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I traveled to 12 countries in 2016

To some that might sound like a lot, to others it’s nothing. I am currently living the digital nomad lifestyle: my online business allows me to work from anywhere and my passion for seeing the world and experiencing new places makes me travel.

Unfortunately I seem to move country faster than I can write and therefore I haven’t been able to share every destination I visited on my blog.

In this review I want to at least give you a brief description of the places I visited and tell you why you should visit them too (or not…).

1. Spain: Costa Blanca & Valencia

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Spain is where it all started for me: it was my first experience living and working abroad. I moved to Spain right after high school and ended up staying for almost five years. And although it has been a good number of years since I decided to leave and see more of the world, somehow I do keep finding myself traveling back to Spain at least once or twice every year.

The Costa Blanca

I used to live in a small town called Moraira. Moraira is a coastal town situated in the beautiful mountainous north-eastern tip of the Costa Blanca about half way between Alicante to its south and Valencia to its north. It’s a lovely town that attracts a lot of tourists in summer and quietens down in winter.

Costa Blanca (White Coast) refers to over 200 kilometres (120 mi) of Mediterranean coastline in the Alicante province, on the southeastern coast of Spain. It is a popular holiday destination for tourists, because of the great weather and beautiful beaches. The Costa Blanca is family friendly, thanks to the huge range of activities available there from beaches, water sports and golf courses to museums and parks.

Valencia

I visited Valencia because one of my best friends lives there and every time I visit this city I think again “this is a place I could see myself living”.

Valencia is a pretty port city and Spain’s third largest city. It is on the Mediterranean Sea approx. four hours south of Barcelona and three hours east of Madrid. Valencia is famous for its Fallas Festival in March, for being the birthplace of paella, for hosting the 2007 & 2010 America’s Cup, and for the massive architectural project by Santiago Calatrava called The City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias).

The river Turia ran through the center of the city, but it was redirected a while back and replaced by a beautiful park.

Why visit Spain’s Costa Blanca & Valencia?

The Costa Blanca is a great area to visit if you enjoy picturesque small towns, beautiful beaches and a comfortable climate.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Yes, and that is the only downside: you are not the only one who thinks so! The Costa Blanca is very popular with both tourists and foreigners (mainly Europeans) who choose to move to this area, either full time or part of the year, to enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle. So if you don’t enjoy large numbers of tourists I recommend avoiding high season (July and August) and if you can’t stand to see how the British, Germans, Dutch and other nationalities have introduced their own restaurants, bars and shops into Spanish society, then you might want to avoid this area (and most of the Spanish coast) altogether. Compared to other parts of Spain though the Costa Blanca has kept a lot of its charm and places like Moraira, Javea and the historic center of Altea are well worth a visit in my opinion! Or head inland to enjoy more traditional Spanish villages.

Valencia is quite a contrast to this: although it attracts its fair share of tourists as well it manages to hold on to its Spanish traditions much better. With a beautiful historic center, great restaurants, good nightlife, culture and beautiful beaches I highly recommend visiting Valencia!

Also read:

2. St Maarten, Caribbean

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I lived on the Caribbean island of St Maarten twice. And although I kept finding a reason to move away (island fever?) I also seem to keep finding a reason to come back. This time it was to visit friends.

St Maarten comprises two separate countries on one tiny island: the northern part, called Saint Martin, is French and the southern part, called Sint Maarten, is part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands.

The island is home to both busy resort beaches and secluded coves. It’s known for fusion cuisine on the French side and vibrant nightlife and duty-free shops selling jewelry and liquor on the Dutch side.

The French side has a more genteel ambiance, more fashionable shopping, and a Continental flair. The Dutch side tends to be less expensive, has casino hotels, and more nightlife. Water sports such as diving, snorkeling and sailing can be found on both sides of the island.

It’s easy to while away the day relaxing on one of the 30+ beaches, strolling the boardwalk of Dutch-side Philipsburg, or exploring the very French town of Marigot.

Why visit Sint Maarten & Saint Martin?

If you are looking for a lively Caribbean island with a lot to offer, this is the place to be!

