And just like that, another year over! 2019 had a lot to live up to after what was an absolutely incredible 2018, where I not only got married, but had the most amazing hen party in Iceland (of all places, there was a good reason for choosing this destination though) and an epic honeymoon in Oman.
However, 2019 has not done so badly, but I definitely did not expect it to turn out the way is has. After loving the intense and fast paced nature of my various jobs in retail logistics for the last seven years, something that I suspect had been building for a while led to me, quite unexpectedly, serving my notice in March.
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A Big Decision
With my focus on getting married in 2018 (the organisation of which was mostly farmed out to my excellent wedding planner, Helaina Storey, without whom I would not have had nearly such an incredible day and would have been much, much, much more stressed out!), I hadn’t realised quite how much my job had taken over my every aspect of my life.
I had very much dedicated my 20s to building my career, which I had successfully achieved and got to where I wanted to be much quicker than I had anticipated, but the side effects of that weren’t doing my personal life any good. The working hours were insane and inflexible and the combination of the career I chose and my own struggles with switching off meant I was always working.
I was a good way off breaking point (and I may never have got to that), but as soon as I realised that work no longer was giving me the buzz it used to, it really seemed pointless to continue.
Virtually everyone was quite shocked as I have always been a “worker” and they couldn’t figure out what on earth I was going to do to fill my day. They were even more dumbfounded when I said I didn’t have another job to go to and wasn’t even planning on looking for one right now.
Luckily, I wasn’t so worried, I have always had a knack for keeping myself busy, and my challenge was actually keeping that instinct under control, as I had just learnt!
The Best Decision
I worked for a further four months in order for my replacement to be trained and recruited before I left and the day after I finished work (which was the most freeing experience ever by the way), Danny and I jumped in the car and drove to Devon to pick up a new addition to our family, our cockapoo Alfie who I love half to death.
I had always wanted a dog, however our lifestyle had just not allowed for it with being out of the house for at least twelve hours day and travelling frequently for work. Alfie was my insurance policy for not going back to that life.
The plan was (because I always have a plan) to spend the next six months chilling out, walking Alfie, Marie Kondo-ing (I LOVE her) my house that had somehow got very cluttered in the five years we have lived here (despite me being a bit of a neat freak) and work on my little side project, this blog.
One problem, this blog, which I had only started two months before I handed my notice in, was about luxury travel. And I had just given up my rather decent pay check. Irony at it’s finest. When we were talking about what lifestyle changes we would have to make before I handed my notice in, we knew travel was by far the biggest thing that we splurged on and was therefore the thing that had to change if we were to go down to one income for a while.
Luckily, I had a couple of trips booked and paid for already, but 2019 was the first year I have ever not been on a long haul flight since before I can remember. I didn’t even go to New York to visit my family, a trip which has always been my number one priority to make every year.
However, I managed to explore a couple of new countries closer to home and deepened my new found love of the staycation.
1. A Cozy Winter Stay at The Lygon Arms in The Cotswolds
We usually ring in the New Year by immediately leaving the country (it’s a great travel day in my experience) to some hot and sunny long haul destination. By coincidence, we ended up not doing this as we had not long returned from our Oman honeymoon and annual leave was tight.
We had Christmas with my family down in Somerset and on our way back to Leicester, stopped for a few nights in the Cotswolds village of Broadway. We had a lovely few nights of drinking wine by the fire, country walks and early nights, a lovely way to start the New Year.
The Lygon Arms excellently combines the rustic, cozy pub vibe with a luxury hotel and is a pretty perfect place to hole up for a winter break.
2. Slaughters Manor in The Cotswolds
I was so apprehensive about this stay! The last time I had been here was the previous October for our wonderful wedding weekend and I thought it might make me sad it was all over if we went back!
However, a couple of glasses of wine persuaded me to take the plunge and book a weekend back there as a surprise birthday trip for Danny.
Top Tip: Slaughter’s Manor have for the past few years run a deal where all bed and breakfast rates are 40% off between January and March if you book directly with them over the Black Friday weekend.
I booked our wedding suite again, the lovely Valentine and it was actually lovely to reminisce about what was just an amazing weekend of our lives.
