25 (more) experiences I’m going to have before I die … updated!

Three years after first committing this list of my 25 must-do experiences to my hard drive, here’s my light-hearted look at what’s been accomplished, what’s still “on the list”, and what’s been ditched …

Why I put my 25 experiences list in writing

When I was in Bologna, I met Judy. Judy introduced me to the idea of writing down the list of things I wanted to accomplish, to help make it real.

25 experiences before I die

Hiking in the (cloudy) Annapurnas, The Himalaya

I had such a list when I was 14. I’ve since seen the majesty of the Himalaya (that one took 22 years to become reality), scored a goal at Scarborough FC’s now defunct McCain Stadium, and dated a tall, dark and handsome guy. I think I must’ve been sniffing school marker pens when I wrote I wanted to compete in the London marathon.

Still, 9 out of 10 achieved must mean the hypothesis of this entirely unscientific experiment with a sample of 2 (me, Judy) must be true. Writing stuff down helps make it happen. Not least because you’re less likely to forget it.

So twenty-(cough)-something years later, this was my new list …

The ones about new experiences

1. Live in another city or country for at least 2 months – rent a place, shop where the locals shop, absorb the culture, speak – or try to speak – the language.
What I’ve done: I’m currently (December 2017) in Oaxaca, Mexico for three-and-a-half weeks. Half (ish) way there!

2. Climb a volcano
What I’ve done. I kinda did this in Guatemala in 2013, but it was so cloudy I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, never mind that I was on a volcano. So I decided it didn’t count, and I’ll be volcano-climbing in Nicaragua in January 2015 instead. Yay!
What I’ve done: I went volcano-climbing in Nicaragua in early 2015, went up Mount Etna on Sicily in April 2016, and saw first-hand the Colima volcano in Mexico in October 2016. We’ll put this one down as accomplished 🙂

25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - Julie Sykes at Mount Etna crater - The Gap Year Edit

At the top of one of Mount Etna’s craters, April 2016

3. Take the train over the Copper Canyon, Mexico. What I’ve done: Finally ticked this one off in October 2016, and it was worth every penny!

Julie Sykes Copper Canyon train - 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

All aboard the Copper Canyon Railway!

4. Drink a cosmopolitan in a fancy New York bar. I’m good at drinking cocktails. I just need to move the venue from York to New York.
Update November 2016: In light of the US election result, I’ve decided not to undertake any personal travel to the USA for (at least) the next four years. Update December 2017: Nope, still not going!

The ones about learning

5. Become fluent – or pretty much, so I can at least talk around things if I don’t know a word – in another language
What I’ve done: My Spanish improvement was slow, but went up a notch in early 2015 when I went to language school in Nicaragua! In late 2016 I took some private Spanish lessons, which ended when my teacher moved back to Spain – boo! However, I’m now (December 2017) in Oaxaca, Mexico, enrolled again in Spanish language school for two more weeks – hurrah!

reading Hemingway on the Florida Keys - Julie Sykes 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

reading Hemingway on the Florida Keys

6. Read a book by Hemingway. Cos I feel as though I should.
What I’ve done: The Florida Keys were an awesome place to fulfil this one in January 2015!

7. Learn to take fabulous photos of moving water
What I’ve done: Back in March 2015. I got some tips from a photographer guru and put ’em into practice. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to go to Iguazú Falls in Argentina on honeymoon in March this year, and now also own some filters. Sorted!

long exposure photo at Iguazu Falls - Julie Sykes 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

I used an improvised filter to help take this pic – aka my sunglasses 🙂

8. Learn to ride a motor-scooter, so I have options beyond a push-bike on future Asian adventures
What I’ve done: After finding out where to take classes in my home city, Andrew and I decided we’d buy each other lessons as our wedding (yup, wedding) gifts to each other. Update December 2017: We have singularly failed to do this as yet, but it is definitely still a plan for Summer 2018 🙂

The one about love

9. Fall in love … with someone who loves me too. All together now, aaaaahhhhhh!
What I’ve done: After re-joining match.com, reading lots of books women of a certain age read when they are singletons, gone out, got phone numbers; things finally came together in August 2015 when I braved Tinder and met Andrew. We got engaged a year later, and married this February. He’s fabulous 🙂

Outside York Minster in a tuk tuk on our wedding day - Julie Sykes 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

Just Married! We had a quick photo stop after our wedding outside York Minster.

