Our Year in Review: Backpacking, Campervanning and Getting Engaged [2016]

North to South's Year in Review: 2016

Our third year of full-time travel was unquestionably a favorite for us both. We really settled in to our digital nomad lifestyle this year, visiting 13 new countries, managing the sales of our first (and second) photography product while continuing along our nomadic path, and we even got engaged!

Take a look with us, as we reflect on our happiest and most important moments of 2016! 

Scuba Diving in Kona, Big Island, Hawaii

January – February 2016

Epic Road Trip Wrap-Up

After checking off 49 of the U.S. states last year, we started this one by visiting our final state on that epic 50-state quest in the U.S. We obviously couldn’t drive to Hawaii, so we booked a flight to the Big Island for some snorkeling, diving, and volcano adventuring with my older brother, Steven.

We stayed at a lovely Airbnb house on a lava field with an ocean view, and though there was a dengue fever outbreak in the area, we made it through the trip bite-free and uninfected. Despite my fear of heights I decided to jump off a cliff into the ocean, and the snorkeling and diving on the Big Island was (unsurprisingly) amazing! Though we missed out on the infamous night manta-ray dive, we now have a really good reason to return!

Cliff Jumping at South Point, Big Island, Hawaii

We returned to the mainland just in time for an annual camping trip in Jawbone Canyon with Ian’s former coworkers before we were northward bound in our little Yaris in February.

A Productive Month in Seattle

Since a big part of digital nomad life is maintaining a location-independent lifestyle, we devoted the entire month of February to just that. We rented a sweet detached studio in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle and set to work to make our SharpStar camera filter a project we could manage from anywhere. We designed our packaging and had it manufactured, researched warehouses and fulfillment services, and set ourselves up to re-stock only every four-five months. We plan to further automate the process in the future, but we’ve come a long way from packaging, addressing and shipping each order ourselves!

Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington

In Seattle, I put together another outfit post for my women’s travel blog, and we wrapped up the month by accomplishing a huge goal of mine for the year: editing our first promotional video for North to South! This made the home page of our blog a lot more exciting and made our branding feel more complete.

Skiing at Crystal Mountain in Washington (Mt Rainier in the backround)

Before the month ended, we made sure to get in some ski time, played some pinball, and visited all of our Seattle-based friends!

Trona Pinnacles, California at night

March – April 2016

Superbloomin’ and Trona Pinnacles

Returning to California to fully settle the logistics of our product orders and shipments, we decided we couldn’t miss the Death Valley Superbloom we were hearing so much about on social media. So we rented a campervan and set out to photograph some flowers and stars in the desert.  Our dog Tiger eagerly came along for the trip. Since Tiger loves camping and sleeping in a tent so much, we also took him on our first Trona Pinnacles trip of the year, where Ian recorded a video about his camera gear to share with our Lonely Speck followers.

Death Valley, California Superbloom

In April I got crafty and creative and recorded and published my first Skillshare class teaching intermediate sewers how to make their own scarf camera strap.

The El Segundo Easter Keg Hunt

El Segundo Easter Keg Hunt: Team Kegulus Rift 2016

Before I moved in with Ian in Venice, I lived in El Segundo, and the annual Easter Keg Hunt is one of the town’s highlights. (Nine out of ten things to do in this town is drink beer.) So we assembled a team of four and dressed up as drunken VR nerds, à la Palmer Luckey (and completely failed at locating a keg).

Once we’d settled (almost) all of our business affairs, we were itching for another international adventure. We booked two flights: one to take us from LA to Paris and one to take us from Iceland to LA two months later. We’d figure out the details of the two months we planned to spend in Europe once we got there.

Cinque Terre, Italy

May – June 2016

France, Belgium, and The Netherlands

We packed ultra-light and kicked off our Europe trip in Paris, visiting several staple tourist spots: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral, and we even saw some of Monet’s Waterlillies at Musée de l’Orangerie. Aside from the food and attractions in Paris, we also enjoyed hanging out and people watching in the park outside the Louvre.

Next we MegaBussed the few hours to Brussels, where we spent a few chilly spring days exploring the city by foot and got a surprise tour from Paula, a German student studying abroad in Brussels. We timed our Amsterdam visit so that we could be there for their national King’s Day holiday, complete with festive orange dress and decor, beer, dancing, and socializing in the streets.

Kings Day in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Fun Fact: This year we licensed some hyperlapse footage of Berliner Dom that Ian had captured on our last trip to Berlin. It can be seen in the intro of the new Epix show Berlin Station!

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

Along our way to Prague, we stopped in Berlin for a couple of days to revisit Berlin and our friend who lives there. In Prague, we joined forces with new friend and fellow traveler Andy to tour the city, where we acquainted ourselves with the popular pastime of drinking beer and eating sausage.

Drinking beer in Prague, Czech Republic

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

And then there was the beautiful drive through the Alps, from Munich to Austria’s lake district, which truly looks exactly like the scenery in The Sound of Music. We found an Airbnb right on the lake near Halstatt, where we took in some gorgeous views hiking and went on a tour of the salt mines.

Spain, Hungary and Slovenia

Around the midway point of our Europe trip, we met up with Ian’s parents in Spain, visiting Málaga, Granada, Gibraltar, and Tenerife.

