Photo Story: 2012 Travel Highlights

As the end of 2012 approaches, the annual reflection activities start to resurface as people count down their favourite TV shows, sporting moments, number one songs, travel destinations, favourite movies, top  games…the list goes on.

“When you can’t beat them, join them.” 

As I shared my travel experiences with friends and family throughout this year, I was often asked “are you ever at home”?  And whilst 2012 certainly felt like that at times, it was actually the first year since 2008 that I only took the holidays other employees in the UK are entitled to.  There was no career break in 2012 and there was no two month waiting period between projects at work.  2012 was going to be a tough year to balance my desire to travel with my need to earn a living.

Or was it?

2012 was a great reminder to me that it is possible to satisfy a travel hunger without giving up your job.  Of course, the irony of that sentence is that I am beginning 2013 by leaving my job for a year of travel…but that is another story!

So here we go…drum rollthe countdown of my top ten travel highlights of 2012.

10. Vilnius, Lithuania

Easter provides a great opportunity for a European city break and after enjoying a long weekend in Tallinn, Estonia the previous year, I decided to return to the Baltic Region.  Recent cold weather and snowfall created a picturesque backdrop to an already pretty city and I made the most of Vilnius’ compact size by exploring it on foot.  Visiting a catholic city at Easter meant I had the streets to myself on Easter Sunday as the churches overflowed with locals celebrating the annual holiday.

I enjoy city breaks but I don’t love them, so the highlight of the weekend was the day I jumped on a public bus and rode with the locals to the nearby town of Trakai, famous for the castle that creates a fairy-tale atmosphere in this lakeside location.

Trakai Castle, Lithuania

9. Palm Springs, USA

For the first half of 2012, my work commitments required me to endure a crazy monthly commute between LA and London.  Despite being in a permanent state of jetlag and not a fan of LA, it did mean I had one weekend a month to explore some of the USA.  Not having driven on the right (“wrong”) side of the road before, I spent my first weekend in San Diego, chosen simply because it was easily accessible by train.  Whilst it was a pleasant weekend, I soon realised I needed to get on the road to really enjoy some of the great outdoors that the USA is famous for.

My first attempt at driving on the opposite side of the road was Palm Springs.  A day trip to Joshua Tree NP put enough miles on the car to eliminate my nervousness and I started to enjoy a truly beautiful part of California.  Joshua Tree’s desert, the stunning Palm Springs sunrises, captivating views from the Aerial Tramway and hiking in nearby Indian Canyon provided a great weekend escape from LA.

Palm Springs, USA

8. Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Anyone who has worked in the accounting/finance function of a business will appreciate the frustration of not being able to take holidays over the Christmas period.  I have shared this frustration since 1996 but a recent move into consulting/project work created a new travel window for me.  After spending last year’s Xmas back home in Australia, I broke up the long flight home to London with a week in Malaysia in January.

Malaysia is often overshadowed by its Indochina neighbours and although I spent some time in Borneo during my career break, I never made it onto the peninsula.  Balancing the need for some R&R with the desire to explore some of the country, I found myself in the Cameron Highlands, where the tea plantations seem to roll out a green carpet over the mountains.  It’s a beautiful part of the country that has the added benefit of providing an escape from the sweltering humidity of KL.


7. Sedona, Arizona USA

After surviving my first attempt at driving on the opposite side of the road in the USA, I was feeling brave and set my sights on Sedona, Arizona.  After a delayed flight from LA and a drive in the dark from Phoenix, I miraculously reached my destination and was upgraded to a cabin with a Jacuzzi at the luxurious spa hotel I was treating myself to.  I think they pitied me for arriving on my own, but I didn’t care as I embraced the gesture!

I loved Sedona.  I was captivated by the red sandstone rock formations and couldn’t put my camera down as I explored the area on foot, in my car and on a jeep tour. It was a magical destination perfect for a weekend getaway.

Sedona, USA


6. San Francisco, USA

By July I was becoming incredibly weary with the on-going commute between LA and London.  The novelty had worn off and I was completely and utterly burnt out.  So the thought of spending my birthday in LA was a little depressing.  I was saved by two amazing friends who came to my rescue, flying from London and Vancouver to join me for a long weekend in San Francisco.

I had first visited San Francisco in 1999 and had fond memories of a vibrant, energised, exciting city.  More than a decade later and it didn’t disappoint.  It was a weekend with the perfect balance of exploring the city, great food and drink and awesome company!

San Francisco, USA


5. Yosemite National Park, USA

When I wrote earlier that 2012 was a great example of how it is possible to satisfy a travel hunger with the need to earn an income, I didn’t mention that I had a little help from the Royal Family.  The Queen’s Jubilee added a bank holiday to our calendar and a four day weekend in June was the perfect opportunity for another short travel adventure.

