2018 In Review: A Testing Year

published by Bren

Last updated: January 7, 2019

What a year!

2018 is behind us, but as I always I need to take that final look back before I say goodbye.

As most of you already know, I had a mixed 2018. Lots of ups and downs, but nothing that I didn’t learn from or appreciate in some way. It was probably my “worst” year in recent years, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad year! 

Let’s take a look:


I spent most of the first half of 2018 focusing on my health.

I’m not 21 anymore, so I’m at the age where little health problems keep popping up and I need to stay on top of them. This involves a lot of learning and experimenting with my body and finding out what heals and what doesn’t.

I actually saw a specialist early in the year and she prescribed me a long term pain medication. I generally don’t like taking medication, so I asked how long I needed it and she said “6 months to indefinite”. Obviously I said F*CK THAT and started researching an alternative.

Luckily I was already on a shakeup of my diet. I’d done a 10 day juice fast, and liked the feeling so much I had already gone 90% plant based after that.

Since most pain is just inflammation I continued to stay off all inflammatory foods (dairy, meat, processed food, sugar etc) and lived on vegetables, smoothies, nuts, seeds and lots of fruits. 

I was on my sober year too so all alcohol was out.


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I also did a seven day water fast a few months later which gave my system another good cleanse.

Outside of diet I was doing lots of structural work on my body that I’d learned from my shoulder injury (yoga turns out to be pretty amazing just for overall blood flow and health). And exercise wasn’t a problem as I was training 4-5 days a week at my favourite gym Auckland MMA.

By the time I left for my first trip in May, all my pain problems had somehow disappeared and I was in perfect shape, no meds at all. 

I did start eating more meat once my travels started, but I made an effort to stay diet conscious during the whole year and everything still feels good.

I also managed to complete the sober year in October so that was a nice accomplishment to add to my list. Health is a blessing but it’s a blessing you need to work for!



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I became a bit disenchanted with blogging in 2017, so 2018 was just about enjoying it again. I know some bloggers literally rely on blog money to eat but luckily I’m not one of them.

I wanted to write stories again and wrote a few during the year: Memories of Malaga, A Day in Harare and Lost and Found In the Netherlands

I also wrote some musings during the year, a few that I published were The Secret To Solving All Your Money Problems, Will I Ever Stop Travelling? and All My Superheroes Are White.

Early in the year I also made my second movie, this one about my time in Namibia. While I was making it I swore I would never make a movie again because they just take so long, but when I watch it now I love that I have a souvenir of that trip. Maybe I’ll make another one when the time is right.

My blogging hit a speed bump after my arrest in Tanzania in July My lawyers told me to basically stay off the internet until I was released, which took almost two months (I’ll get to that below), so I was on hiatus until I sorted all that out.

However once I got back on the road I managed to start writing again, such as my Belgium waffle crusade and my thrift shop mission in Amsterdam, plus a bunch of other stuff (my full archives are here).

During the first half of the year I also finished the first draft of my book! To be honest I hate most of it so I’ll probably just be rewriting it all, but it was a milestone nonetheless. They say being a perfectionist and a writer are two of the most incompatible things; the irony is all writers are perfectionists which is probably why they’re all broke. Anyway, for the fourth year in a row, I’m working on it…


Luckily most of my blog is set up for passive income rather than sponsored work or freelance work, so even though my working ability was up and down during the year things still ticked along nicely. It’s a bit early to tell but I think income was flat with 2017.

The 2018 tax year was actually the first year the blog covered all my travel, so that was a nice milestone.

The niche site I built last year is the coolest little thing that brings in pocket money every month. The smart thing to do now would actually be to sell it as niche sites have high asking prices these days (about 20x-30x monthly earnings). However I think I’m just going to hold on to it while I continue to build more. I’ve been working on a couple of new ones, which has been fun.

I also spent a large amount of time studying Bitcoin and cryptocurrency this year.

It started when I read the book Digital Gold (highly recommended). Everyone was talking about Bitcoin, so I figured I should learn what the big deal was. A fascinating book and almost read like a Hollywood thriller. I wasn’t aware of how complex and turbulent the beginnings of Bitcoin were, which in reality was just a “nerd experiment” that took off.

I then read a more educational book called The Internet Of Money which validated a lot of my thoughts and ideas on the space. 

I summarised those thoughts in my blog post This Is Why Bitcoin Is Going To Win.

The final book I read on the subject was Cryptoassets, although I didn’t learn much new from it.

While the market tanked during 2018 it was actually the best year on record in terms of development. I’m really looking forward to what lies ahead in that space in 2019.

Overall, finances weren’t really on my mind a lot during 2018. As most of you know I make a big effort to stay frugal, plus I’m single and childless so it’s often not an issue for me. As long as I’m earning enough to eat I’m happy!