The ones about achievement and challenge

10. Hike more than a week of the Camino de Santiago, Spain
What I’ve done: Sussed out some routes and figured the Portuguese Way from Porto looks good. This is one for 2016 or beyond, I reckon … make that 2018 or beyond 🙂

11. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
What I’ve done:
Er, yeah, not even looked at this one!

The ones about lifestyle and fitness

12. Run 10km in less than 55 minutes
What I’ve done: Ok, this one’s frustrating the hell out of me. After joining the almost-as-cheap-as-chips gym near my house and managing to speed up by a few minutes, I entered a 10k in August 2015, in part inspired by Sir Ranulph Fiennes! My racetime was 55:21 – a race PB but 21 seconds short of my target. Since then, I’ve consistently managed to do training runs around the 54 minute mark, but race times of 56 minutes. Grrrr.

However, a bigger achievement was that, in May 2017, Andrew and I each completed an Iron Man triathlon over the course of the month (2.4 miles/3.86km of swimming, 112 miles/180.25km of cycling, 26.22 miles/42.2km of running), raising >£300 for Macmillan Cancer Support in the process. Meanwhile, the 55-minute 10km running goal WILL be achieved in 2018 🙂

Askern 10k, May 2017 - Julie Sykes 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

May 2017, another 56-minute 10k at Askern (Andrew was a lot faster!), but we raised over £300 in May for Macmillan

 

13. Do a regular yoga practice
What I’ve done: My yoga practice has been patchy, to say the least. I have gone to the occasional class, but occasional is the operative word. Best have a word with myself.

The ones about being creative

14. Design and sell something artsy.
What I’ve done: Yeah, not done that. Yet.

15. Own a Sulca weaving. He’s a weaver based in Arequipa, Peru, who I visited back in 2007. One day one of his works will be mine. One day …

16. Do cool textiles things in Oaxaca, Mexico. Cos I love Oaxaca. And all things Mexico. And textiles.
What I’ve done: Well, I’m in Oaxaca at the moment (December 2017), so that’s a good start! I’m doing a very good job at window-shopping for cool textiles … but this trip’s all about the Spanish.

The ones about how I earn money

17. I will continue to work hard, take pride in what I do, be decent to people no matter who they are, and live my values. How people respond to me is up to them, but I’m hoping it’ll be good 🙂
What I’ve done: I set up my Limited Company, specialising in marketing and communications, back in June 2015, and interesting work is still coming in. I also have some cool business plans to develop in the early part of 2018.

18. Publish a book
What I’ve done: Got an idea, learnt from an author at a book-publishing talk. Not much else.

19. Get a travel / travel-related article published in a national magazine or newspaper.
What I’ve done:
Hmmmm, this one’s not a priority at the moment – one to revisit in the future.

20. Develop sources of active or passive income
What I’ve done: Errr, compiled a reader offer page and included affiliate links (where I get a small commission) in some of my posts. If you want to use them, that would be awesome! I have a few other irons in the fire too – linked to #17 and my business.

The one from Bologna

21. Have the courage to follow and act on my gut feel earlier and not succumb to some British “being polite and nice” thing I seem to do, even when there’s no need. This doesn’t mean be rude to people, rather that I don’t have to extend the hand of friendship to people whose actions deserve only civility.
What I’ve done: Put it into practice in Bologna (and since)

view over Bologna - Julie Sykes 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

Bologna – it’s inspirational just to look at it!

The one about getting up early (I am NOT a morning person)

22. See the sun rise over Bagan, Myanmar.
What I’ve done:
The current treatment of the Rohingya population in Myanmar means this one’s on hold.

The one about development

23. Volunteer abroad for at least a month, in a capacity-building role (not “voluntourism”).
What I’ve done: Since November 2015 I’ve been mentoring young people volunteering in Zambia and Uganda in all things business and marketing, via the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme. I’ve also started volunteering on a local community project in York this year (2017).

The ones about my family

I can’t completely influence these, but I can certainly offer my emotional support:

24. For my Cambodian sponsored child to fulfil his dream of becoming a policeman.
What I’ve done: In September 2015 I learnt that my sponsored child’s family had moved away from the area – I suspect for economic reasons, so I will never know if this one comes to pass. Since then I’ve been sponsoring a little girl in Bolivia.

