Pack The Suitcases’ 2017 travel roundup

36 unusual and alternative European city breaks | PACK THE SUITCASES

Happy new year to all 73 of our readers. Yes, we’ve improved from last year’s dizzy heights of 2. I can’t imagine what 2018 will bring. 74?

This time last year, I did a similar roundup of all our travels in 2016 and dished out the ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’. Precisely no one read it because who cares about where I went all year really. But when did no one listening/reading my stuff ever stop me. So I’m doing it again for 2017.

To be fair, this might give you some ideas about where to go (and where to avoid?) for 2018…

A day in Dean Village and Stockbridge, Edinburgh | PACK THE SUITCASES

Best new destination

Ljubljana (Slovenia)

Ljubljana was the ultimate fairytale city break. I adored our trip there in October – pretty riverside cafes, a pink church, good food, orange (yes!) wine, and all the autumn colour.

As a bonus, it was incredibly affordable. I can’t recommend it enough.

If you’re looking for a city break that isn’t one of the big obvious capitals, this is it. The only downside is that you can’t fly there easily, as there are no flights from Manchester or Liverpool. You have to go to London, which is of course a horrifying experience. But it’s worth the effort.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

Best revisited destination

Tokyo (Japan)

Our return to Japan in January was particularly special. Tokyo was the only city we went to that wasn’t new to us during the trip. But with Tokyo, you could return 100 times and it would still all be new. I don’t think anyone who doesn’t live there could ever get their head around it. We listed 20 unique things to do in Tokyo and didn’t even scratch the surface of what you could cover in one visit.

I always describe Tokyo and Japan in general to people as: ‘everything is happening, everywhere, all the time’. Its vastness is nothing compared to its density. Millions of tiny bars and restaurants and shops are layered over 10, 20, 30 floors both sides of you as you walk down a street.

My favourite thing though is getting into the more off-the-beaten-track Tokyo. Our friends’ flat is in a quiet, low-rise area and so we stay near there when we visit. This means that we get a totally different side of Tokyo away from the neon lights and madness. Okay, there’s still a lot of madness. But that’s all part of Japan’s pleasantly baffling charm. I’m already thinking about when we can go back.

20 things to do in Tokyo, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Best local (UK) destination

Dumfries and Galloway (south-west Scotland)

My series of blog posts about Dumfries and Galloway saw my blog traffic go through the roof. Needless to say, my hosting provider wasn’t too impressed when I ended up with 11,000 views of my Kirkcudbright post in one day. Luckily, they fixed some panic-inducing crashing (thanks, Siteground, forever in your debt) and the views continued to go up. It’s only right that my favourite area of the UK should be my most popular blog posts too. We had such a good time during our trip in the summer – and amazing weather, especially by Scottish standards.

As well as an overall Dumfries and Galloway collection, I posted about:

I think one of the reasons these posts were so popular is because people love seeing travel bloggers posting about where they live. You often don’t appreciate what’s on your doorstep so seeing Galloway through a visitor’s eyes gave a new insight. Oh and the other reason would be that people love disputing names/boundaries of their local places and what town/village/beach falls into what area. Shoutout to the old man with about 3 teeth who took great pleasure in telling me repeatedly on Facebook that all maps are wrong and that Sweetheart Abbey isn’t in New Abbey. Good times.

Carrick Bay: a secret beach in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland | PACK THE SUITCASES

Best meal

Everything in Japan

Yes, Japan again. How can it not win on the food front though? It knocks everything else out of the water, despite some brilliant dishes we had in other places.

I can’t even pick one dish. From noodles in Takamatsu to takoyaki in Kobe to okonomiyaki in Naoshima, everything we ate was up to the usual Japanese mind-blowing standard.

I’m currently drafting a post about food in Japan so look out for that in the coming months. Or don’t. Either is fine.

Noodles and gardens in Takamatsu, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Best hotel

Not staying in hotels

Okay, this is a bit of an odd one. I guess the best hotel we stayed in was last year’s winner: the Lion + Pheasant for our annual trip to Shrewsbury.

But this year, that’s one of the very few hotels we’ve stayed in because we’ve pretty much entirely converted to hiring flats/apartments.

Here’s why:

  • It’s almost always cheaper.
  • It feels like you live there.
  • You don’t have to get up for breakfast.
  • You don’t have to scrounge around for something edible in a sea of cooked meat at breakfast.
  • Your partner can go out to forage for pastries/breakfast goods while you’re doing your makeup and hair. This saves us hours of time. And we’re not paying for a hotel breakfast that we never used to get up in time for anyway.
  • You usually get a kitchen area that might (repeat: might) have a kettle so you can make tea in the room. This is a very British need but any fellow tea-drinkers will know the arduous life of trying to keep up the six-a-day habit in mainland Europe, where kettles are extinct and people live off something called coffee. Nowhere has English breakfast teabags. Milk is unheard of. And asking for hot water to make tea with your own teabags is met with utter bafflement.
  • You can come and go as you please. Okay, you get that in a big hotel. But in a small hotel or a B&B, you have the danger of that awkward thing of them locking up in the night when you’ll inevitably be out at some point.

