Looking Back at 2015: Travel and Expat Living

Looking Back at 2015 - Travel Lush

It’s hard to believe just how much has happened this year.  The past 12 months have taken me around the world and back again.  From living in Jakarta to moving to Phnom Penh.  From traveling to the beaches of the Philippines to the beaches of California.  As always this year has been full of highs and lows and, of course, plenty of unexpected adventure.

To celebrate another year of travel and expat life, here’s a brief glimpse of my 2015 through Instagram!

December 2014: Christmas in Jakarta

Okay, okay technically this is a photo from 2014 but just go with it…


New on the blog: “Christmas in Jakarta – It’s Just Not the Same!” (link in profile)


A photo posted by Justine (@thetravellush) on

At this time last year I was gearing up to spend my first-ever Christmas in Jakarta.  Spending the Christmas holiday in a predominantly Muslim city was slightly surreal.  I remember at the time being surprised by just how big of a deal Christmas was in Jakarta.  Hundreds of people came out to witness the tree-lighting ceremony in my neighborhood, Christmas music played in every supermarket, and families shopped ’til they dropped at the city’s mega-malls. The was my second consecutive Christmas abroad, and while Christmas in Jakarta wasn’t exactly the same as it would have been back home in the States, Aaron and I still managed to have a great holiday filled with food and fun.

January 2015: Traveling to Cambodia

Right after New Year’s, Aaron and I decided to take an impromptu trip to Cambodia, a country that we’d only visited once eight long years ago.  We were ecstatic to get reacquainted with Phnom Penh, a city that we’d both fallen in love with during our first trip to Cambodia.  (Little did we know that we’d be moving to Phnom Penh eight months after this photo was taken!).

We also had the chance to visit the utopianesque island of Koh Rong, which is home to what is arguably one of the most perfect beaches in Southeast Asia.  We spent about a week lounging around the island, hiking to hidden beaches, swimming with sparkling bioluminescence and thoroughly loving life.

March 2015: A quick solo trip to Singapore

While I was living in Jakarta I had to leave the country every two months to do visa runs.  While it was a bit of a pain to have to pick up and leave every couple of months, I relished the opportunity to visit different destinations in Southeast Asia.  It also pushed me to dabble in solo travel, something I’m grateful to have experienced.   I was lucky enough to visit Singapore a couple of times.   I always assumed that I wouldn’t like Singapore, but that’s not the case…at all!  Not only does Singapore have some ridiculously amazing Indian food but it is full of fun, weird and cheap things to do.

  Funky buildings in Singapore’s Chinatown. I want to live in the one with the flowers!   A photo posted by Justine (@thetravellush) on

April 2015: Visiting Bali TWICE!

One of the best parts of living in Indonesia was having the chance to explore its hidden corners.  And this trip to Nusa Penida, a stunning island off the coast of Bali, was perhaps my favorite travel experience of the year.  I knew next to nothing about Nusa Penida before my visit but I was wowed by its otherworldly landscape and authentic culture.  Despite the fact that our trip was a bit of a disaster, I had a blast motorbiking around Nusa Penida and exploring its untouched corners.  The fact that more tourists don’t go here still boggles my mind!

Stormy but still beautiful… A photo posted by Justine (@thetravellush) on

A few weeks after our visit to Nusa Penida, Aaron and I found out that one of our best friends had just booked a last-minute trip to Bali.  So we boarded another flight to the island.  Because our friend is an amazing photographer most of the trip was spent scouting locations and taking some amazing photos of Bali’s varied landscapes.

Can I please just spend the rest of my days right here?   A photo posted by Justine (@thetravellush) on


June 2015: Exploring Jakarta

After living in Jakarta for 10 months, I realized I’d failed miserably at exploring the city’s major tourist sites.  So my final month living in Jakarta was dedicated solely to saying goodbyes and doing as much sightseeing as possible.  Not only did I discover some amazing vegetarian street food in Indonesia but I learned that there is an abundance of fun and weird things to do in Jakarta.


July 2015: Vacationing in the Philippines & going home

The month of July was an absolute whirlwind of travel.  We packed up all of our stuff, bid farewell to Jakarta, and started a very roundabout journey to our new home, Phnom Penh.  Instead of going straight to Cambodia we took a week-long trip to the Philippines’ most famous beach, Boracay, where we learned that sometimes traveling during the low season downright sucks.

After a week of rain and wind in Boracay we lugged all of our stuff back to California where we visited our families, attended Aaron’s brother’s wedding and ate our weight in Mexican food in San Diego.

