Summary and lessons learned during our Light Year – Part 1

We now find ourselves in the beachside town of Playa del Carmen near Cancun, on familiar ground, where we plan to spend the final week of our trip relaxing, but also getting the final blog posts done since we will most likely get swept up by the tidal wave of stuff waiting to be done once we return home and may never get a chance to return to the blog…

In this post, we will present some of our best / worst for various categories, based on the general consensus of the family. Enjoy!


  • Best Food overall by country : 1. Italy (where else?), 2. India (thanks to Arti!), 3. Thailand (unbeatable value)
  • Best coffee: Italy (again)
  • Worst coffee: Bali (very hard to find decent coffee here, resorted to Nescafe!)
  • Best smoothies: Thailand (freshly made by street vendors – Greg got addicted to the watermelon juices instantly!)
  • Best croissants: Paris, followed by Japan (the Japanese are fancy eaters)
  • Best wines we tasted: New Zealand (thanks to Julie and Yan for supplying the good stuff!)
  • Best fish & chips: Kalkies at Kalk Bay, Cape Town, SA (the snoek is dee-cicious!)
  • Best Beer: Dublin, Ireland, followed by the U.K.
  • Best ice cream: Italy (… there is a theme here!)
  • Best chocolate: Switzerland
  • Best desserts: U.K. (granny & grandad’s secret sweet drawer)
  • Best fries: New Zealand (chunky wedges), followed closely by South Africa
  • Best pizza: Italy, followed by… Peru! (yes, really)
  • Worst pizza: India (Mr. Bean’s Pizza near Bharatpur has to take the gold medal here – it was like eating cheez-whiz on a piece of cardboard)
  • Best McDonald’s: Monaco (very well located with sea view and a gourmet coffee shop there too)
  • Worst McDonald’s: Agra, India (no beefburgers of course, only a measly egg-mcMuffin type thing that was barely edible)
  • Best bagels: Bob’s cafe, Kalk Bay, South Africa
  • Best hot-dog: London, England

Best / worst location for:

  • Best beaches: Australia, followed by New Zealand, then South Africa
  • Most spectacular scenery: New Zealand, followed closely by Namibia
  • Most spectacular night skies: Bolivia, Namibia, New Zealand
  • Most helpful locals: Japan, by far
  • Cutest dogs: Sri Lanka (!), followed by Australia, then Argentina
  • Best wi-fi: Japan, followed by Qatar, then Australia
  • Best malls: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Best beaches for swimming: South of Sri Lanka (Welligama), Playa del Carmen, Mexico
  • Best public transport: Japan, by far!
  • Worst public transport: Bali (nonexistent, with powerful Taxi Mafia who violently resist Uber / Grab drivers)
  • Worst trains: India followed by South Africa
  • Best trains: Japan (of course)
  • Worst traffic: New Delhi, India, followed by Bali
  • Best airport: Hamad International, Doha, Qatar
  • Worst airport: Colombo, Sri Lanka, followed by Mexico City
  • Grumpiest immigration officers: Qatar, followed by Paris, France
  • Most friendly immigration officers: Santa Cruz, Bolivia (the ONLY time an officer said “Welcome to my country” to us)
  • Best public toilets: Japan, by far!
  • Worst public toilets: Bali (nonexistent) followed by Australia
  • Most walkable city: Venice
  • Least walkable city: New Delhi (or any Indian city, really)
  • Best city for Pokemon hunting: London
  • Best weather: Cape Town, South Africa, followed by Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Worst weather: We got drenched in Kyoto once, but that was about it! The weather back home in Quebec was much worse apparently..

best / worst services:

  • Best hotel: RACV Royal Pines Resort, Gold Coast, Australia
  • Worst hotel: Grand Nest Resort, Welligama, Sri Lanka
  • Best rental property: Chon Lada Village, near Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Worst rental property: Sydney, Australia (terrible value for money)
  • Best airline: Qatar Airways
  • Worst airline: JetStar (Australian low-cost)
  • Best pool: RAVC Royal Pines Resort, Gold Coast, Australia, followed by Chon Lada Village, Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Best website for hotels:
  • Best website for flights: via Skyscanner
  • Best website for rental cars:

overall best / worst experiences:

  • Best experience: it depends on who you ask – we will be doing a separate post with each of our best experiences
  • Worst experience: getting bitten by bed bugs in Welligama, Sri Lanka
  • Scariest experience: getting caught by customs trying to smuggle alcohol into Qatar (twice!)
  • Worst bus journey: from Tissa to Ella, Sri Lanka (jam packed old bus on a steep curvy road – the only time I thought we were going to die)
  • Best bus journey: overnight bus from Copacabana, Bolivia to Cusco, Peru (luxury double decker bus!)
  • Best train journey: Bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo, Japan
  • Worst train journey: Overnight train from New Delhi to Udaipur, India (I did not sleep a wink)
  • Best animal encounter: Elephant sanctuary, Thailand followed by lion feeding in Namibia
  • Strangest animal encounter: the kookaburra stealing Greg’s hotdog in a Sydney park
  • Best hiking: Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town and Tongariro trail, New Zealand
  • Places with the most Chinese tourists: Venice, Lucerne, New Zealand
  • Places with the least Chinese tourists: Namibia, South America
  • Funniest encounter: the kids being called “clochards!” by a Parisian vendor for trying to pay for a souvenir with copper centimes.
  • Strangest encounter: Malta –  Greg & Nina were given an empty box by a Chinese tourist in exchange for a photo of Sophie in a stockade. 🙂
  • Strangest random event we witnessed: Lucerne train station, Switzerland ; a crazy anti-dog lady starts shouting at a guy with a dog while he’s sitting drinking a coffee. This went on for a while and nearly led to fisticuffs….

This should give you a good idea of the high points and low points of the trip. The next post will be the highlights according to each family member.

While compiling these lists, we have begun to realise just how many amazing experiences we have managed to pack into our Light Year! It has been such an incredible year, and the memories and lessons learned will hopefully stay with us all for the rest of our lives. We have definitely become closer as a family, and learned to accept one another (with all of our faults and peculiarities). We have also learned that you don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy: one suitcase each is sufficient! However, I’m not sure that Nina has quite absorbed this lesson though, as her suitcase is literally bulging at the seams with all of her acquisitions… it seems she has inherited her grandfather’s collector genes after all!

Another lesson we have learned is patience. We have spent countless hours waiting in line at airport check-in counters, immigration counters, baggage carousels, bus stations, train stations, taxi ranks, and waiting for Uber drivers on street corners on all five continents. In a strange turnaround, whereas before the trip, I was the impatient one at airports, but I have become quite zen about it all, and now it’s Sophie who begins to fume and rant when we get delayed… 😉

We have also learned one important rule for maintaining happiness while traveling, it’s a rule that can probably be applied to life in general with great effect: lower your expectations. Most, if not all of our greatest disappointments on the trip were due to us having too high expectations: Bali being the main contender, but also Etosha National Park in Namibia.

Another lesson that I learned (or more accurately, that I knew but forgot about) and that I hope to keep on applying through life from now on is this: don’t try to over optimize when trying / doing something for the first time. The first time you try anything new, you are most likely not going to do it optimally, it is only through the trying that you learn the proper / better way of doing it, so don’t beat yourself up too much if you get it wrong on the first go, you will do it better the next time.  Travel is all about first time experiences, so this lesson was hammered home to me again and again over the months we have been on the road.

But the one thing I truly hope that the children have absorbed over the trip is how lucky they are to be born in a rich country. They have now seen the whole spectrum of the scale of affluence;  small children younger than themselves dressed in rags and begging on the streets,  how the majority of the world lives in very basic conditions, all the way up to some extremely affluent places. It might take a while for this to sink in for them, but hopefully it will help them to become kinder, more accepting, genuinely good world citizens.

3 thoughts on “Summary and lessons learned during our Light Year – Part 1”

  1. Again, so well written Gary, must say you guys have experienced so much. Very interesting to hear your likes and dislikes from all the different places you have been to. Countdown to home …. so Nina has granddads collecting skills eh. Stay happy xxxx

    1. Thanks ma, much appreciated! Yes it has been an amazing adventure…. soon to be a thing of the past. Take care and speak to you soon xx

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