I personally love the unique mix of these two countries on one island: the French side is so distinctly different from the Dutch side. On the Dutch side you will find a lot of American tourists and a lot of “simple fun”: happy hours, lively bars, water sports, touristy shops, flashy casinos… And then, in just a short drive (no more than half an hour from anywhere on the Dutch side if traffic isn’t too horrendous) you find yourself on the more quiet, more stylish French side with its impressive restaurants in Grand Case and expensive shopping in Marigot.

If you are looking for a lot of culture this might not be the place for you but if you love water sports, beautiful beaches and a tropical climate as much as I do and are looking for a lively destination with enough to offer to create a fun filled trip, then St Maarten is the place to be!

Staying on the Dutch side is, in general, more affordable and December is peak season and therefore the busiest and most expensive month.

Also read:

3. Panama: El Valle de Anton

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Panama was one of the more unusual trips I have taken recently: I was flown here for a job interview and taken straight from the airport to an incredible house in a small town called El Valle de Anton.

Panama is a country in Central America with coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean.

The ease of travel and wide array of experiences make Panama one of the most attractive emerging tourism destinations in the world. In just a week visitors can enjoy two different oceans, experience the mountains and rainforest, learn about native cultures and take advantage of vibrant urban life.

Why visit Panama?

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see much of Panama because my sole purpose here was the job interview but the bit I did get to see and the people I met definitely make me want to go back some day to see more!

Also read:

4. France: Epernay, Champagne region

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Only a five hours drive from where I grew up yet I never knew there was one street in a small town where most of the world famous champagne brands are located.

So, once one of my oldest friends and I found out, we booked a hotel, got into the car and set off to see this apparently famous street…

Epernay is the self-proclaimed “capitale du Champagne” and home to many of the world’s most celebrated Champagne houses.

Champagne, lying to the east of the Paris region, is one of the great historic provinces of France. Champagne used to be one of the great regions of Europe, a rich agricultural area that was famous for its fairs. Today, thanks to a type of sparkling wine to which the region has given its name, the word Champagne is known worldwide – even if many of those who know the drink do not know exactly where it comes from.

Why visit Epernay and France’s Champagne region?

Epernay is the best place for touring cellars and sampling bubbly.  It’s a cozy little town with a good number of restaurants and plenty of hotels to suit all budgets. The town also makes an excellent base for exploring the Champagne Routes.

Also read:

5. Montenegro

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I have to admit I didn’t know anything about Montenegro before I traveled there. I was invited to visit a new coworking & coliving space in Montenegro and thought: why not, it’s a place I would probably never have visited otherwise!

Montenegro is a country in the Balkans, on the Adriatic Sea, with rugged mountains, medieval villages and a narrow strip of beaches. The Bay of Kotor, resembling a fjord, is dotted with coastal churches and fortified towns such as Kotor and Herceg Novi. Durmitor National Park, home to bears and wolves, encompasses limestone peaks, glacial lakes and 1,300m-deep Tara River Canyon.

Why visit Montenegro?

Montenegro is beautiful! It’s without a doubt the country that surprised me the most this year.

Montenegro’s tourism suffered greatly from Yugoslavia’s civil war in the 1990s and has only recently begun to recover. Montenegro is being re-discovered by tourists from around the globe and therefore I highly recommend visiting sooner rather than later. Compared to neighboring Croatia it is still not too overrun by tourists and still feels authentic. It’s a beautiful, diverse country offering beautiful historic sites, incredible nature, numerous outdoor activities, good restaurants and a wide range of accommodation options. Plus, it is still incredibly inexpensive!

Also read:

6. USA: San Diego & Big Bear Lake

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I initially traveled to San Diego to visit a friend and then fell in love with this place and have traveled back many times since.

San Diego

San Diego is a city on the Pacific coast of California known for its beaches, parks and warm climate. San Diego is California’s second largest city and is located on the border with Mexico.

Immense Balboa Park is the site of the renowned San Diego Zoo, as well as numerous art galleries, museums and gardens. San Diego’s harbor is home to a large active naval fleet, with the USS Midway, an aircraft-carrier-turned-museum, open to the public.

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake is a low-key, family-friendly, four seasons resort community surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest, about 100 miles (160km) northeast of Los Angeles.

It is a small city along the south shore of Big Bear Lake, popular for water sports.