25. For my mum and dad to go abroad. Neither of them have ever left UK shores. Getting them passports will be a challenge, getting them on a plane nigh-on impossible. I’m thinking Eurostar. Maybe Bruges?
What I’ve done: In hindsight, I’m thinking this “must-do” is more about me than it is about my parents. Mum, frankly, isn’t interested; and I’m not convinced Dad is anymore, either. I’ll play it by ear!

So, there you have it … some progress made in 2017! These experiences have already made my life richer, and I hope some of them have made – or will make – others’ lives even just a teensy bit richer too.

Why experiences are important to me

When originally writing this list three years ago, I was thinking about how my abiding memories have all been about the experiences and feelings I’ve had and shared, and the people I’ve met along the way. They’ve not been about anything I’ve bought, with the possible exception of the hangover I had when I was 19, resulting from the fact I’d bought about 16 vodkas 😉

In my view there’s no need to wait until New Year to make a list of what matters to you. If this post touches a chord, why not write your own list, and – where you can – see what you can do to make it happen …

What experiences have been your most memorable? Have you accomplished something you’d previously put in writing? Will you make your own list? Share your ideas and thoughts below.

How not to spend more than £400 on a mirrorless camera and accessories

“All I want is a half-decent camera that can take great holiday photos, isn’t so big it needs its own luggage, and won’t bankrupt me. How hard can it be to find a camera and some accessories for less than £400?”

mirrorless camera and accessories for less than 400

Read on to find how you can buy a mirrorless camera, camera case, spare battery, SD card, tripod and a range of filters for a grand total of £376.64 (prices on Amazon.co.uk, 19/11/17).

Three years ago, I was ready to upgrade from my trusty little Canon Powershot. I did a LOOOOT of googling. It turned out I needn’t have bothered, as a photographer friend (and finalist in the 2017 Landscape Photographer of the Year competition) answered all my questions at once:

[quote]“Buy yourself the a new Canon EOSM mirrorless camera. You can pick one up for less than £300. There are fancier models out there, but the Canon’s a brilliant deal for what you get – it’s a great little camera. Another mate’s just bought one for his travels after I recommended it: he loves it!”[/quote]

“Ooooooh”, I thought. Trusted recommendation + already happy with Canon + not too bulky + no second mortgage required + sounds like it’s aimed at someone just like me = perfect! The Canon EOSM mirrorless camera it was!

Is the Canon EOSM the best mirrorless camera for less than £300?

I have to admit, I love my little Canon EOSM. I raved about it so much that hubby – a previous DSLR user – sold his DSLR and bought one too! His is the latest version, the Canon EOS M10.

The M10 comes with a 15-45mm interchangeable lens and integrated WiFi and flash. It also has a flip-out screen, which I have to admit I’m slightly jealous of.

best mirrorless camera for less than £300

this is Andrew’s Canon EOS M10, the latest model in the range. Mine’s the earlier Canon EOS M.

Here’s the main features we use on our respective Canon EOSM mirrorless cameras:

  • The good news is, there are loads of settings and adjustments, but you don’t HAVE to use any of them. … the Auto setting is pretty good on its own, particularly for indoor photography.
  • I use the “P” programme setting a lot, especially for landscape photos and in cities.
  • I’m also a fan of the “TVshutter speed priority setting, which is good for ghosty pictures and moving water (a small tripod can help with these – more on that later).
mirrorless camera for travel photography

Slow-moving water, taken with my Canon EOS M mirrorless camera at Iguazu Falls, Argentina. To take this pic, I put the TV setting on a low number for a long exposure, and used my sunglasses as an impromptu filter.

  • Hubby primarily uses the “AV” aperture priority setting so he can control what’s in and out of focus in his pictures (aka depth of field).

We also love that …

  • We get really good pictures
  • Resolution and size of images are great – you can crop to get the same effect as you would by using a larger zoom lens.
  • The integral flash is brilliant (!) on the EOS M10. My older EOSM came with a separate external flash, which I’ve honestly never used. Even at night.
  • It’s not too big!
  • It doesn’t scream: “hello, I have a huge fancy camera. If you’re looking for someone to rob, pick me!”
  • It has a decent battery life. One spare battery is certainly enough for a long weekend with lots of photography. By lots, I mean spending at least a couple of hours every day solidly taking photos (Porto, I’m looking at you!)
  • Accessories are mostly generic and won’t break the bank.