Monkeys (Macaques) at the Rock of Gibraltar

Thermal Baths in Budapest, Hungary

Budapest was next, a surprisingly affordable country where we spent almost an entire two weeks enjoying the public baths (not so affordable) and visiting ruin pubs. My brother Steven joined us in Budapest before we moved on to Slovenia’s fairytale towns of Ljubljana and Bled, complete with hilltop castles and lush green surroundings.

We did a ton of hiking and walking all over Europe on this trip. See some of our favorite hikes in 10 Breathtaking Views to Hike to in Europe.

Croatia, Italy and Iceland

We needed our passports as we transferred out of Europe’s Schengen Area and into Croatia, where we enjoyed a luxurious one-night hotel stay at the Double Tree in Zagreb before heading down to the beautiful rocky shores of Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik, Croatia -- City Walls

In Italy, we got a taste of history and culture in Rome before heading to Cinque Terre National Park, now one of our favorite places in the world, alongside Iceland, where we wrapped up this Europe trip.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

July – August 2016

Family Camping Trip

Summer was in full swing when we flew into Southern California from Iceland after the close of our spring Europe trip. My cousins from St. Louis came to visit, so we hung out in California at my parents’ house for a week. We went snorkeling at Catalina Island, went to the beach in Santa Monica, and took them on their first camping trip in June Lake. My brothers and uncle came camping, too, and we spent the weekend playing games, roasting marshmallows, and stand up paddleboarding on the lake (Tiger tried it, too).

Silver Lake Campground, June Lake, California

Getting Engaged

Later that month, we headed out on a photography trip in the desert, where Ian popped the question at our first Lonely Speck Meetup at Trona Pinnacles, California.

Proposal at Trona Pinnacles, California under the Milky Way

New York City and Big Time Travel Planning

August went by very quickly, with a trip to NYC and then Burning Man (which we try to go to every other year). Preparing for Burning Man and our upcoming fall trip to New Zealand at the same time was a little hectic, but everything worked out, and packing for Burning Man wasn’t too horrible. We had another great Burn with old and new friends.

Kayaking in Milford Sound, New Zealand

September – December 2016

New Zealand

Mobility was our key aim on our first trip to NZ, so we rented a Jucy campervan and drove almost entirely around New Zealand’s North and South Islands in three weeks. On the opposite side of the road. We pulled over to sleep or cook when we felt like it, and we waved to fellow campervanners along the route. (It’s a thing.) Among a long list of beautiful places we visited in NZ, Milford Sound definitely won the wow factor, where we really enjoyed our guided kayak tour with Rosco’s Milford Kayaks. (Our guide was hilarious.) Ian recorded his first astrophotography vlog in Tekapo, one of the darkest inhabited places in the world.

Australia and Fiji

In Australia, we stayed in trendy Melbourne for two weeks, where we launched a new premium set of Lightroom presets for astrophotography. Pooped after three weeks of campervan life, we spent a lot of time hanging out in our pricey Airbnb, ordering food on Deliveroo, but we did venture outside a few times and saw a blue penguin and water rat at St. Kilda Beach, plus some kangaroos on an adventure with some new photographer friends.

After an awesome response to our new preset set, we decided that digital goods should be a big focus of ours for generating passive income in the future. But we aren’t done with the physical goods just yet.

Cape Schanck, Australia

Turning 30 in Mexico

My twin brother Daniel and I celebrated a big birthday this year, so we decided to do it in style and rent a big house with a bunch of friends in Puerto Vallarta.

Sailing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

We had a total blast doing all the adventure activities we could cram into one week: boogie-boarding, sailing, snorkeling, stand up paddleboarding, ziplining, mule-riding, waterfall rappeling, kayaking, a murder mystery night, and surf lessons (and of course drinking a ton of margaritas).

Sailing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Wrapping up Projects

We closed out the year in California, visiting with my parents for the holidays and working on several projects. Ian scanned a bunch of film we’d had sitting around for years, we got a GoPro Fetch to try out our GoPro on the dogs (videos coming soon), and we launched our PureNight photography filter in December. So far it’s been a success, but we’re waiting to see if sales will really carry into the new year.

We also finally got started with wedding planning, taking a trip up to San Luis Obispo in search of our perfect venue. We found it (Yay!) and we’ll be sharing more about our wedding planning fun this coming year.

Thanks for keeping us company through another amazing year!


Now Let’s Talk Goals…

Here’s a quick overview of what we’re hoping to accomplish in the new year:

  • plan and have an amazing wedding
  • publish my e-book (a carry-over goal I’m still working on — I plan to publish it soon!)
  • further automate the fulfillment of orders for the physical products we sell
  • finish our U.S. road trip posts
  • increase publishing rate on Lonely Speck’s YouTube channel and reach 100K subscribers (currently 37K)
  • plan and have an epic honeymoon
  • produce our first episode of a web series we’ve been planning

And the goals we reached that we set last year:

  • paid off the remainder of my student loans before my birthday (goal met November 2016)
  • created a kick-ass promo video for North to South (goal met February 2016)
  • reached 1 million all-time views of North to South (goal met January 2017)

What’s next for us? We’ve got a few things in mind… Follow our blog on Facebook to stay up to date on our 2017 travel plans! Want to see what we did in previous years? Check out Our Year in Review 2015 and Our Year in Review 2014.

About the Author

Diana Southern
In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.

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