Why visit San Diego & Big Bear Lake?

Many travelers skip San Diego because it doesn’t have the popularity of Los Angeles or San Francisco. And I agree, if you only have limited time, you might want to stick to the first two but if you are not in a rush to only tick off boxes and see the places everyone knows about, San Diego really does have a lot to offer!

With beautiful beaches, very diverse neighborhoods, arts, events, a good food scene and a nearly perfect climate, this is definitely one of the best cities I have ever been to!

Big Bear Lake is simply adorable. If you need a break from hectic city life in Los Angeles or San Diego, this is the place to go! Whether in summer for hiking and biking or in winter for skiing, Big Bear Lake is the perfect spot to get away from it all.

Also read:

7. Mexico: Tijuana

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While in San Diego I took several day trips to Tijuana.

Tijuana is the dominant focal city of Northwestern Mexico, in Baja California, Mexico and right across the border from San Diego.

The city has grown from a small border town with a salacious reputation during the Prohibition Era in the United States into a large, modern city with a sizeable middle class. Tijuana’s proximity to the United States, along with Rosarito, has made the two adjacent cities a very popular tourist destination, especially for day-trippers from San Diego.

Why visit Tijuana?

If you are traveling from California to Mexico, Tijuana is the first city you will get to. It’s not the prettiest of cities and I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time here but if you, like me, enjoy easy access to different cultures Tijuana is the perfect place for a day trip from San Diego.

You can just walk across the border right into the touristy center of Tijuana.

Enjoy cheap beer, delicious tacos and buy some tacky souvenirs on Avenida Revolucion.

But if you want to get a real taste of Mexico, spend just a day or so in Tijuana and then continue on further into the country.

Also read:

8. Indonesia: Java & Bali

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I traveled to Java to attend my uncle’s wedding and decided to combine that with a visit to neighboring Bali. Although I did make it to Bali I ended up missing the wedding on Java because I contracted dengue fever and spent the rest of my trip in a local hospital.

Java

Java is a volcano-dotted island that’s at the geographic and economic center of Indonesia and home to more than half its people. Java is one of the most populated places on this planet.

Java is very diverse: from Southeast Asia’s busiest metropolises with delirious nightlife to the peak of volcanoes, endless rice fields, small villages and an incredible coastline.

Bali

Bali is one of the world’s most popular island destinations. It is known for its forested volcanic mountains, iconic rice paddies, beaches and coral reefs. The island is home to various religious sites. The beachside city of Kuta has lively bars, while Seminyak, Sanur and Nusa Dua are popular resort towns. Ubud, located inland, is known for its yoga and meditation retreats.

Why visit Java & Bali?

Most of my time on Java I spent in a hospital so I don’t feel I got a good impression of the island. The bits I did see were larger cities and, as in many Asian countries, cities on Java tend to be crowded, one big traffic jam and heavily polluted. So I definitely would recommend not spending too much time in cities but visiting the countryside, volcanoes, tea plantations and world famous Borobudur instead.

Most articles you will find about Bali are extremely positive and will make you believe it’s almost paradise on earth. Maybe that’s the reason I didn’t write anything about Bali because I don’t agree with that.

Don’t get me wrong, Bali is a beautiful, diverse island with friendly people. I especially enjoyed Ubud and the easy access to its smaller islands. The rice fields and temples are beautiful and the island offers good (but by no means the best) diving and nice beaches.

Bali unfortunately is also packed with tourists and you will constantly have to haggle to get an honest price for things. So if you are looking for a comfortable, partly westernized island experience with accommodation ranging from extremely cheap to the most luxurious in the world, then Bali is that great, diverse, island destination you are looking for.

But if you want authenticity and enjoy being the only tourist in town… Bali is not the place!

Also read:

9. Dubai

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A friend I once met while living in The Maldives recently moved to Dubai, so that was a perfect excuse to visit this unique city!

Dubai is a city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates known for luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture and a lively nightlife scene.

Dubai is the most modern and progressive emirate in the UAE, developing at an unbelievable pace in the tourist and trade sectors especially.

Famous amongst tourists are the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), the Dubai fountain (the world’s largest choreographed fountain system), the artificial Palm Islands, the indoor ski slope and many other over-the-top experiences.

