It’s been another glorious year Alternatively Traveling the known reaches of this gradually warming world. Trying to sum up a year is a difficult task, but we’re going to try giving it a go.
2017 started in Bucharest, Romania, ringing in the new year at a vegan Couchsurfing dinner party that lasted until 6 am. Now we’re spending the holidays back in New York City, where we met almost three years ago. In a serendipitous twist, we are housesitting in our old neighborhood in Queens, taking care of three sweet and extra fluffy kitties.
Here are our travel highlights, lessons learned, favorite places, and more from 2017!
Living and Traveling in Spain
After moving to Madrid in the fall of 2016, 2017 was where we started to hit our stride after the initial settling in.
And that’s a key part – settling in. After 9 months of full time housesitting in 2016, 2017 saw us staying put more to pursue goals like improving our Spanish, working more on this website, and forging friendships in Spain. We’ve met many cool and inspiring people through Madrid Blogger Network (started by fellow plant-based blogger Cepee of Wanderlicious) and have created a little community in Madrid. While we love long-term house sitting, you just can’t forge the same communities if you’re only staying in a place for even a couple months at a time.
Throughout the winter, spring, and fall of 2017, we explored Madrid and its surroundings to the fullest – food included. Contrary to popular belief, Madrid is very vegan-friendly and boasts 25 vegan restaurants. We’ve sampled all of them and are always adding to our ever growing Ultimate Vegan Guide to Madrid.
Outside of Madrid, we traveled quite a bit in Spain. Spain’s bus and train systems make getting around the country easy and affordable, and we took advantage. We made day trips to the fairytale city of Segovia, the medieval Visigothic capital of Toledo, the royal pantheon and mountains in El Escorial.
Further afield, we took trips to several of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities – Castilla y Leon, Castilla La Mancha, Valencia, Andalucia, and Asturias (that was just Sam).
It’s difficult to sum up our experiences living in Spain, so for some more reflections, head to these posts:
Why We Moved to Madrid
Why We’re Staying in Madrid
Thanksgiving in Spain? Yes – Every Week
Summer of 2017: 3 Months of Full-Time House Sitting Travel
The summer of 2017 was our longest full-time house sitting stint since we first jumped into house sitting full time for 9 months in 2016. This summer, we did back to back housesits in the UK, Germany, and Spain. We were always on the move, lining up one house sit after another, with only a few days in hostels to fill the gaps.
Our summer looked a little something like this:
Starting Summer in Spain
Valencia, Spain: A long weekend with two sweet kitties. We loved Valencia as a small city that packs a big punch – including in terms of the vegan food scene!
Read more: Vegan Guide to Valencia and Visiting Valencia.
7 Weeks Housesitting in the United Kingdom
Next, it was on to London for two separate and too quick housesits. We learned the hard way in London that going from short sit to short sit was too much work. We need time to get into the pets’ routines, learn the area, stock up on groceries, and still be able to have time to freelance (Sam) and work on the blog (both of us). Oh yeah, and enjoy the city too!
After London, we took a lovely train ride up to our next housesit in Glasgow, Scotland. We took care of a 4-month-old kitten named Marshmallow (!!!) and her big brother Charlie. They were so sweet, the house was beautiful, and we fell in love with Glasgow and Scotland during our 2+ weeks there.
Everything they say about Scotland is true: it is lush and green, the people are friendly and funny, and yep – it’s cold with lots of rain. We’re certain that we’ll be back in Scotland sometime to spend more time exploring the Highlands (though we did manage to take two incredible day trips to the Isle of Arran and Loch Lomond National Park).
Read more: Glasgow Vegan Guide: Pub Grub and Cool Cafes, Glaswegian Glory: Things to Do in Glasgow
After our housesit ended, we made our way back down to Brighton in the south of England via overnight stops in magical Edinburgh and medieval York. Then it was back to another two week housesit in Brighton, which everyone in the UK had been telling us to visit throughout our trip. When we saw this housesit pop up, we jumped on it.
We took care of two cats in a colorful row house in seaside Brighton, which we loved immediately. Brighton is quirky, artsy, punky, has a do-whatever-you-want atmosphere, and oh yeah – it’s also a vegan heaven too. At this point though, we were starting to feel the literal rain on our parade. It had been 7 weeks of rainy, dreary days, and the romance was wearing off.
Back to Berlin for the Second Time of 2017
While we were in Scotland, we had set up a housesit in Berlin during their Vegan Summer Festival over Sam’s birthday weekend. We said goodbye to Old Blighty and hello to the continent again for a couple weeks in one of our favorite cities.
We ate tons of food and updated our massive vegan guide to Berlin, attended our first veg fest, made new friends, and biked Berlin’s lush green streets to our hearts’ content. Berlin is one of those places that we’ll keep coming back to.
After Berlin, we came back to Spain to get ready for the upcoming school year (if you’re new here, Veren teaches English for the Spanish government). We still had one trip left in us, and when a housesit in southern Granada popped up, we couldn’t say no. We took care of an adorable chihuahua puppy and his fluffy kitty sister for a long weekend in the heart of the medieval Arabic quarter of Granada, the Albayzin.
The fall was busy yet slow for us, as we settled back into life in Madrid, wrote a lot of reflective posts, and entertained lots of family and friends visiting from the U.S.
Lessons of 2017
Travel even more slowly.
We already knew that we prefer slow travel as it gives us time to absorb the rhythm of a new place at our pace. Since Sam works online and we both spend a lot of time on this blog, we need significant time to do these things. We’re not out hitting the town every day to explore new spots. Some days we might not leave the house, other days we might spend exploring, and still others we may work most of the day and then go out for dinner.
