In many ways, this was a year of “lasts.” I moved back home after living for 3 years in Europe. So I soaked up my last 9 months of living abroad as best I knew how: traveling and experiencing as much as possible.
I usually put my business first. I get so nervous that it's not going well or that somehow the rug will be pulled out from under me and everything I've worked for will magically dissolve. But this year I decided to take some time to immerse myself in my surroundings. And it's been awesome.
Some years are slow and easy, others are insane and jam packed. This year lands more on the latter. I moved continents, traveled more than I ever had, set up a new life in Texas, and had the best business year of my life.
I'm recapping my year, and below, I'd love for you to include your link of your review of your year!
To kick off 2020 on the right foot, I'm launching a brand new challenge: a 7 day Instagram story challenge starting next week!
This is just for fun, no strings attached, but a great way for you to grow your engagement (and following). You'll get 7 days of promtps, templates, ideas, a hashtag, and engagement strategies help you grow your Instagram story.
Best of 2019
Travel by the Numbers
Continents visited: 3
Countries Visited: 26
Cities Visited: 131 I'm excited because this beats last year! (Yes I count. I'm weird like that).
Best of Travel
I know I say this every year, but this was difficult. So many places bring about so much meaning to me, it's so hard to choose. But since I have to… let's go:
I went to Mallorca on a whim when we found super cheap flights. I had been to Ibiza, and just went to the Canary islands in April (and loved them) so thought another island off the coast of Spain would probably be pretty great. I ended up finding the coolest beach I had ever laid eyes on! People were friendly, Spanish cuisine was delicious, the old town of Palma was beautiful, and the nightlife was fun. What I didn't expect were the tiny hilltop towns that reminded me of Tuscany coupled with ancient Roman ruins. I could go back (and I did again – twice in one year!).
Want to plop yourself in the middle of the ocean and feel like you're in the Jungle Book? Look no further than the well kept islands of the Azores. We visited a tea farm, ate fresh caught fish, hiked to waterfalls in the rain, and went to a thermal spa in a grove of trees.
If you're looking for an adventurous place but you've already been to Iceland, check out the Azores.
Tulips in the Netherlands, Belgium, France
I dreamed about seeing the endless sea of tulips in the Netherlands. It was our last chance to see them while we still lived abroad. After a bit of a mishap we wound up seeing them just as the sun went down. We then traveled throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, and ended in Paris for a few days. It was one of those trips I wish I could relive again and again.
I've always had a soft spot for England. London was the first place I went abroad and I spent so many summers there. But this trip was different. We were spending 10 days traversing the tiny villages of Southern England and I was going to be driving on the wrong side of the road.
What I found were some of the most gorgeous places, beaches that looked like the Bahamas, I stayed in the same manor where Lewis Carrol dreamed up Alice in Wonderland, and I drank 50 cent cider in a damp, dark shed. It was perfect.
I am overly romantic about movies and I felt like I lived out my Pride and Prejudice dreams. I highly recommend you take the same route we did.
Chamonix, Gstaad, Annecy, Lichtenstein, Black Forest
Chamonix is one of the prettiest places I've ever seen in my life. I love Europe, clearly, but seeing a place like this is what dreams are made of. I think my Instagram post best describes this place and this entire tirp, so I'll leave it here:
View this post on Instagram
You know when someone talks about a place, and when you finally go, it’s not as grand as they painted it to be? Chamonix was the opposite. For years, my mom spoke about the illusive snow-capped peaks stretching in to the sky. And when I went for myself I was immediately enthralled. Not only was it mind-blowingly beautiful, the town itself looked like a story book. Complete with old timey art and posters and cafes serving decadent French cuisine. And I also found the best pastry I’ve ever tasted (pic 3), which, if you know me, is really saying a lot. But it was more than just the place, trip itself was fantastic. We drove the 5 and 1/2 hours from Heidelberg and toted the dogs along with us, who happen to be crazy about snow. After spending a week in Chamonix, we went sledding in mile long runs in Gstaad, Switzerland with our bright orange sleds (that we’d later drudge all the way back to America). We then made our way to Annecy, France where I literally ate my weight in cheese. Le Freti is an all you can eat Raclette restaurant and the restaurant owner stayed with us until the place closed. We drove over to the tiny country of Lichtenstein where we had the most magical hike in my life- it was quite literally a marshmallow world of glittering snow. Millie would whimper if we paused even for a moment. We capped off the trip in the Black Forest where we saw a dog sled race (one of Michael’s bucket list experiences.) Looking back on this trip I think to myself: who am I?! We didn’t take this trip for work or pictures or anything other than we wanted to see it. I don’t know if life will always look like this for me so I’m going to soak it up while I can. ?#heleneinfrance
Better yet, here's my full guide to Chamonix.
Hosting a Trip in Italy
It's so funny how you can get a group of women together that have literally never met and become so close you can't even believe it. We laughed until we cried, ate tons of carbs and gelato, drank copious amounts of wine, and made lifelong friends in 7 days. I hosted my second trip in Italy and we went to Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre and I need to host another trip ASAP because I love them so much.
I always love trips when I'm not expecting much and then it totally blows me away. Sicily is absolutely incredible. Divine food, inexpensive, a diverse landscape, awesome beaches, and tons of history. Of course, it has it's Italian charm with stacked cobblestone streets, crumbling buildings, and Roman remnants. But it also has some of the best food in Italy, a secluded island called Favignana, and the best gelato I've ever had. Sicily is so characteristically Italian, yet distinctively it's own. Which is why Italy is so awesome.
