ground. It was busy and tiring, but also thrilling as we poured our time and effort into something for ourselves – a new sensation for us. Our final months were much different than they otherwise would’ve been, and by the time we left Korea in June, we’d been so busy that we never really had the chance to properly say goodbye – well, at least it gives us an excuse to go back.
Our last few weeks in Korea were bittersweet
How The Blog Changed The Way We Travel
Kim’s always been a planner. Even when travelling months at a time, she would have detailed itineraries in place and accommodation booked – not wanting to waste a moment of precious travel time. This meant there wasn’t much left to chance and there was little room for ad hoc, spur of the moment decisions. The blog has changed all that. Travel is our life now. There’s no end date, so no pressure to pack it all in. The result is an immense sense of freedom. We’ve had a set amount of time in each country, but that time has been much less thoroughly planned. We’ve needed time to write, edit, backup, publish posts and manage our social media. Not to mention rest. Working on the blog and travelling full-time takes its toll. So these days we’re not cramming as much in, instead focusing on key activities in each place, and leaving room for a few surprises along the way. Those surprises can often be the highlight of any trip.
Hiking in the Pamir, Tajikistan
Another key change has been the way we experience the places we visit. There’s a constant need to record details and impressions, which may or may not be used for blog posts. We’ve always taken photos and often made videos, but as we strive to improve and professionalise everything we do, the workload increases and the focus is keener. It’s been important to recognise and keep in mind that while others are travelling purely for pleasure, we’re doing a job, trying to produce high quality content for others to use and enjoy. It can be taxing and not always enjoyable at the time, but the flipside is that we’ve found our experiences to be richer, and taken more from each place as we’ve delved a little bit deeper.
Our trip to Taiwan in February was the first after the birth of the blog, the first time we approached places with those fresh eyes, our inquisitive metres amped up to 11. Standing in Longshan, Taipei’s oldest temple, I focused closely on the act of observing, paying attention to each of the senses, trying to capture and distill the essence of the atmospheric lunar new year celebrations. Even now, the thought takes me quickly back. Since then, we’ve tried to employ the same methods, to have the same attention to detail. And when making videos, it’s not always fun to get every shot we need, especially on multi-day camping and trekking trips, but we get them, and appreciate that hard work at the editing stage.
Catching up with old friends in Australia
There’s been a final key factor to change our travelling post blog creation: we now read and pay attention to more travel blogs. We’ve always used guide books for detailed planning, and while we still do, 2018 was the first year using blogs as the main source of information on the road. Starting and developing a blog led us to discover all the other great blogs out there. They’re now our first point of reference when it comes to travel planning, giving us the most up-to-date, relevant and unique information. And behind it all is Pinterest – it’s been a revelation to us when it comes to finding the right travel guides and articles. If you’re not already on Pinterest, we highly recommend it as a wonderful source of articles on travel or whatever you’re interested in. It brings back a much wider variety than a Google search, helping you find hidden gems you’d otherwise miss.
THE NEW YEAR
When I was a kid, I never put much store in the new year. One year seemed much the same as the other, the dividing line between them nothing but an arbitrary demarcation. These days, I’m more sensitive to the need to leave the old year behind, and look forward to the new. As a kid, life is neatly divided by a clear progress through the school years, as an adult, life is less clear cut. The mass of years need that separation, and the celebration of a communal new year has a cathartic uniting effect that birthdays can’t match. Whether you’ve had a good year or bad, putting the old one behind and focusing on the new can have a positive effect.
For us, 2018 has been a fantastic year. We’ve started a different life, travelled in amazing places, challenged ourselves and in the process, learned a host of new skills. We even appeared on a famous cooking show on Korean TV! At the start we were busy, focused and a little stressed, but also excited. As we move towards 2019, that excitement is even greater. The blog is growing well, and we’ve already started to see it bear fruit with the beginnings of a (very) modest income.
so, what’s the plan?
First, it’s time to get the heads down and work, work, work. Our six months of travelling has left us with a seriously huge backlog of posts to write, photos to edit and videos to make. With that in mind we’ll be keeping a (relatively) low profile in Bonnie Scotland till April, working hard to produce a regular output for the blog. To break it up we’ll be out and about, taking advantage of the opportunity to explore our own beautiful country.
Spending time at home means views like this
Come April, we’ll be heading off to Thailand for a much anticipated reunion with our good friends from Korea. We’ll be using the time in Chiang Mai to catch up, have fun and of course, get some more work done. From there the plan is to pop back to Korea for a bit of unfinished travel business. By mid-June we should back in Scotland for summer, before flying off for our long awaited South America trip – we’ve only been planning to get there for the last 10 years! Nothing’s confirmed, but if life follows to plan, we should be touching down in a yet undecided South American country by September.
HERE’S TO 2019
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, here’s to an incredible 2019. Good luck, be safe, have fun and enjoy life. We hope you have the best of all possible years.
On top of the world at Ala Kol, Kyrgyzstan