Last Updated on November 23, 2021 by Nellie Huang

A look back at my 2019 in photos: 20 countries across 5 continents.

Again the year has flown by with the blink of an eye! As some of you may know, 2019 hasn’t been the best year for me. All these years of intensive travels finally caught up to me. I suffered from a severe burnout this summer and it really had a bad impact on my mental health. I ended up cancelling many trips for the second half of the year, to slow down and decompress.

Staying put in Amsterdam was definitely the break I needed. Seeing friends often and picking up hobbies like rowing and painting helped me get back my sanity. Now I’m a much happier person and am ready to take on more in the new year!

Career wise, I hit a major milestone this year. My second book got published and it’s now sold in bookstores all over the UK, US and Canada! Explorers is a kids’ book about the world’s greatest explorers, and I’m incredibly proud of the results.

Here’s a look at where I went in 2019 and what I got up to:

2019 in photos

2019: My Year in Photos

January: France & Spain

We kicked off the new year in Paris, the City of Lights for a short 4-day trip to see Paris in winter and show Kaleya Disneyland. I’m still not a fan of Paris after my third visit, but it was cool to see my daughter Kaleya all wide-eyed and bedazzled by Disney.

A few days after, we headed back to our second home, Granada in southern Spain, to celebrate Three Kings Day (Dia de los Reyes). It’s Alberto’s favorite time of the year and it marks the end of Christmas for us. It was great to spend time with our Spanish family and have some down time.

2019 in photos - Paris France

February: Singapore & the Philippines

Not long after, Kaleya and I flew to Singapore to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. Despite having left Singapore over 15 years ago, Singapore is still home and it’s where my roots are. We indulged in all my favorite Singaporean food and had a great time hanging out with family and friends.

Since we were in southeast Asia, I took the opportunity to revisit Boracay with Kaleya. I’d traveled Boracay 10 years ago (before it became overcrowded with tourists), I was curious to see if it’d changed after being shut down due to overtourism. I was impressed by the government’s effort in cleaning up the island and the conservation laws put in place (eg. no plastics anywhere on the island).

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February: Estonia

Shortly after we returned to Amsterdam, our family took off to Tallinn, Estonia , for an extended weekend trip. I’d been wanting to go to Estonia since reading about its historical capital city. Tallinn definitely didn’t disappoint, with its whimsical 0ld town and charming cobbled streets. It felt like the backdrop of a fairytale or Hans Christensen story, thanks to all the snow and icy frost at this time of the year.

2019 in photos - tallinn estonia

March: Chile

A few weeks after Estonia, it was time for my much-anticipated solo Chile trip. Visiting Easter Island was truly a dream come true: the Polynesian island was so spectacular and its history deeply intriguing. From there, I flew to mainland Chile to meet up with one of my best friends, Melinda. We traveled together in Patagonia and had a blast hiking in Torres del Paine, with a day trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. I absolutely loved Chile and definitely hope to spend more time in South America next year.

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2019 in photos - Easter Island

March: Morocco

As a birthday present to Kaleya, I took her to Morocco for a Sahara Desert Tour and we had a blast! I had NO idea Kaleya would love the Sahara as much as she did. It was a giant playground for her —  the endless space made her feel free and she just couldn’t stop running up and down the dunes. This was also my 4th trip to Morocco and I was still impressed by how much there is to see in the country. I definitely highly recommend a trip to Morocco with kids as it’s got all the elements adventurous families look for.

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2019 in photos - morocco

April: Greenland

Right after returning to Amsterdam, I headed far north to Greenland with a TV production crew from Asia. I traveled Greenland last year with the tourism board and loved my time there. So when my producer friend asked if I was interested in working as a fixer/researcher for them, I said yes right away! It was definitely a lot of hard work, but I love Greenland and would take any opportunity to return! 

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2019 in photos - greenland

April: Panama & Costa Rica

Our family vacation in Costa Rica and Panama was definitely my favorite trip of 2019. Costa Rica is the perfect destination for active families and we were all impressed by the wildlife and fun adventure activities on offer there. There are outdoor adventures in every shape and size — from the squeal-inducing rush of a canopy zipline to hiking up volcanoes.

Visiting Panama with kids was also great fun and and it involved lots of time under the sun and in the rainforest. We particularly liked sailing the San Blas Islands, stopping at castaway islands and swimming amidst starfish and turtles. The remote islets are seriously the closet place to paradise and we were glad we experienced them before they get discovered by mass tourism.

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2019 in photos - Costa Rica

2019 in photos - San Blas islands

May: Italy + San Marino

In May, I did the Path of Gods trek in Italy,  in collaboration with Emilia Romagna Tourism. The 135-km trail is an ancient route connecting Bologna to Florence through the Apennines mountain range in northern Italy. It was a great way to see the backroads of Italy and get the authentic experience. I was really impressed to find charming villages, historical treasures and beautiful mountains — free of tourists!