I think 2018 is going to involve a lot more of this.

A day in Dean Village and Stockbridge, Edinburgh | PACK THE SUITCASES

Best travel experience

Staying on Naoshima, an art island in Japan

Naoshima was so completely different to anywhere we’ve been before and by far the most memorable experience of 2017.

It was our second trip to Japan together, so we’d already done the big cities that everyone packs in on their first go and wanted to explore something else… Namely an immersive art island that no one, even in Japan, had heard of.

We stayed in a little apartment for a weekend with one of our friends, being very hygge. Time was spent eating okonomiyaki, drinking, watching sumo (albeit on TV and not in real life like we did in Tokyo!) and of course taking in all the incredible art that’s strewn around the island in both galleries and open air. All this took place in a weird mixture of blazing sunshine and snow. The whole thing was surreal but exquisite.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, Naoshima is amazing. Go. I’d say it’s more for a return trip, after you’ve already got your head around the big sights and want to see what the smaller, hidden gems are. But it is unforgettable.

Naoshima art island, Japan | Pack The Suitcases

Worst travel experience


Neither of us got on with Malta, despite its many good points: excellent food, pretty sandy beaches, craft beer on its neighbouring isle of Gozo, and historical cities. I don’t think the terrible weather we had helped, but there was more to it.

Everyone I’ve spoken to loves or hates Malta. It isn’t just us who didn’t gel with it. Those who love it tend to ask if we hired a car there. We barely drive in the UK and never drive abroad, so maybe it’s more of a place for car lovers. This would make sense because one of the other places we’ve not enjoyed – Reykjavik in Iceland – is also better for drivers. Having said that, we stayed in Sliema, which we found a bit too tacky/touristy but was well connected for transport links

Malta absorbed or mirrored lots of bits from other places: the Moorish-style buildings of Morocco, the language and red phoneboxes of Britain, the parched landscape of the Canaries, the rude bus drivers and crazy traffic of… okay, they nicked those from many countries. Most of all, I thought that Malta had many similarities with Italy, but it lacked something. Everywhere we turned, it was heaving with tourists. I kept thinking of Rome: one of the most touristy cities that we still adore because there’s always somewhere you can get away. We didn’t find that in Valletta. Then in contrast to the crowds in the day, it emptied at night to be almost deserted.

It was all a bit soulless – the unfortunate traces of British rule and mass tourism weren’t our cup of tea. It’s rare we don’t like somewhere, but in Malta it was difficult to get a sense of the real place behind it.

Where to eat in Sliema, St Julian's and Gzira, Malta | PACK THE SUITCASES

Our 2017 travels: in total

2017 was a rubbish year in life in general but pretty good travel-wise. Here’s everywhere we went and when.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

What’s next for 2018?

The next trip is a return to our favourite winter sun destination, Madeira. Other than that, we don’t have much planned yet – and only two weddings and one hen do so far. So we should have more annual leave to use for travel this year.

Any suggestions on where we should go next? Answers on a postcard or, you know, in the comments.

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  1. Not sure if you’ve tried these places as I ama fairly new reader to your blog. I’m loving reading about all your travels.
    We love the north of Portugal and the western most corner of Spain. Above Porto is the lovely city of Braga, full,of churches and Roman remains. Viana do
    Costello is another lovely town on the coast , surrounded by beautiful beaches. Caminha is the first town you come to in Portugal after leaving Spain, full,of old world charm, fish markets and on a lovely estuary. Slightly inland isnPonta de Lima with its beautiful Roman bridge. You don’t come across many British people up,here in the north , its the real Portugal. Don’t go in April as it rains a lot, its pretty hot in August too. Can fly into Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain and drive south from there. Or into Porto and drive north. Enjoy !

    1. Porto is one of our all-time favourite cities. We really want to explore more of the north of Portugal though so thank you for the other tips. Will have to look into it more, maybe for a longer trip, especially as we don’t drive. Have a look at our Porto blog posts if you want – we’ve probably enjoyed the same things there! X

  2. On the home front, I would recommend visits to Glasgow and Belfast. Both have plenty to see and do and the people are great. Also, the countryside around and about both cities is lovely. Enjoy your 2018 travels wherever they take you!

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