Speaking of accessories …

Our essential travel photography accessories for less than £90

Here are my must-have Canon EOS M / M10 mirrorless camera accessories. They range in price from just under a tenner to just less than £20. I don’t pack for a trip without them!

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Spare camera battery

Does what it says on the tin. A spare battery is highly useful if you’re off-grid for a couple of days, or forgot to pack your travel adaptor.

Camera SD card / WiFi SD card

My Canon EOS M doesn’t have WiFi, so I use a WiFI SD card. However, Andrew’s current EOS M10 model includes integral WiFi, so he has a 32GB regular SD card.

best mirrorless camera accessories - Canon EOSM retro camera case

my retro camera case – rockin’ the 70s vibe

Retro camera case

I’ve gone totally retro with my camera case. I chose this 1970s-style design as it’s snug-fitting, is designed specifically for the Canon EOSM mirrorless camera, and makes it look like I have an ancient camera inside it (read: “if you’re looking for someone to rob, you’d be better off picking someone else. Or, preferably, no-one at all …”)

UV filter

A little bit of kit that protects the lens from scratches and dust. It’s worth spending a tenner on. If it gets damaged, you only have to replace the UV filter, not your whole lens.

Mini tripod

Mini camera tripods these days have bendy legs that yogis would be proud of. I use a mini tripod on self-timer mode when I want to be in the picture myself (when I’m travelling solo), or for pictures of us as a couple. I’ve also used them for night photos and other scenarios where the camera needs to be totally still, like a long exposure water photo.

best travel photography accessories mini tripod

self-timer + mini tripod = pic of Julie & Andrew at the stunning Copper Canyon, Mexico

Filters

I’d always thought filters were for mega-serious photography types. You know, the sort who lie in a field for three hours before dawn awaiting that perfect shot. That’s definitely not me!

In fact, filters can be both cheap and easy to use – the ones I have just screw onto the front of my camera lens.

Graduated filter

best travel photography accessories - graduated grey filter

my graduated grey filter – the best £9.90 birthday present ever!

If you only invest in one camera filter, pick this one – a graduated grey filter. It’s my new favourite piece of kit, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used it since Andrew bought me it for my birthday in July. OK, I can … I’d estimate about 40% of my photos.

I use the graduated filter when I can’t for the life of me work out how to get the right light in my photo – either the sky is too bright or the foreground is too dark. I’ve used it a lot for landscapes like this one …

best travel photography accessories - graduated grey filter

my graduated grey filter in action in Westerdale, North Yorkshire. I’ve got the colour of the sky and the detail of the landscape – hurrah!

Neutral density filters

My other recommended filters are of varying shades of grey to darken the picture (“neutral density filters” in camera-speak – the higher the number, the darker it is). Again, you can use them if it’s really bright, or if you want a really long exposure but don’t want to let too much light into the picture. For the latter, team with the mini tripod.

This may all sound like a lot of kit, but it really is travel photography with minimal gear, as you can see from the earlier picture. You have no fear looking like the BBC’s World Service as you’re out and about, and you won’t be weighed down either.

All in all, it is possible to get this Canon EOS M10 mirrorless camera and accessories for less than £400.

Taking it to the next level: interchangeable lenses for the mirrorless Canon EOS M / M10 camera

Occasionally, just occasionally, we’ve found that the interchangeable lenses you can buy for the Canon EOS M / M10 have been an absolute boon. You can spend a fair chunk of cash on extra lenses (from around £150-£300 per lens), so make sure you’re likely to get good use out of them first!

It’s worth noting that the lens supplied with the Canon EOS M / M10 is really good already, so you might get less use out of additional lenses than you think.

I have a zoom lens, Andrew has a “pancake lens” – we swap them between us as and when we need. We also have a wide-angle lens on the wish list!

Canon EF-M 55-200mm zoom lens

best travel photography accessories zoom lens Canon EFM 55-200mm

Zooming into the village of Staithes, North Yorkshire, with my Canon EF-M 55-200mm lens

On my first trip with my Canon EOSM I went to Nicaragua. If only I’d known just how incredible the wildlife there was … incredibly shy wildlife. A zoom lens would’ve been handy.