The only problem was that I was due to fly home from LA that weekend.  After feeling a little bitter that I would be spending the long weekend on an airplane and then jetlagged, I resolved the issue with a detour via Yosemite, a location that had been on my bucket list for some time.

Taking the long way home didn’t disappoint as Yosemite is a photographer’s playground.  My only disappointment was leaving Glacier Point to the last day when heavy rain and snow thwarted my plans.  But this simply means Yosemite remains on my bucket list with hopeful return visit at some point.

Yosemite National Park, USA


4. Paris, France

Whilst I much prefer to be breathing in the fresh air of the great outdoors than amongst the hustle and bustle of an urban jungle, there are some exceptions – and Paris is one of them.  Paris is one of my favourite European cities and I’ve visited it a number of times.  When a work trip took me to Amsterdam earlier this year, I decided to get the train back – via Paris.  My focus of the weekend (excuse the pun) was to initiate my new tripod with the night lights of the world’s most romantic destination.

What I didn’t plan for was the sudden cold snap that embraced Europe in the middle of February but as the saying goes “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”.  Being based in London makes Paris an accessible and affordable weekend break and whether it is for shopping, partying, culture or photography, one of the world’s most recognisable cities rarely disappoints.

Paris, France


3. London during the Olympics

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” (Marcel Proust).

London has been my home for the past 12 years, and after spending most of the first six months this year working in LA, I returned home in late July with a renewed appreciation of what I think is one of the greatest cities in the world.

Is including my home on a ‘travel highlights’ list cheating?  Not this year!  In the summer of 2012 London took centre stage as the host of the Olympics and surprised its residents with a personality change.  The trains ran on time, the sun came out, it was no longer illegal to make eye contact with strangers on the tube and strangest of all – the British were winning at sport!

Tower Bridge, London


2. Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye

The downside of sending my Australian passport with my British passport application, as I excitedly embraced my new dual nationality status, was that I was effectively grounded during the process.  But this is how I ended up on a train to the Scottish Highlands where I joined local photographer Glen Campbell on a workshop and tour of his home.

There are some locations in the world that have the ability to drag you into a magical vortex called “the moment” and the Scottish Highlands with its colourful, diverse and breath-taking landscape is one of them.  Driving along the narrow countryside roads feels like travelling through a landscape painting and the vibrant early autumn colours create a sense of being part of a photo-shopped image.

It only took the first hour of driving through the Highlands for me to forget the stresses of daily life that I had left in London. I felt alive, I felt energised and I was completely enjoying the moment – something we don’t do enough.

Isle of Skye


1. Iceland

Iceland has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent years.  Volcanic ash from the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in spring 2010 caused travel chaos across the skies of Europe.  Grounded travellers had unplanned holiday extensions and a legitimate reason for not turning up to work, whilst trains, cars and ferries faced their biggest demand in years.

The collapse of the banking sector and subsequent devaluation of its currency in 2008 made Iceland, who had never really bothered anyone and didn’t even have their own army, a sudden economic enemy of the UK and Netherlands.

And Bjork wore a swan dress to the 2001 Oscars!

I’ve been lucky enough to visit many parts of the world and have always dreamed of adding Iceland to that list.  Balancing a short-lived tourist season with a challenging LA/London based work schedule threatened to leave Iceland as an unattainable dream yet again this year, but I was determined to make 2012 the year I finally boarded the plane and headed north of England.

And it didn’t disappoint.

Iceland is a small country, but has a landscape rich with diversity.  Waterfalls, volcanos, geysers, glaciers, wild coast, black sand beaches, mountains, a vibrant capital…the list goes on.

If Iceland is not on your bucket list, it should be.  I didn’t have to think twice before selecting Iceland as my number one travel highlight of 2012.

Jokulsarlon, Iceland


What has been your travel highlight of 2012?



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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at


  1. I am so impressed that you were able to do all those things while maintaining a full time job! That, in itself, is so inspiring! I am working on my highlight reel for 2012 – but it most certainly includes a career break that enabled me to achieve so much! While my time in Croatia gets a top 3 ranking, I have to say, walking the Camino de Santiago takes the cake. The week of recovery in San Sebastian, also in Spain, one of my favourite weeks in the calendar! After being on the move for 43 days….it was delightful to chill for a week!

    Can hardly believe it is already nearly the end of the year! Time to put that highlight reel together!

    • Hi Anita. I know, it’s not until I sat down to think about it that I realised I had managed to see quite a bit this year. Having said that, the work commute between LA/London nearly killed me (!) so I certainly enjoyed some time in London with no travel plans for a few months during summer! You aren’t the first person I’ve heard say walking the Camino de Santiago is a highlight – definitely something I want to look into.

      I look forward to seeing your highlight reel! And here’s to a happy year of travels in 2013 🙂

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