California is kinda the best. It’s good to be back!   A photo posted by Justine (@thetravellush) on

During my month-long visit to the States, I also took a little side trip to visit my older sister in Boulder, Colorado, where I pretty much ate everything in sight.  Seriously, Boulder has some damn good food!

August 2015: Moving to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In August we arrived in Phnom Penh, moved into our apartment and started to settle into our new lives.  Since August I’ve been able to really get to know Phnom Penh, including both the good and the bad.

September & October 2015: Visiting Bangkok TWICE

In September Aaron and I found out that another one of our friends just so happened to be in Bangkok on business.  We booked a ticket immediately and found ourselves back in one of our favorite Southeast Asian cities.  Aside from the fact that I came down with some sort of mysterious ailment (I blame you pad thai!) that lasted for over a month, we had a blast drinking ’til the wee hours on Khao San Road, shopping at Bangkok’s famous markets and, of course, catching up with a dear friend we hadn’t seen in years.

Lots of pretty Buddhas at the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok.   A photo posted by Justine (@thetravellush) on

One month later I found myself back in Bangkok for TBEX Asia, my first ever travel blogging conference.  Despite being completely anxiety ridden about going to TBEX I managed to overcome my nerves and have an amazing time.  I met some of my favorite travel bloggers and made some lasting connections with so many people.

November & December 2015:  Living in Phnom Penh

I’ve stayed put in the city for the past two months.  Now that I’ve lived here for about five months I’ve learned a lot about this city.  I’ve discovered Phnom Penh’s thriving street art scene, uncovered some amazing vegetarian eateries and experienced one of the city’s largest and craziest festivals.

It is so crazy to look back on this year and see just how much has happened.  In my last post, I did allude to the fact that I have some pretty major news regarding my upcoming travel/life plans.  I’m not quite ready to reveal what they are.  But it’s safe to say that 2016 is set to be an even more travel and adventure-filled year!

Thanks Leah over at The Mochilera Diaries for having the brilliant idea of looking back at 2015 through her Instagram photos and encouraging me to do the same!  You can check out her travel-filled year here.

How did your 2015 pan out?  What is your favorite travel memory of the year?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

16 thoughts on “Looking Back at 2015: Travel and Expat Living

  1. Oh and I forgot to answer the question! My 2015 has been good- I think Japan was the major highlight for me this year. I also have lots of nice memories of little moments in the hutong of Beijing- especially as Spring came really early in Beijing so we could be out and about a lot and made the most of our last few months there.
    Joella recently posted…Walking The Wild Great Wall

  2. Great re-cap, Justine. Awesome year of travel, and I am sure 2016 will be just as exciting for you. I’ve enjoyed following your blog and look forward reading more in the new year!

    As for my travel highlight – I returned to SE Asia for the first time in a few years, and loved every minute in Vietnam and Thailand. Hoping to get to Cambodia, Laos, and more of Thailand in ’16.
    Paul recently posted…The Christmas Post – 8 Travel Experiences I Am Thankful For

    1. Thanks Paul 🙂 I’m so glad to hear that you had such a good time revisiting Southeast Asia. Clearly I can’t get enough of this corner of the world. I can’t wait to see where 2016 takes you! Happy New Year!!

    1. Well, thanks for the idea 😉 It is pretty crazy looking back at all the twists and turns of 2015. I hope the new year treats you well too Leah…I can’t wait to see where it takes both of us 🙂

  3. 2015 was pretty eventful for us. Preemie baby and all. :p But travel-wise, definitely finally getting to visit the Maldives was the highlight. Wish we could go back. It feels like a dream now!! But it looks like 2015 was really fantastic for you, where you got to travel a lot and move to a city that you enjoy more. Wish you all the best for the coming year, and look forward to reading stories from 2016! 😀
    Shelley recently posted…Baby Steps: Travel for 2016

    1. This year was definitely one for the books for you 😉 As for me, it’s pretty crazy looking back at where this year has taken in me. Happy New Year Shelley 🙂

    1. Yes! Boracay is a big destination for kitesurfers. Basically the island gets hit with winds year round. During the low season (the summer) the winds hit White Beach, which is what I’ve written about here. There were definitely a few kitesurfers out, but again it was REALLY stormy when I was there so I’m sure typically there are more out. But during the rest of the year the wind hits Bulabog Beach (on the other side of the island). So when I visited the first time, during November, Bulabog had hundreds of kitesurfers!

    1. It is a great idea, though admittedly it wasn’t mine! There really are so many places to visit in SE Asia. I know I’ll be back to explore more at some point! And you NEED to go to Nusa Penida!!!!

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