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My 2012: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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Those who know me personally may be surprised by this post: I don’t often get personal. I was trained as a journalist and spent a lifetime taking myself ‘out’ of a story. Now, as a travel blogger, I have to train myself to get back ‘into’ the story. And it doesn’t come naturally.

Then I read Mariana Calleja’s wonderful post, The Rearview Mirror of Life: My 2012 and felt inspired. My year was certainly not as intense, but it was a compote of high and low, miserable and ecstatic, discovery and boredom, hope and cynicism, compassion and despair. A typical year.

I got through a bunch of nasty health problems

women solo travelbandageI’d never been in a hospital (other than to visit others) until last year. I was rewarded for my absence by a series of health scares which had me in and out of surgery several times during early 2012.

In Washington DC I was so knocked out by morphine I had no idea I’d spent nearly ten days in hospital having my gallbladder removed.

My other operation, to remove a cyst, was in Geneva, home of luxurious health clinics. When I posted pictures to Facebook of my five-star food and private room with a mountain view, my friends all thought I was staying in a spa.

Having picked up some kind of infection on my forehead, I spent most of the second half of the year showing off a variety of silly bandages. Three surgeries later… all I have left to show is a character-building scar.

I published my first book!

Women on the Road

This was incredibly exciting for me. As a journalist I still get a thrill when I see my byline and this travel e-book for baby boomer women was no different. I put my heart and soul into it and tried hard to make it useful.

Publication was a bit of a comedy of errors. We had to push back and back for a number of reasons until the year was almost over.

And then the day of the launch, I had a major power failure at home. All day. No email, Wifi or even a reading light.

And then my publisher’s servers went down for a couple of weeks. Not exactly an auspicious beginning but we muddled through and now the book is on track and doing just fine.

I discovered a new country

So much of my travel consists of revisiting places I know – France, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, the USA – that it was a thrill to visit Albania, a country I’d never been to before and which has attracted me for years. It’s that thrill of discovery which I hope I never outgrow.

Lake Ohrid

On the shores of Lake Ohrid, Albania.

I loved a lot of things about Albania but perhaps most striking was the friendliness and curiosity of its people, not surprising in a country that just two decades ago had been virtually hidden from view by a severe Communist dictatorship. I loved that it was almost empty of people, that some regions felt more like a developing country than Europe, that it has corners of unspeakable beauty, that Albanians are irreverent when it comes to religion, that anything seems possible and that there’s nothing smooth or slick about a place in the full thrust of modernization.

And failed to discover one too

Cancelling my trip to Borneo was a major disappointment, especially since the mishap was caused by someone who should know better – Miles & More cancelled my tickets (bought with redeemed miles) at the last minute for a strange reason I have yet to understand. It took a letter to the President to get my miles reinstated, and only reluctantly at that. I’ve now rebooked the same trip for next July, same time, one year later. Stay tuned for major fireworks if their ‘computer says No’ again.

I REALLY became a travel blogger

I say really because this was the year I attended two blogger conferences and took some blogging trips and actually started my own blog. I’ve had my website Women on the Road for half a dozen years and it’s been a great ‘how to’ of women’s solo travel, filling a gap that was huge when I started but now, I feel the urge to dig down into my own travel experiences so I finally started a blog (which carries the same name, Women on the Road). Over time I hope to steer it towards my first love, international development, seen from a woman’s perspective.

I discovered new faces of places I already knew – in Portugal, in Catalonia, and in New York, where I returned from last week, and I met many new people, both travel bloggers and many of my own readers. Each new encounter was enriching and I love my new friends… I started listing them here to thank them but realized I would inevitably miss some out and I know how bad I feel when I’m left out so… consider yourselves loved and appreciated and an incredibly important part of my life.

Porto, Portugal

Northern Portugal – completely unexpected.

I suffered the ups and downs of Google

I had been making a decent income from AdSense on my website but what with Google’s animal panda and penguin dances my income plummeted – by 80%. Ouch. I haven’t recovered yet.

I watched my house expand

Literally. My partner Anne (a photographer so I’m fortunate) has built a workshop behind the house, which means we’ll be able to liberate a room to use as a video studio – big plans for that. For a long time I was too shy to do video, which may be why I spent years as a radio reporter (is that where shy broadcasters hide from the camera?) Someone recently gave me the best advice ever: Get over yourself! Okay, already.