After my trek ended, Alberto and Kaleya came to join me in Italy and we spent a week exploring Cinque Terre and San Marino. Italy was as charming as ever and so was San Marino (an independent landlocked nation located within Italy). We definitely enjoyed the incredible food and stunning coastal views all over Cinque Terre.

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2019 in photos - Path of Gods

2019 in photos - San Marino

June: Senegal

Next up was another solo adventure around Senegal, my country #138. Senegal had been under my radar since my first trip to West Africa. It turned out to be really colorful, vibrant, and easy to explore. I spent one week in Senegal and got to explore three areas: Dakar, Saint-Louis and the Langue du Barbarie National Park. I was very surprised by how accessible it was (flights from Europe are only 3.5 hours long and I didn’t even need a visa!) and how much there was to see in the country.

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2019 in photos - senegal

July: Singapore & Thailand

With summer in full swing, I headed back to Singapore for the second time this year for a family reunion. My sister was bringing her son back for summer and it was a rare chance for our kids to hang out. I took the opportunity to bring Kaleya on a beach vacation in Thailand. Our resort on Koh Yao Yai was incredible and both Kaleya and I loved it.

But it was also during this trip when I was hit by anxiety and stress. The excessive traveling over the past few months finally took a toll on my health. My panic attacks were so bad I had to be sent to the emergency room. Thankfully I was well enough to fly back to Amsterdam and get proper treatment at home.

2019: My Year in Photos

July: Spain

By July, I was burned out and honestly tired of traveling. But we stuck to our original travel plans anyway and went back to Granada for the second time this year, to see our Spanish family. We also went on a family beach vacation to Marbella and it was great having some down time and just relaxing by the pool, with no deadlines or urge to explore. 

August: Bulgaria

Next was a media trip to Bulgaria. I had been to Bulgaria previously, but never to Varna, so when the newly opened Neofit Rilski Historical Park invited me, I agreed and brought Kaleya with me. I was glad I went back, despite my condition.

The trip rekindled my love for the underrated Balkan state. Bulgaria is a beautiful country packed to the brim with rich history and culture, and a tinge of Soviet edginess that you just can’t find in western Europe. It’s also easy on the pocket and chocked full of charming old towns.

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2019 in photos - bulgaria veliko tarnovo

September: London, UK

My second book, Explorers, came out in September and it went on sale in bookstores all over the UK and US. Read more about my book Explorers here. I flew to London with my family to see it in book stores. It was incredible and emotional to see my book in stores. I felt so grateful to have been chosen to write the book and extremely thankful to the amazing team at DK Books for putting it together. 

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2019 in photos - Explorers

October: Japan

In October, I went on a fun and intense media trip with JR East to explore Japan off the beaten path. This was my third trip to Japan and it showed me the lesser-known areas that are free of crowds and just as beautiful. We traveled the Northward Golden Route, through the Saitama, Gunma, and Niigata Prefectures.

 In just five days, I had so many different cultural experiences: from traditional ceremonies at Shinto shrines to sake tasting; learning about the daruma from monks to strolling through onsen towns; even ziplining and SUP in the forests and lakes.

2019 in photos - japan off the beaten path

December: Germany

We’ve just returned from a weekend trip to Cologne, Germany, and it definitely got us in the festive mood! Christmas markets in Germany are the best and we are lucky to live near many of them. We visited several Christmas markets in the Netherlands this month, but honestly none of them compare to the Cologne Christmas market.

There was so much magic and grandeur in the Christmas market, from the wooden Nutcracker to the Nativity scene and giant pyramids. We also had our favorite traditional German foods like the Lebkuchen Christmas cookies, bratwurst (grilled sausage) and glühwein (hot mulled wine).

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2019 in photos - cologne christmas market

December: Kenya & Seychelles 

Our last trip of the year is one I’ve been looking forward to most. We will be going on safari in Kenya, specifically Masai Mara and Nairobi National Parks.  It’ll be my second time in Kenya and we’re revisiting my favorite Masai Mara so I’m sure it’ll be good.

Then we’ll be spending 10 days island-hopping and chilling on the beaches of Seychelles. I’ve wanted to visit Seychelles since spending our honeymoon in nearby Mauritius and Madagascar. Our Seychelles itinerary is set to be very relaxed and we’ll be exploring three islands while we’re there. I can’t imagine a better way to end the year and ring in the new one!

2019 in photos - african safari

What’s Next?

The end of the year is always my favorite time of the year, as it’s Christmas AND it’s travel planning time. I always make use of the Black Friday travel sale to book trips for the new year, but this time I’m trying not to plan too much travels to avoid burnout.

2020 still looks pretty exciting for me. I’ve already planned these few trips: a road trip in Provence, Easter in Egypt, a summer trip to the Galapagos Islands and solo jaunts to Eritrea, Sudan, Djibouti and Niger.  

Here’s wishing all a fantastic 2020 filled with adventures and meaningful experiences!


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2019 in photos


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