I splashed out before my next trip, which was a month-long journey from Budapest to Athens. I used my new spangly zoom lens a total of twice, at Krka national park in Croatia. I’ve had more use from it on a recent trip to the North Yorkshire coastal village of Staithes.

Don’t get me wrong, the Canon EF-M 55-200mm zoom lens is brilliant, when I use it. I just don’t use it anywhere near as much as I thought I would.

Canon EF-M 22mm “pancake” lens

This is Andrew’s lens of choice. It’s a fixed 22mm fast lens, which he uses in low light, for example when inside, at night, or when taking portrait photos. Because the lens has no zoom it fits easily and inconspicuously in his coat pocket, which works well at night when he doesn’t want to carry a man bag around with him.

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Canon EF-M 11-22mm wide-angle lens

This wide-angle lens one’s on my wish list, ‘cos I take quite a lot of landscape pics. Plus, it’ll be ideal for city architecture that’s hard to fit in the frame ☺

Pros and cons of our travel photography gear

For us, this is our essential gear for travel photography. As with any kit, it has pros and cons. Here’s our summary of both …

Pros

  • Neither the mirrorless camera or the accessories are too heavy or bulky to carry
  • Not too conspicuous
  • Takes good photos!
  • Great value for what you get.
  • Will be covered – or very nearly almost covered – through single article limits on travel insurance policies (on many policies this is £250 – check your small print and/or options on your home contents insurance policy)

Cons

  • Neither the original Canon EOS M or newer Canon EOS M10 mirrorless camera has an additional viewfinder. Sometimes I really miss peering into a viewfinder!
  • If you want the extra flexibility of additional lenses, you’ll need to spend more; although many comparable cameras at this budget don’t have the option of different lenses.
  • It’s a relatively entry-level mirrorless camera – its great value for what you get, but some competitors have higher specifications, albeit with a fancier price tag to match.
  • If you’re a pro photographer, you’re likely to want a higher specification. And possibly fancier filters than those costing a tenner!

If you’re looking for a camera and accessories for great holiday photos, I hope this article’s helped you find what you’re looking for ☺

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The stories behind The Gap Year Edit’s twelve top Instagram pictures of 2016

Yup, it’s that time of year again … where I share the stories behind the scenes from your twelve most-liked 2016 pictures from The Gap Year Edit’s Instagram account.

#12. Bamburgh, Northumberland, England

The beautiful beach at Bamburgh, Northumberland - The Gap Year Edit instagram pictures 2016

The beautiful beach at Bamburgh, Northumberland

I got my feet wet taking this picture in May – the beach at Bamburgh, Northumberland. Miles and miles of sandy wonderfulness, with a medieval castle overseeing it all. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone about it!

#11. The Sage Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, England

Sage Gateshead - The Gap Year Edit Instagram pictures 2016

The very shiny Sage Gateshead

This picture from July was taken from the top of The Baltic arts centre, looking out over the banks of the River Tyne. Gateshead – and the iconic Sage Gateshead – sits on the left; the vibrant city of Newcastle on the right. The Sage opened in 2004 and is a celebrated concert and live music venue.

#10. Berlin, Germany

Berlin architecture Karl-Marx Allee - The Gap Year Edit Instagram pictures 2016

uniformly incredible apartments on Karl-Marx Allee

I loved this pic, taken on a July city break to Berlin. It’s of Karl-Marx-Allee, the example of Berlin architecture that made me wonder if Communist-era apartment blocks could actually be the epitome of cool. I wrote about this and other cool Berlin buildings here.

#9. Beningbrough Hall, near York, North Yorkshire, England

photogenic tree at Beningbrough Hall - The Gap Year Edit Instagram pictures 2016

photogenic trees abound in Beningbrough Hall’s parkland

This rather fine specimen of a tree can be found in the grounds of Beningbrough Hall, a red-bricked Georgian mansion 9 miles north of York. Beningbrough makes for a rather fine day out from York by bike, as we discovered in June.

#8. Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, North Yorkshire, England

Fountains Abbey Cisterian monastery - The Gap Year Edit instagram pictures 2016

Ecclesiastical symmetry at Fountains Abbey

Your 8th most liked photo was from my April visit to Fountains Abbey, a former Cisterian monastery located near Ripon in North Yorkshire. There are some rather lovely walks through the gardens, but it was the former abbey itself that got my attention: gotta love a bit of ecclesiastical symmetry!