It also snowed very heavily in the days proceeding our early February visit, so the villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter looked magical.
I cannot recommend this hotel enough for a weekend getaway; my wedding planner and I really put them through their paces and they are just excellent. I interviewed fourteen different venues in the Cotswolds before choosing Slaughters Manor and I am forever glad I chose them.
Side Note: snow is not good in the world of logistics and I spent most of the weekend working. I think this is when we first started talking about “options”.
3. A Spring Stay at Heckfield Place
March brought spring, my impending retirement (as I have referred to my current status as) and a stay at the mysterious Heckfield Place in Hampshire.
Thought maybe to never open, fifteen years of renovation led to the final flinging open of doors a few months before our visit and with a tempting offer in the New Year sales with Mr & Mrs Smith (again, probably after a couple of glasses of wine), I booked our trip there.
I am not sure if I am allowed to say this as a travel blogger, but this is THE best hotel I have ever stayed in. It actually achieved perfection. I genuinely thought my standards were so ridiculously high that no hotel could ever reach perfection. Then I stayed at Heckfield Place and realised I wasn’t crazy and they were in fact, attainable.
Side Note: If I had booked our stay the weekend after, we we would have been there at the same time as Harry and Meghan who had their baby moon here!
4. A Scottish Whisky Tour and a Stay at Gleneages Hotel
My Dad’s side of the family are constantly meeting up for mini adventures, with the epic annual event resulting in us all descending on my poor uncle and aunt’s beach house in New York every summer, the only place that can contain us all!
As we were unable to make the trip this year, we decided to go on their second most important get-together which we hadn’t previously attended; their annual whisky and golf pilgrimage to Gleneagles in Scotland.
This was Danny’s ideas of heaven and I was pretty keen as well; luxury hotel, beautiful countryside and I am partial to the odd whisky too!
The guys played golf while the girls ate afternoon tea, drank cocktails and fell asleep in the spa, I have had worse weeks.
5. A September City Break in Kraków, Poland
I was starting to get cabin fever, I had now gone eleven months without getting on a plane for a personal trip! New record for me, but I am not actually sure I missed it, especially as I was now enjoying retired life.
One of the many upsides of now not being employed was that I could finally go with my Dad to Kraków. He had been banging on about taking me on his favourite European city break for years, but we had never quite managed to make dates work.
It was a glorious trip, the first one I had taken in god knows how long when my work phone wasn’t glaring at me from the bottom of my bag and I could actually focus on where I was. The weather was superb, the destination very accommodating to my new budget conscious lifestyle and do you know how beautiful Kraków is? I certainly didn’t and it was a lovely surprise.
If you want a quieter European city break and love cafés, cocktails and a bit of culture, off you go.
6. An Autumnal Stay at Langley Castle in Northumberland
Another month, another UK staycation! I mentioned before about my family loving a good get together; this one was to celebrate my aunt and uncle’s 30th wedding anniversary (FYI, I have three sets of these on my Dad’s side and this set are a different aunt and uncle from the New York contingent!).
It was actually a really ingenious idea as most of my family only ever go to London for work purposes (myself included at the time), so actually exploring more of what our capital has to offer was a really great experience.
We were therefore massively looking forward to see what they had organised for their latest big anniversary. This time we were at the opposite end of the country in the English county of Northumberland, not far from the Scottish border in the bona fide medieval Langley Castle.
We always have great fun whenever we get together and spent a day at Hexham Races as well as having a fantastic celebration meal in the evening.
Langley Castle is the only genuine medieval castle where you can stay overnight in England and has a rather interesting history. Plus, how many times can you say you got to stay in an actual castle?!
7. Winter Sun in Turkey
My final trip of the year was a sneaky visit to Turkey, where we spent two fabulous days in Istanbul and another five down near Bodrum on the Turquoise Coast.
It was also nice to spend some time just Danny and I, as you may have gathered from the above, we tend to travel in larger groups! Most of the time I actually prefer this as there are lots of different people to spend time with, but we do try and go away on a holiday (rather than just a weekend break) just the two of us at least once a year.