We moved home from Germany, back to Texas in style: we took a 7-day cruise from England to New York. We loaded up a comically small European car and drove from Germany to England. We boarded with our 4 suitcases, 2 sleds, and two dogs on to the boat and sailed home.
We then drove for a week from New York to Dallas and stopped along the way. We were greeted by a “welcome home” sign and moved back into our house after being gone for 4 years.
New Mexico/ Colorado
I'm so excited to add a USA place to the list! We took our 15 year (dating) anniversary trip to New Mexico where we spent a week in Taos, Santa Fe, Truth and Consequences (yes, it's a real town name), and Las Cruces.
Then we drove to Colorado where we spent a week with our friends, cutting down a Christmas tree, overeating, and feeding deer. It was one of those trips that made me excited to be back home.
My favorite photo of 2019:
You might look at this photo and think it's nice, but it's not my best. And you'd be right. But that's only because I have a story behind it and because I'm a very sappy, sentimental person. We were on the way to the airport from Heidelberg when I saw that the wisteria had started to come in. We passed by the book store, just one street over from our house and I vowed to come back. Michael warned me that it might not be here when I got back. I ran, got my camera, took a couple pictures, and Michael picked me up on the way to go to the airport. That is such a good analogy of our life abroad. It was extremely fast paced but we managed to fit it all in and still enjoy it.
Michael's favorite photo of 2019:
One of my favorite moments in general of 2019 was getting to work full time with my husband. We've been doing it now for nearly 3 years, but I am so proud of us for continuing it. And his photography skills just keep getting better and better. We took a hike in New Mexico and at the end he took some epic star photos. It's hard to pick a favorite, but this one is pretty awesome.
Worst Trip of 2019
I really didn't like Dubai. I tried to like it. But there were just some things that rubbed me the wrong way. Don't get me wrong, the architecture is outstanding and the hotel we stayed in phenomenal. But it all seems a bit fake.
Last year my goal was to hit 3 million pageviews… and I did it! We came in just at 3 million views for the year! I think it had a lot to do with writing long-form, detailed, and helpful content and keeping my readers in mind. The algorithm may change, Google changes, but I know that my audience is really what counts. I wrote a detailed post on getting and keeping consistent pageviews here.
This blog was featured in Business Insider! This was huge for me and something I'm really proud of. I discussed how I grew my blog and business over the years, as well as where I see it in the future.
My biggest growth of the year was definitely my newsletter. I went from 57,000 subscribers to now over 126,000. I'm so excited to continue growing that platform.
That's a 121% increase! The best way I did this was by putting my subscriber box on the front page and offering something of value to potential subscribers! I also highly recommend using Convertkit. It's the best tool out there, in my opinion, for bloggers. Here's my guide to creating a newsletter.
Top Blog Posts
This is not only one of my most clicked blog posts of the year, it's of all time! I shared free mobile Lightroom presets (as well as free desktop presets) and they were downloaded thousands of times!
Top Travel Guide: I went on full Christmas mode and came out with all the Christmas market themed blog posts. One of my most popular posts/pages was a collection of the best of the best: The Best Christmas Markets in Europe– featuring a guide to my favorites, what to eat, when to go, and how to make the most of your time.
Runner up had to be my Ultimate Guide to Santorini. After going 3 times I finally wrote a post.
Top Life Abroad Post: I wrote a very long and detailed guide on how to move to Germany. It sounds great but it was really for selfish reasons. I get so many emails with people asking for help on moving abroad that I wanted a place where I could direct them that would hopefully answer any and all questions they have!
Top “Blogging” Post: How I Became a Full Time Travel Blogger – sharing the failures and successes it took to get to this point.
Best “Real Life” Posts:
Your favorites: Moving Home After Living Abroad – I've really struggled with moving home. Things have changed in ways I thought they never would (with friends, family, and the life I built up in my head). And whether we are in the same boat or not, it seems y'all agree with me on that.
My favorite: The Art of Fast Living – I laugh sometimes at the pace Michael and I keep when we travel. And although sometimes it's tiring, it's also really fun. And you can sleep when you're dead.
I always have to end the year with my jams! So here were my most played:
Goals for 2020
WRITE MY DAMN BOOK. I was supposed to be done with it by the end of 2019, but life just got in the way. That's an excuse. I know that I could have changed my priorities a bit. I'm about half way done and I need to get my butt in gear and finish.
Travel America! Michael and I are purchasing a travel trailer and hoping to hit the road in April.
Next up, I need to be healthy. Not just what I eat, but mentally too. Taking time to stretch in the mornings, go for a walk, eat foods that will nourish me. The best way I know I can do this is by tracking it. I'm going to be doing WW (Weight Watchers) and sharing my journey on Instagram. I'm nervous, but excited. Holding myself accountable in a big way this year.
A brand new course. I have for years taught blogging and social media. But I haven't done it consistently every year, and I'd like to change that. I really love courses myself and I have a few of my own, but I'm ready to come out with a new one that will help you grow in the future.
Lastly, to tell more stories. Sometimes I write captions or blog posts because I think they might “do well.” But I want to tell tales and things that happened. I know that might not always do the best, but it makes me happy.
*If you drop your link below PLEASE include a link back to this blog so others can find the link up!
Lastly, to kick things off for the new year. I'm hosting a fun 7 day Instagram story challenge to help you grow your engagement, following, and create a community.
Come join the 7 day Instagram Stories Challenge here!