#7. Berlin, Germany

Berlin panorama Victory Tower views photos - The Gap Year Edit Instagram pictures 2016

Gorgeous uninterrupted views from the Victory Tower

Another shot from Berlin – this time a rather fine view from the Victory Tower, aka the Siegessäule. Try saying that after a few beers! (Confession: I may have been drinking wine in one of the Tiergarten beer gardens before schlepping up the steps to the top of this tower and taking this photo).

#6. Comala, Colima, Mexico

Comala Mexico sunset - The Gap Year Edit instagram pictures 2016

Sunset over Comala, Mexico – magic!

Mexico, god I love Mexico. The sky bestowed upon us the full hue of colourful delights whilst staying in the “Pueblo Mágico” (magical town) of Comala back in October. Pinky swear I’ll finally get round to writing about our trip there in the New Year 🙂

#5. Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire, England

Roseberry Topping Yorkshire - The Gap Year Edit instagram pictures 2016

Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire, complete with a very keen runner!

If you step on it, you can climb Roseberry Topping from car park to summit in nineteen minutes; as Andrew and I discovered in October. You will be knackered by the time you reach the summit, though! The reward all around is stupendous views: this one’s looking back up to Roseberry Topping from one of the many footpaths that criss-cross this northern-most part of the North Yorkshire Moors.

#4. Saltaire, near Bradford, West Yorkshire, England

Saltaire canal reflections - The Gap Year Edit instagram pictures 2016

reflections in the Leeds-Liverpool canal at Saltaire, West Yorkshire

Reflections ahoy in the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, which flows aside the former industrial mill town of Saltaire, near Bradford. The mills that thrived during the Victorian era and beyond are now home to offices and (on the opposite side of the canal out of shot) the wonderful Salts Mill, complete with David Hockney exhibits. We visited on a rather chilly March day.

#3. Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, North Yorkshire, England

Fountains Abbey undercroft - The Gap Year Edit instagram pictures 2016

The undercroft at Fountains Abbey

I had a lot of fun snapping pictures here, the undercroft of Fountains Abbey. Another shot from my April visit, it was quite a feat to capture this scene without hoards of visitors wandering through.

#2. Whitby, North Yorkshire, England

199 steps Whitby - The Gap Year Edit instagram pictures 2016

On the 199 steps in Whitby, North Yorkshire

There’s something magical about the North Yorkshire coast. Whitby’s old town, for example, looms under the shadow of a graveyard and a ruined Benedictine abbey, both inspiration for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. Dress up here in blood-drenched clothing on one of the twice-yearly Goth Weekends and no-one will bat an eyelid. Or, on a brisk March day, take photos looking back down the 199 steps (count ‘em) to the Abbey.

And your favourite Gap Year Edit Instagram picture of 2016 was …

#1. Whitby, North Yorkshire, England

Whitby at Golden Hour - The Gap Year Edit Instagram pictures 2016

Gorgeous Whitby at Golden Hour, your favourite 2016 picture

Yes, Whitby again! The red-tinged daylight of golden hour, just before sunset, had Andrew and I running ‘round Whitby like demons (or Dracula!) possessed. This picture, taken at the bottom of the 199 steps up to the Abbey, captured the moment perfectly.

There you have it. Why not have a read of last years’ favourites? Follow along on The Gap Year Edit’s Instagram for pictures of my mildly adventurous travels from both UK shores and further afield.

Have you ever visited somewhere having only seen a photo? Did it live up to the pictures?

Travel by Instagram: The twelve days of pictures

Yes, it’s a really bad Christmas pun … the twelve days of pictures is here!

We “Travel by Instagram” to get the story behind your favourite twelve photos from my Instagram account in 2015, including the truth of whether I liked the places in the pictures …

Huuuge thanks to my fellow Instagrammers for the likes, comments and follows that made this post possible. If in return my piccies give you even the smidgenest amount of “Travel by Instagram” inspiration, I’ll be – as we say in Yorkshire – well chuffed.

#12. Kotor, Montenegro

Travel by Instagram - Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor as seen from the harbour

The walled city of Kotor looks out onto a fjord-esque expanse of water, and up to the mountains. It’s special. This pic was taken in October in a post-marmalade croissant breakfast state of satisfaction, perched with my feet dangling over the harbour wall.

#11. Budva, Montenegro

Travel by Instagram - Budva, Montenegro

Budva’s old town – its redeeming feature!