Hobbies and Learning

A few years ago I was about learning every new thing under the sun. It’s a bit different these days as I feel like I always have something to do, so finding new hobbies isn’t really necessary anymore.

I love martial arts and I train whenever and wherever I get the chance. I’ve trained at so many different gyms around the world now, and it’s cool that it’s so universal and the community is always humble and welcoming. The thing about fighting is there is always someone that’s better than you, so you rarely meet very arrogant or douchey people. Those types of guys get humbled quickly, so the learning environment is always great.

My home gym is Auckland MMA and I spent about five months there this year. I love the challenge, it’s never ending.


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Another thing I love (but am so terrible at) is surfing but I’m determined to get good! I’m so grateful my Mum forced me to take swimming lessons for many years as a kid, because it would be impossible to surf otherwise. I’ve had some hairy situations in the surf but as a strong swimmer I’ve always been okay. I’ve also had some awesome coaching from the guys at Rapu so that has literally saved my life a few times.

I didn’t do much surfing this year, but did get a week in while in the Ivory Coast. It mostly just reminded me how bad I was, but I’m getting closer to being not-shit, I can feel it!


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Outside of sports one of my hobbies is language learning and I leaped several levels in my Swahili this year, to the point that a lot of people thought I was fluent (I’m definitely not). That was cool and coloured my experience in Tanzania very differently as I could interact with literally everyone.

I also saw a small improvement in my French in the Ivory Coast. I actually studied French in France a few years ago, but it wasn’t very fruitful. When I got to the Ivory Coast I set myself a goal to self study every day, which started well, but after a couple of weeks I slacked off completely. I seem to do that with a lot of things, I don’t really know why. Maybe I’m just not that disciplined.

I did do a lot of reading though! I think I did around 14 books in 2018. One up on the year before. Still improving 🙂 I haven’t been doing book listings like I used to, but I do have a full list of everything I read on my Books page.

The last thing I’ve been spending my free time on is writing music. It’s cool having something creative to do where you don’t have to try and be “good” and you can just make whatever. Plus you can do it anywhere! That’s been a lot of fun.


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My travels for the year started in May with a trip to Tanzania to visit my sister.

Everything was great for the first month, I even had a non-profit project in the works that was going to be pretty amazing.


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Then my grandfather passed away, so I flew to Australia for the funeral. Luckily travel insurance covered it (always get it!) but I still had to do about 70 hours of travelling in a matter of days to get there and back.

On the flight back to Tanzania I actually had a really bad flu/virus so I had to do a 30+ hour flight while sick – definitely the worst flight I’ve ever had to take!

The second month in Tanzania is where things got interesting.

I got randomly picked up by immigration at an internet cafe. Things escalated very quickly that day and they raided my house and all my belongings, then confiscated my phone, laptop and camera and told me I was under arrest. I got taken into the immigration holding room and when I asked what I was under arrest for he said “I’ll tell you tomorrow”. We basically found ourselves in a stalemate for the next 8 hours when I refused to sign any of their forms. Instead I got my embassy and some lawyers involved and it turned into a six week “investigation” where they tried to charge me with all kinds of bogus things. 

This was definitely one of the toughest travel experiences for me, but it also showed me a lot of things. Almost everyone I talked to (it felt like the entire town knew about it) commented how well I was dealing with it, and that most people would be “losing it”. I had a lot of time to sit around and think, and I realised that all the years of travel up until then had prepared for me for this moment. I had learned to stay calm and make the right “plays” in those situations, and while I didn’t make the right plays every time I certainly dealt with it better than I would have ten years ago. Not only that, these things are not uncommon in travel. In fact I’ve heard so many stories like this from other travellers that when it happened to me, I just figured it was finally my turn to go through it.

After being held in the country for six weeks my passport was finally released. My embassy advised me to leave the country immediately (as if I was planning on staying!) so I headed to Kenya to recollect after the whole ordeal.

Kenya was great. I headed to Mombasa and spent a week relaxing by the coast, eating lots of good food and just enjoying my freedom again. Then I caught up with a few friends in Nairobi before finally heading to Europe. Kenya has always been good to me and I hope it continues to be!


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I went to Europe to meet my parents, who I needed to see after the whole Tanzania mess. My parents were travelling around the UK and Ireland so I joined them on their month long road trip.

Halfway through that trip was the second big incident of the year – we got rammed off the motorway by a freight truck. It was a pretty violent accident and we were spinning out for what felt like ages before finally smashing into the barrier.

Miraculously we were all fine except for a small burn on my Mum’s arm, although the rental car was totalled (another reason to always have insurance!).


