Looking back on 2019, it was one of the most turbulent years I’ve had recently. 2017 was a year of excitement and adventure, as I quit my job, gave up my apartment and left Germany to travel for a year. 2018 was a year of coming home in which I settled down in Frankfurt. Both of those years were exciting. But 2019 was turbulent in ways that I had never expected. Turns out you don’t have to go travelling around the world for a whole year to experience lots of surprises – for better and for worse.

2019 was also a year of learning. First of all, I switched jobs so there was a lot of training involved. But I also learned a lot of travel lessons. Because even if I wasn’t travelling full-time, I still spent a lot of time on the road. Let me summarize the most important and interesting ones for you, and also give you an outlook of my plans for 2020.

#1I love Japan

Neon lights in Himeji, Japan

I went to Japan for two weeks in 2017 and was excited that I got the chance to go back in 2019. Daniel and I had planned a three-week holiday in this beautiful country, which is, of course, nowhere near enough. We ended up seeing way less than we thought (more on that later), but it was enough to make me realise that I absolutely love Japan.

From temples to neon signs, the country is filled with contrasts and amazing photo opportunities. I haven’t written anything about this trip yet but I’m planning to, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, I can promise you that if you decide to go to Japan, you won’t be disappointed. I also learned that Japanese isn’t easy to learn, but it isn’t as hard as I always thought it would be either. I managed to pick up some basics along the way, which was very helpful. Also, I learned that Japan is one of the best countries I’ve ever travelled to for night photography. All those lanterns and neon signs are so beautiful! For my next visit, I want to learn how to take better pictures of them.

One day, I will go back to Japan. I still want to go to the Alps and stay in a traditional ryokan in the mountains. I want to soak in an onsen and wander through temples at night. And I want to try more amazing Japanese food. Maybe not in 2020, but one day, I’ll be back.

#2 Travel insurance is essential

View from Red Cross Hospital, Osaka, Japan
The view from Daniel’s room in the Osaka Red Cross Hospital

Do you know why I didn’t manage to stay in a traditional ryokan in the Japanese Alps during our trip?

We had everything planned. We had booked our accommodation in Shirakawa-go as well as our bus tickets to go there. I was very excited. And then, Daniel got sick. And I’m not talking about sick as in, he got a cold. I’m talking about sick as in ruptured appendicitis.

Fortunately, Japan has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Unfortunately, it is also quite expensive. While they prepared Daniel for surgery, they told us that the cost would be around 20,000€ and then asked us if we preferred to pay in cash or by credit card.

Needless to say that neither was an option. My credit card doesn’t even have that kind of limit. Fortunately, we had travel insurance. Daniel’s insurance covered everything (except for renting a Japanese hospital pyjama, which, yes, is totally a thing in Japan). They even covered all of my phone calls to the insurance and our taxi to get to the hospital. And not just that. They also told us where to find a hospital with English-speaking doctors that was open when we needed it. Because it turns out that Japanese emergency rooms have opening hours and finding one that is open on a public holiday is very hard.

So yeah. If you travel abroad, make sure you have decent health insurance. And don’t be afraid to call them when you need them, because most insurance policies don’t just cover costs, they also give you advise on how to find good hospitals. I hope you’ll never need it, but in case you get sick, you will be very happy you have it.

#3 Ireland is a great destination in February

Green coast in Northern Ireland

Since I switched jobs in March, I still had to take some holidays in February. Daniel and I discussed for a while about where to go and finally decided to fly to Ireland. And it turns out that Ireland in February is beautiful! Sure, the weather was sometimes rainy and moody. But the landscape is incredibly green. The Irish countryside is so much more beautiful than the German one in winter, where everything looks brown and depressing.

We only had five days in Ireland so we didn’t get to see nearly as much as we would have wanted to see. But it was still an amazing holiday. Plus, February had the advantage that we could avoid the summer crowds. Ireland is one of those destinations where I think it’s totally worth going off-season.

#4 You can do lots of day trips from Frankfurt

Residence of Wurzburg, Germany

In 2019, Daniel and I started doing day trips from Frankfurt. And it turns out that there are many interesting cities and places in the surroundings. We went for a hike to visit three castles and two fairy-tale towns in one day. We visited Wiesbaden and Mainz, both very interesting cities with lots of history. And we even went to beautiful Würzburg, which is one of those student cities surrounded by vineyards.

The great thing is that even though we’ve seen lots of places already, there are many more where I would love to go in 2020. Heidelberg, for example, which is just an hour away from Frankfurt and is known for its beautiful castle. Or Hochheim, a small village near Frankfurt which has many vineyards. I’ve only seen photos so far but it looks amazing.

#5 Strasbourg is a perfect weekend trip from Frankfurt

Traditional houses in Colmar, France

In 2019, for our anniversary, Daniel and I decided to go to Strasbourg.

Have you ever been there? The whole region of Alsace is very beautiful! We based ourselves in Strasbourg and went to Colmar for a day trip. I haven’t written about it yet but stay tuned for my report of all the beautiful things you can do there. Both Colmar and Strasbourg are so beautiful that they almost seem unreal.

And here’s a funny thing I discovered about the region. We went to a regional museum and many of the things there looked very familiar. I had already seen them at my grandma’s house. The cake and cookie moulds as well as some of the crafts, for example. My grandma is not alive anymore so I cannot ask her about it. And I know in fact that her dad was from Northern Bavaria. But maybe they share some cultural similarities. Or maybe, at one point in my family history, I’m going to find some connections there.