My October walk from the gorgeous island of Sveti Stefan (a couple of miles south) ended in Budva. Budva’s home to a rather ugly stretch of built-up coastline, but redeems itself somewhat through its old town, pictured here. I preferred Kotor, though!

#10. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Travel by Instagram - Dubrovnik, Croatia

It was a tad blustery in Dubrovnik during my October visit!

A blustery walk around Dubrovnik’s city walls gave more dramatic photo opportunities than you could shake a stick at, and gave me a very bad hair day. Frothy-topped waves pounded against the rocks and walls that protect this proud city during my visit there in October 2015.

#9. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

Travel by Instagram - Notre Dame, Paris, France

Contemplation in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris

I posted this pic in the wake of the Paris attacks, although Paris is sadly only one of many tragic stories of human atrocity in 2015. Kenya, Nigeria, Iraq … countries where 100s have been murdered or kidnapped without the same level of Western outrage and media attention. I took this pic back in February 2011, when I spent a couple of wonderful solo days in Paris after a work conference.

#8. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Travel by Instagram - Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana. I know. Gorgeous!

Ljubljana, you’re so pretty! One of Europe’s most underrated and difficult to spell capital cities is home to Viennese architecture, some very fine (rarely exported) wines, café culture and a rather fine castle with a nicely flirty calligraphy-writer. It’s the type of place you could take your mum – even mine, who has never set foot outside UK shores. I visited in October 2014.

#7. The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Travel by Instagram - The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The colourful tiles and patterns of Islamic architecture at the Alhambra, Granada

I adore Islamic architecture. Tiles, geometric patterns, colourful tiles, symmetrical water features, cool patios: I am a huge fan, or – as they say in Spain – an aficionado. The architectural legacy of the Moors in Andalucia, Southern Spain, has long drawn me, and I captured this shot on my second visit to the Alhambra in June 2010.

#6. London, England

Travel by Instagram - London, England

London, baby!

I’m not sure if it was the stereotypical scene of British dual icons the red telephone box and the National Gallery which made this picture so popular, but popular it was! It was taken on a culture vulture girls’ weekend in August with my oldest school friend, just before a major downpour!

#5. Puerto Banús, Spain

Puerto Banús is about as far from my typical holiday as is humanly possible. After a week spent hiking and exploring near Ronda in May 2014, I visited for the day to catch up with a friend who was then working in neighbouring Marbella. The glitz, glamour and “look at the size of my engine” Ferrari boys provided visual entertainment for a day, but beyond that it’s the anti-thesis of where I like to spend my holidays. Millions disagree with me 🙂

Travel by Instagram - Puerto Banus, Spain

Glitz and glamour in Puerto Banus

#4. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Travel by Instagram - Placa Street, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Placa Street at sunset. Sigh.

The October sunset view from the city walls into Dubrovnik’s Placa Street was as dramatic as it was perfect.

The wide thoroughfare is a stunning spectacle, albeit one that’s manicured to within an inch of its life, or, as my boyfriend put it,“like Disney”. I loved the time I spent in Dubrovnik, but was happy to ditch its glossy magazine qualities for somewhere (aka Split) that felt more real. It still makes for a good photo, though!

#3. The Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Confession: I didn’t rate the Acropolis. I know, sacrilege. I did, however, adore Athens – bustle, food, arts scene and all. Weird, as I’d expected to spend many happy hours at its most famous landmark, and to feel a bit “meh” about the rest of the city.

Travel by Instagram - The Acropolis, Athens, Greece

The Acropolis. Half-decent picture, but I didn’t love this Greek icon.

What can I say? It was heaving – even on a Tuesday afternoon in late October 2014, overwhelmed by scaffolding, and its neighbouring namesake museum was – in my view – far more interesting. Yup, call the culture police on me.

#2. Lake Bled, Slovenia

Travel by Instagram - Bled Castle, Lake Bled, Slovenia

Light fades over Bled Castle,

Lake Bled is an hour or so on the bus from Ljubljana, a journey I spent chatting to fellow Brit and photographer Simon, who happened to have the seat next to mine. We wandered around Bled Castle, drank copious amounts of coffee, sampled the famous Bled cake (delish) and took a lot of pictures.

This one was an impromptu snap in the late afternoon as we were dashing for our bus.