Why visit Dubai?

I have been to Dubai three times now on three very different occasions: as a two day layover staying with a local couch surfer, as a weekend trip staying in a comfortable hotel and now visiting my friend to see what expat life in Dubai is like…

And I have to say, Dubai is really growing on me! I loved my last visit. Dubai is so much: it is over-the-top luxury, it is modern architecture on steroids, it is a city that wants to be the biggest and best at everything…

And no, Dubai is not just for the rich or for the ones who want to spend a fortune on shopping. You can find great shows and events in Dubai, good quality restaurants, water sports and even a bit of history and culture in Dubai’s Old Town.

Also read:

10. Belgium: Antwerp

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From where I grew up in The Netherlands it takes less that two hours to reach the border with Belgium. Still I hardly ever visit Belgium and can’t say I know many places in Belgium well.

So when my Belgian friend asked me where I would like to meet up I thought it was about time for me to pay Belgium another visit and use this opportunity to really get to know Antwerp, a city my friend spent a large part of his life in.

Antwerp, Belgium’s second largest city, is a port city on Belgium’s River Scheldt, with history dating to the Middle Ages. Its Flemish Renaissance architecture is typified by the Grote Markt, a central square in the old town.

Why visit Antwerp?

Antwerp has an incredibly beautiful train station and pretty architecture in its historic center. It offers great shopping and a good selection of restaurants and cozy bars.

It might not be your first choice when traveling to Belgium but when you have seen enough of Brussels, or if you are leaving Holland to head through Belgium, Antwerp is a good place for a day trip.

Also read:

11. Germany: Trier

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My German friend suggested meeting up in Trier and I agreed, mainly because it happened to be located pretty much halfway between where she lives and where I happened to be staying at the time. And I have to say, it was probably the best city we could have chosen!

Trier is Germany’s oldest city with an incredible Roman history and an astonishing 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city is often referred to as the “Rome of the North” and it contains several well-preserved Roman structures.

It is located in the pretty Moselle (Mosel) wine region, near the Luxembourg border.

Why visit Trier?

Trier is perfect for a city trip! With its incredible and well preserved history, beautiful architecture, good selection of restaurants and small, easy to explore, size it is one of the best European cities I have visited in quite a while.

Also read:

12. The Netherlands (Holland): my home country

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The Netherlands hasn’t really felt like home since I left at the age of 17 but officially it is still where I live and this year I spent a fair amount of time exploring different parts of my own country. Because isn’t that what often happens: we travel the world to discover new places but forget to explore what is closest to us? Well this year I learnt The Netherlands has a lot of beautiful places as well!

The Netherlands (also commonly, but incorrectly, called Holland) is a country in northwestern Europe, known for its flat landscape, canals, tulip fields, windmills, clogs and cycling routes. Amsterdam, the relatively small and pretty capital, is home to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the house where Jewish diarist Anne Frank hid during WWII. Canalside mansions and works from artists including Rembrandt and Vermeer remain from the city’s 17th-century Golden Age.

Its small size, welcoming attitude to travelers and many sights make it a unique and fairly easy to discover destination.

The people, language, and culture of the Netherlands are referred to as “Dutch”.

Why visit The Netherlands?

For such a small county it has quite a bit to offer. Yes, Amsterdam is a must visit and an absolutely beautiful city but there is so much more to see and do. Visit other beautiful cities such as Utrecht, Groningen, Leiden and Vlissingen, check out the windmills at Kinderdijk and for a touch of folklore, see the traditional clothing and fishermen boats in Volendam or Marken.

Also read:

My travel tips:

To book flights I almost always use Skyscanner. Skyscanner includes almost all airlines, is easy to use and generally gives me the best deals. But check out my article 10 Tips on How to Find The Cheapest Flights for more tips.

Hotels I normally book through Booking.com although sometimes HotelsCombined.com offers better deals so I do recommend checking both.

In Europe I often travel (internationally) by train and would then use RailEurope.

Enjoy traveling the world!

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Author: Sanne Wesselman
A traveler, wanderer, digital nomad and entrepreneur. Owner of marketing company A to Z Marketing (Atozmarketing.eu).
I spend most of my time living and working abroad and use this blog to share some of my international experiences and travel tips.

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