The point is: we’re not on a permanent vacation. We have obligations to both the pets that we take care of as well as personal and professional work that provide fulfillment and obviously – the cash flow!
This year we did slow down consciously as we worked harder and more passionately than ever before on Alternative Travelers.
A Year in Our Blog: Goals, Accomplishments, and the Future
January 2017 was when we officially started phase 2 of the blog. Previously we had only posted sporadically and weren’t quite sure what we wanted to do (maybe mostly Veren).
Phase 2 meant a regular content output and trying to reach our audience via SEO (search engine optimization) and social media. Once we started working on these areas, we started to reach more and more people, which has been very exciting!
We decided we’d always do a range of articles covering vegan travel, house sitting, and sustainability as well as personal stories from our travels.
Top 3 Most Popular Posts of 2017
We have a couple more popular posts of all time (our most popular post ever is 3 Unique Hot Springs of Salt Lake City), but these were our most popular posts published in 2017:
Top 10 Vegan-Friendly Cities in Europe in 2017
Budget Vegan Guide to NYC: Manhattan Edition
Ultimate Vegan Guide to Madrid
Our Favorite Posts of 2017
The most reflective posts aren’t always the ones that do best overall. It’s hard to search for these types of posts in Google! Here are our personal favorites from 2017:
On Creative Risk and Fear (by Sam)
Sam weighs in on the thankless life of a struggling creative.
We Need to Talk About Sustainable Travel (by Sam)
Sam points to the elephant in the room that self-proclaimed eco-conscious folk aren’t looking at.
New York Glorifies Personhood But not People (by Veren)
Veren struggles with the paradox of prioritizing friends and family in a city that doesn’t.
Why We Moved to Madrid (by Veren)
Going to Madrid wasn’t even Plan A, but we’re super glad we did it.
Our Favorites of 2017
Favorite new city: Berlin
This should come as a surprise to precisely no one since we’ve already sung Berlin’s praises in this post and many others. Everyone speaks English so no language barriers, it’s super multicultural and international, and it’s the European vegan mecca.
Read more in our Berlin Vegan Guide.
Favorite new country: Scotland
Scotland was voted the world’s most beautiful country this year and we totally saw why. Super friendly and funny people, beautiful landscapes, beautiful forest cats, and lots of delicious vegan food. We can’t wait to go back.
Check out all of our Scotland posts on our Scotland page here.
Favorite New (to us) Restaurants:
Kopps: gourmet all you can eat vegan brunch in Berlin. The restaurant is normally pricey with a set menu, but the brunch is a steal!
Let It Be: vegan crepes in Berlin. Their crepes are named after vegan celebrities, and the Woody Harrelson is exactly like a French crepe Sam remembers from her childhood. Read more about Kopps (above) and Let It Be in our Berlin Vegan Guide.
Purezza: A fully plant-based pizzeria in Brighton with all cheeses made from scratch and the pizzas baked in a woodfired oven. They’re opening a new 2 story location in London in 2018, so keep your eyes out! Read more in our Vegan Guide to Brighton.
The Vurger: Americana vegan fast food in Valencia with incredible burgers! Read more in our dedicated review here.
Delish Vegan Doughnuts: This new doughnut spot in Madrid blew our minds and the minds of everyone we took there. They have incredibly yeasty doughnuts that don’t overdo it on the flavors (we are not fans of concoctions like lavender blueberry apple pie doughnuts – give us a glazed or creme filled any day). These are some of the best doughnuts we’ve ever had, period. Read more in our Ultimate Vegan Guide to Madrid.
Author and fellow vegan Yuval Noah Harari posits that what makes humans unique isn’t just intelligence or ingenuity. Instead, the ability to create imagined stories that coerce mass scale cooperation is what truly defines humans.
He brings an unorthodox and anthropological perspective to humanity’s unified march towards globalization – arguably the only sound conclusion one can draw about the direction of human history – of an increasingly homogenized humanity, and how key cultural events brought about the modern world.
Yet he doesn’t say this ability justifies human behavior and its dominion. Rather that we can’t ignore that our modern world is built upon past ambitions and ravages of empire, the agricultural revolution was a trap and money is the most powerful myth binding humanity.
Grab it on Amazon here.
Film: Bladerunner 2049
This film explores an age-old question – what does it mean to be human/ what makes us human?
We’re both huge sci-fi nerds and saw this one in theatres twice (thanks, cheap Madrid prices!). We loved the beautiful cinematography, world-building, and commentary on society regarding second class citizens and people living-on-the-fringe.
TV Show: Stranger Things
Eighties American nostalgia and constant homage to all the best of eighties films? Count us in.
Pretty sure this was everyone’s favorite TV show of 2017. Made even better than the original blockbusters, with lovable characters and a fast plot. Even if you didn’t grow up in the American eighties, there’s a lot to like. Veren’s 14-year-old Spanish students love the show!
What’s To Come: Thoughts on 2018
This year has brought us many good things that are preparing us for the next. We write this from our house sit in our old neighborhood in Queens, New York, after a couple of weeks visiting friends and family. We’ve realized that over a year away is too long. We want to make more regular and longer trips back to New York. We want to be a part of our family and friends’ lives, rather than always playing catch up.
Right now we can’t afford to do this, so 2018 is going to be about revving up this blog so we can both be location independent. Ideally, we’d love to split our time between Madrid, New York, and several months traveling via housesitting throughout the year.
We have several projects already in the works for 2018. One you’ll see here on the site very soon – stay tuned! We are so happy and grateful for everyone’s support and can’t wait to see what 2018 brings.