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Obviously that was a shitty day, but the thing I remember most was that nobody on the motorway stopped to help! People just slowed down and watched us crash (to protect their precious cars from a scratch, obviously), then just carried on driving. Even in New Zealand people usually stop to check after an accident like that, so that left a sizable dent in my impression of the English. Lucky we were all okay, because with any serious injuries someone stopping to call an ambulance can be the difference between life and death. One guy did eventually stop much later though and helped us call the police, which was lucky since we all had no idea what to do.

Overall the UK trip was pretty good though. I didn’t write about it since it was mostly just sightseeing, but I thought Scotland was very intriguing and would like to go back there someday. 


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After my parents returned home, I found myself in Europe without much of a plan.

First I went to Mallorca to catch up with my homegirl Fernanda who you might remember from When In Berlin. We spent a week driving around the island and eating junk food.

I personally wasn’t that impressed with Mallorca (the Germans talk about it like it’s an island off the coast of heaven), but I can see why people like it.


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After that I flew to Amsterdam and thought it was a very impressive city. It’s probably one of the few cities I’ve been to that can justify the high price tag. It’s super organised and developed and feels like they’re ten years ahead of everyone else!

From Amsterdam I headed south to visit a friend in the city of Breda. It’s always nice to meet old friends from the road, one of the joys of travelling.


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From Breda, I headed to west to Zeeland, the namesake of my home country. I loved Zeeland and am really glad I made the effort to visit. It was exactly the place I needed at that time. 

I wrote about all those places in this blog post here.


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The next stop was Belgium.

I caught a bus from Zeeland to Bruges, and to be honest there isn’t much to see in Bruges if you’re not interested in buildings and churches. That gave birth to the Bruges waffle tour which you can read all about here!


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After Bruges I visited a friend in Ghent for a day, and then headed onto Brussels. I can’t say I did much in Brussels either – mostly just walked around looking for a place to cut my hair. It’s quite a messy city, not what I expected.

The last stop in Europe was Luxembourg. I caught the early morning bus and arrived around lunchtime to a completely dead city! I’m not sure where all the money in Luxembourg comes from because it was an absolute ghost town. It’s beautiful though.


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The real reason I went to Luxembourg though was to catch a flight.

I had found a cheap(ish) flight to the Ivory Coast, and figured this was as a good a time as any. I’ve wanted to go to west Africa for so long, especially the francophone countries, so with a few months left in the year I finally made it happen.


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Abidjan was not the city I was expecting. It’s a lot more French than I thought it would be, and everything is far more expensive. It was once called the Paris of Africa, and while it doesn’t look like Paris it does have prices like it. 

One of the main goals of heading to Ivory Coast was to surf, so after a week in Abidjan I finally managed to find a ride out to the beach. I spent about 9 days living right on the sand and surfing every day, eating fresh fruits and living in paradise. It wasn’t cheap but it was worth every second! I would’ve stayed a lot longer if it weren’t for a stupid injury I got.

Shout out to the guys at The West Factory – the dudes there answered a lot of my questions and helped make the whole adventure happen. When I finally settle somewhere I’ll definitely be getting a board from them 🙂


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After I hurt my foot it was back to Abidjan, basically to catch up on all the work I’d missed during the year. I didn’t love Abidjan at first but it really started to grow on me after I learned a little more French and met a few more people (most African cities are like that). I still think about Abidjan a lot actually, it left an impression on me. Maybe I’ll go back some day. There isn’t much information on it online, so I wrote a huge beginner’s guide for anyone heading that way.

Finally as December closed out, I got on a flight back home to spend Christmas with my family. Always the best way to end the year 🙂

On a sidenote, I had three of my longest journeys happen this year:

I did Tanzania to Australia and back, which was around 70 hours of flying in 5 days.

Then I had to do Mombasa to York, which was 3 trains and 2 flights (44 hours).

Lastly I did Abidjan to Sydney, which was 38 hours. 

As you can see my love for travel was certainly tested this year. Couldn’t break us though, we’re together for life 😀

Plans for 2019

The year is still open! 

On the 2nd day of January I flew to Penang, so the travel schedule has already kicked off! I’ll be back in New Zealand in February to speak at a conference, but as for the rest of the year I’m not sure.

I have ideas, maybe central Asia, there’s also a festival in the States I’m interested in going to. Africa again? Yeah, probably.

Of course wherever I end up going I’ll be sharing it all with you. Feel free to send me ideas 😀

Have an awesome 2019!


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  1. Loving your blog, always giving me new adventure ideas and inspiration!

    If you do end up getting to Central Asia this year (jealous, that’s high on my list!) I highly recommend heading a little further west at some point and visiting Armenia and Georgia if you haven’t been already. Armenia in particular is one of my favourite countries so far – super affordable to travel around, interesting history and culture, and the people are so interested in you and why you’re there (not many tourists!) so they will just stop you on the street for a chat. Love it.

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