In any case, Alsace is a stunningly beautiful and culturally rich region that you should visit.

#6 Maintaining a travel blog is hard work

Especially while working full-time. Ever since my trip around the world ended, I had to juggle my full-time job and my blog. And I think I was fine until March 2019, when I changed jobs. I rarely talk about it on this blog, because that’s not what it’s about, but I want to give you a bit of my background story here. After studying medicine at university, I decided to become an anaesthetist. It’s a fun job. But the working hours are very demanding and it can also, quite frankly, become a bit boring. So I started looking for alternatives and finally found one in March.

I am now working in research and development for a pharmaceutical company and my job is so much more fun. It’s more diverse and more challenging. And I’m learning new things every day. But as much as I love it, it took a lot of getting used to. The work was very different from what I had done before and I was learning constantly. So in the evenings, when I came home, I was too exhausted to write on my blog and I rarely posted anymore.

Now that I’ve gotten settled, I’m hoping to get back into my blog and post more regularly. I have so much catching up to do! There are so many beautiful places that I visited in 2019, and I owe you posts for all of them. Bear with me, and you will see them pop up over the next weeks and months. I can’t wait to write more!

#7 I need to go back to Lake Como

Colourful houses on Lake Como, Italy

Whenever I travel, I think about how I should go back to places. There’s never enough time and there are always lots of things I’m missing out on. And it doesn’t even matter how long I’ve spent in a place! Think about Frankfurt, for example. We have been living there for a year and a half and I still have plenty of things that I would like to do.

But while I feel that I have to go back to every place I’ve visited, Lake Como is very high on my list. I was lucky enough to spend Easter in Milan with my family and we did a day trip to Lake Como. The region is absolutely beautiful! I really loved the dark blue of the lake, with the mountains in the background. And don’t get me started on the villages. Those tiny villages around Lake Como are insanely photogenic. I would love to stay in a small pension in one of them so I can wake up in the mornings and go for a walk along the lakeshore. And then I’d spend my day lazing around in the sun, eating ice cream and taking thousands of pictures.

#8 Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places

Zeche Zollverein, Essen, Germany

I always knew that one. I like to visit less touristy places and try to find beautiful places there. In 2019, I actually discovered a beautiful place close to where I grew up.

I was born in the city of Duisburg, in Germany’s most industrial region. In the evenings, the sky would turn red from the factories melting steel close to our house. The whole region was known for its coal mines and its industry. But over the past decades, as the coal mines closed one after another, the cities have come to recognise the value of tourism. Many of those industrial regions are now tourist centres. One of them, and maybe the most famous one as it was recognised by Unesco as a world heritage site, is Zeche Zollverein.

Zeche Zollverein is a former coal mine and it’s amazing. The buildings have been turned into a museum, with exhibitions about the history of the whole region and the coal mines. But what’s even more fun is joining a guided tour and going into the complex where they used to process the coal. And they even offer tours in English, in case you want to go.

Zeche Zollverein might not be beautiful in a traditional sense of beauty, but it was a really good place to visit and I’m glad we went there.

#9 Business travel is fun but very different

Skyscrapers in Houston, Texas

When I was younger, I had always dreamed of a job that would allow me to travel. I saw myself going around the world, visiting fun destinations, with all expenses paid by my employer.

I probably shouldn’t have studied medicine if my goal was to go around the world. During my time working in a hospital, I was allowed to go abroad for a congress once. But I had to beg for it and pay for everything myself.

Now that I’ve changed jobs, I went on my first proper business trips and I was very excited. I got to spend a day in Poland and two days in the US. And you know what I learned? Business travel is fun, but it’s also very different. In fact, it is far more exhausting than I would have thought. In Krakow, I was lucky to have a whole evening to walk through the city. Same in Houston, but due to the jet lag, I fell asleep before I could see much.

There’s something I really like about business travel, though, and that’s interacting with the locals. It gives great insight into how business is done in other countries. And I discovered a great website, Travel After Five, which has information on sightseeing for business travellers. It’s a great resource for figuring out which attractions are open in the evenings when business is over. You should check out my guest post about Frankfurt!

#10 Romania is stunningly beautiful!

Bran castle, Romania

Did you know that Romania is absolutely stunning? Now that I have regular working hours, I also have the advantage of long weekends. And in Germany, we have lots of them in late spring and early summer. Daniel and I took advantage of one of them to go to Romania.

Romania is stunningly beautiful. I knew that it had beautiful nature. But the country is also filled with gorgeous cities. Unfortunately, we only had four days, which was barely enough to get a rental car and drive around. But those four days were amazing and I would love to go back one day.

And now for 2020…

Of course, we already have a few plans for 2020. In February, we are going to the Baltics! It’s a trip that I’m very excited about as my grandma’s grandmother grew up in a region that now belongs to Lithuania. Plus, I’ve heard great things about the Baltics and I’m looking forward to the snow.

Besides that, as I already mentioned above, there are a few places around Frankfurt that I would love to go and see. And my parents invited me for a weekend trip to Berlin, so I think that’s going to be fun.

We have also been talking about going to Belgium with friends, as it’s really close and I would love to visit while we still live in Frankfurt. But I’m sure that’s not going to be all. As the year goes on, we are going to plan many more trips and see more of this beautiful planet.

But enough from me. What about you? What are your lessons learned in 2019 and where do you really want to go in 2020?

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Ilona is a world traveller passionate about sharing her experiences and giving advice to fellow travellers. Having visited over 70 countries, she is always excited about her next trip.

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