And the “winner” is …

#1. Baelo Claudia, Spain

Where?

Baelo Claudia sits about 15 miles north of Tarifa, the southern-most point of mainland Spain, overlooking a dramatic beach.

Travel by Instagram - Baelo Claudia, Spain

Baelo Claudia. A photogenic place you’ve (probably) not heard of

I left my fellow yogis (I was on a yoga holiday) on the beach in Conil de la Frontera to take a trip in my super-small hire car to visit this ancient Roman settlement. Stone columns, an amphitheatre, a paddle in the Mediterranean and some rather fine grilled sardines made it a top day out back in June 2012.

I used Canon EOSM and Canon Powershot cameras to take the pics features here. The mirrorless EOSM has bags of features and it’s nice and compact. When I want something even more portable to “snap and go”, I use my trusty little Canon Powershot.

Have you ever taken “Travel by Instagram” inspiration and visited somewhere on the back of seeing only a photo? Have you been to Baelo Claudia?! Share your story below 🙂

Lava, lingo, literature and light – “experiences before I die” progress

The first few months of 2015 have been pretty eventful. I spent two months travelling in Nicaragua, lapping up its spirit and diversity. I negotiated countless chicken buses, and fended off several questions about my solo travel status. I found new contract and freelance work back in the UK. And I met someone I thought I’d connected with, only to see fate have other ideas.

Overall, 2015 has given me a tonne of happy memories.

Many are because I’ve achieved some of my 25 (more) things I’m going to experience before I die. I committed these to paper back in December, and – woo, yay and woo again – progress has been made!

A lava lava action – I climbed a volcano

Nicaragua is home to 19 (count ‘em) volcanoes, so it would have been quite hard NOT to see any whilst I was there. Whilst visiting Volcán Masaya can be done pretty much by driving up to the crater – health and safety laws are a tad different in this part of the world; Volcán Telica near León gave me the chance to hike to the summit and peer into the bubbling lava in the crater below.

Plus, those volcanoes make for some pretty dramatic sunsets. Sigh.

experiences before I did: Volcan Telica crater - volcano Nicaragua

Yup, that is the smoking crater. At Volcan Telica in Nicaragua.

For more, read my post on visiting Nicaragua’s volcanoes without breaking (too much) of a sweat.

Learning the lingo – I became (more) fluent in another language

Ok, so fluent would be a huuuuuugely stretching description of my Spanish language “talents”, but two weeks in language school, followed by independent travel in Nicaragua, helped enormously. At least I can now make a passable attempt at the past tense.

Plus I had a drunken conversation in Spanish at 3am the other Sunday morning after a loooooot of vodka. That counts, right?

For the rest of 2015, going to Spanish Meetup groups will continue. Plus I’m aiming for a trip somewhere Latin America-esque later in the year. There’s still work to do on this one, folks, still work to do…

Classic literature – I read Hemingway on the Florida Keys

Hemingway passed me by at school, so as part of my occasional, “I must read some modern classics” phase (DH Lawrence was a step too far), I decided Hemingway was a must.

And what better place to buy a Hemingway novel than at his former home in Key West, on the Florida Keys?

I read the compelling and descriptively narrated, “The Old Man and the Sea” whilst watching the sunset over the Keys with a glass of wine. A general feeling of “this is the life” ensued.

Letting in the light – I learnt to take photos of moving water

Turns out you use the camera’s “TV” setting and turn the number down a notch. Who knew? I’m gonna pretend this has something to do with “light” (no clue!), cos that’s the only “l” word I could think of for this post title 🙂

The “TV” tip, from a photographer guru, worked a treat on a trip to beautiful Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, and I’ve been putting in into practice since.

I’ve since joined a couple of photography groups on Meetup, so more opportunities to practice (and learn more from other guru types) should ensue…

More experiences before I die

Lava, lingo, literature and light – achieving these four things from my “25 experiences” list has meant I’ve seen incredible sights, embraced a style of learning I usually shy away from, read something I wouldn’t usually have picked up (and loved it), and met some unforgettable people along the way.

Embracing the “do-er” in me has not only given me those wonderful memories, but reinforced in me my famed sense of pride.

And, with several more of my 25 experiences yet to achieve, I know there’ll be many more proud moments and happy memories to follow …

What are you most proud of so far in 2015? Why did it make you feel that way?