While we loved Turkey and particularly Istanbul, we didn’t quite make the right choice in hotel for our beach portion of the holiday. It was by no means a disaster, but as I’ve said, I have high standards and unfortunately this hotel didn’t quite hit them. When the scenery is as beautiful as it is there though, you would struggle not to relax and let go!
2020 Travel Plans
I’m not quite sure how this has happened, but I have ended up with quite a lot of planned trips! I usually start the New Year off with zero travel plans (except my January holiday) and have a minor panic that I have not been organised enough, but I’ve got the total opposite going on this year.
After writing this list, it has occurred to me that it is not particularly conducive to getting an actual job either (which I am currently putting off thinking about), any employer would run a mile at the amount of annual leave I would need….
1. Knysna in South Africa
As I write this, I am in the midst of a monster research plan for our three week trip to South Africa at the end of the month. We last went four years ago for almost the same time period and fitted in Johannesburg, a safari in Kruger, a Garden Route road trip, the winelands and Cape Town.
It was a busy trip but we fell in love with the country, so are going back to explore at a bit of a slower pace this time.
We stayed in the fabulous Tsala Treetop Lodge during our three night stop in Knysna along the Garden Route and it was so incredibly scenic, we have hired a villa here so we can explore more of it.
I have talked a bit about why I have started converting from hotels to villas in a previous post and I think it will be perfect for the kind of chilled out trip we are planning. I cannot wait to watch the sun set from our balcony with a glass of wine in hand….
2. My Birthday City Break
A friend Emma and I are planning to fly away in March for a few nights to celebrate my birthday (which is actually a couple of days after we get home from South Africa in February). After my fab girls trip to Iceland, I am most definitely looking forward to this one.
I think I know where we are going, but it’s a secret for now!
Danny has announced he needs a golf trip to compensate (cue massive eye roll from me).
3. Another Birthday Celebration in Scotland
Not mine this time! It is my uncle’s 60th (I am not kidding about us loving a good reason to celebrate) and we are spending a week in Scotland, this time up by Inverness.
Whisky, exploring the countryside and golf (the latter not for me though) is all on the agenda and we are moving around a bit and staying in a couple of different hotels.
4. Summer Holiday to the Hamptons in New York
After skipping New York last year, I am determined not to do the same again this year. It is getting increasingly difficult to all be in the same place at the same time due to our conflicting schedules, of which there is fourteen of us to accommodate! Wish us luck….
5. Another Summer Holiday to Cyprus
Yes, we are all obsessed with going on holiday together, however this one is with my Mum and her side of the family! Time for another villa I think!
I have never been to Cyprus before, but have heard great things about it so am looking forward to exploring what will be a new country to me. Usually Alfie stays with my Mum (who also has a cockapoo three months older than him) when I go away (which I am starting to worry he loves more than being at home with me), so he may have to go into proper doggy day care for this one!
6. My Second Birthday Break: A UK Spa Staycation
My birthday present from my Mum is a European city break for the girls, however I really want my Grandma to come as well, which means we need to go light on the activities.
Over Christmas, we have therefore decided to switch this to a relaxing UK spa break somewhere (I think), suggestions would be much appreciated!
Final Thoughts: My 2019 and 2020 Travel Plans
After an “interesting” 2019, I am very much looking forward to what 2020 will bring. While it appears that my travel dry spell is well and truly over, my challenge for this year will be finding a new career that allows me the change in flexibility and lifestyle that I am after.
I thought the hardest part of my (temporary) retirement was adapting to the necessary changes to our travel plans, however it turns out I am actually quite enjoying it.
I spent years perfecting my “luxury for less” approach to travel and it has only been in the last couple of years that as I was so busy with work, I started going for the easiest and most luxurious option I could find, in the hope I could chill out and unwind a bit. This was quite an expensive way of doing things and I don’t think the most luxurious and expensive holiday in the world could have done much for my state of mind at the time!
With a bit more time on my hands now, I get to take back my own travel planning, which I have always so enjoyed.
Wish me luck and I wish you all the best for whatever 2020 holds for you!