Rhone Alpes

Renovating a French farmhouse, stone by painful stone.

I cried at what my fellow humans are capable of doing

While some people risk their lives trying to bring a tiny bit of comfort to the hungry or poor in horribly inhospitable places, others feel they have the right to take lives – of unknown children, of family members, even their own… because they feel like it, because they have access to weapons that can easily kill, because the world has been unfair to them, because… any reason is good enough. Such senseless loss brought up a lot of anger and helplessness in me. We can write and condemn and advocate and lobby. What I can’t do is keep quiet.

And for next year?

Time for New Year’s Resolutions – and yes, I do them every year (I’m a Taurus, after all, and we like organized lists). First and foremost is losing weight: it’s been on my list since 1984 or so. Can’t seem to cross that one out but I’ll keep trying. And eat more healthily. And exercise more often. And…

Then there’s travel of course – to Gruyeres, Switzerland; my rescheduled trip to Borneo; to Lyon for food; to the Algarve and to Dublin for blogging conferences; to the UK with my niece (she has the travel bug); to Austria and Bern to visit friends who warm my heart; and of course, to New York for work and to Washington to see my family, who relocated there from France last year. Not quite sure I’ve forgiven them yet.

I’m also planning on adding video to my website, writing a lot more how-to pages, practicing my iPhoneography, learning German and cajoling my creaky old Macbook to last just one more year. Please.

So… Happy Holidays to you all, and may 2013 bring you many blessings – and a better world, since on 21 December – Doomsday, when the world was supposed to end – we failed to destroy the one we have.


  1. Mariana Calleja / TravelThirst on December 25, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    Wow Leyla I am flattered! And extremely happy after reading your inspired post. This was definitely a christmas gift to me, knowing I inspired one single person on Earth is definitely a gift 🙂 I learned more of your life today and happy to do so. As time goes by, this blogosphere makes us feel like we all live together in the same place, we know about each other, we care, we read, we share. Since I’ve been doing this I’ve found out how I love this group. So welcome to it! I hope we can keep catching up. You really made me happy today 🙂 Hugs!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on December 26, 2012 at 2:24 am

      Mariana, what a lovely comment! But truth is truth and after reading your post, I felt it was so honest and open I had to at least try. I keep hearing that authenticity and honesty are essential in writing today so I will continue to ‘untrain’ myself and share more. I know many others have faced a similar dilemma and I’ve always admired their courage in calling it as it is. Now it’s my turn, and my first footsteps are thanks to you!

  2. Jennifer on December 26, 2012 at 1:03 am

    Thanks for sharing, Leyla! I’m glad to hear you are in much better health now. Sounds like you are ready to take on the world in 2013 and I can’t wait to follow along. Looking forward to seeing you again at the conferences!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on December 26, 2012 at 2:18 am

      I certainly am raring to go – and I’ll try to stay away from those silly bandaids on my forehead, although it did provide me with great recognition – you know, the lady with the bandage on her forehead! 🙂

  3. Andrea on December 26, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I loved Mariana’s post and yours too. I also struggle to write personal pieces which is why my roundup post was just photos! Maybe it’s time I put myself out there a little more.

    I’m looking forward to reading your posts on Gruyeres, somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit for their meringues and double cream! I also want to go for the hot air balloon festival. Is that why you’re going?

    I’m so glad we got to hang out a couple of times this year as I’m sure we will again in 2013. 🙂

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on December 26, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      Thank you Andrea! Putting yourself out there is so hard, isn’t it! Maybe we can support each other in doing that… There’s strength in numbers 🙂

      I have to confess food is a major part of my Gruyeres trip – and I’m hoping to get to Chateau d’Oex for the hot air balloon festival.

      I hope we’ll meet at TBU or TBEX blogging conferences later this year!

  4. Sophie on December 31, 2012 at 2:58 am

    A French farm house with a video studio sounds fab!

    All the best for 2013 🙂
    (from the Barcelona-to-Girona train)

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on December 31, 2012 at 8:08 am

      It certainly will be – once the planks and boards and tools and bags of cement are gone. They’ve been here for nearly ten years!

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