Best travel experiences of 2010

This time of year is great. Besides the avalanche of Christmas parties, the inevitable mince pie binge and the Annual Groundwater Bocce Brawl, the holidays also give you time to reflect on another year gone by.

For some people that might mean thinking about promotions gained or children produced, but for me, it means travel. What was great this year? What sucked? And most importantly, what would I want to do again?

Because if you want, this could be your "highlights of 2011" list. If I had fun doing it this year, then anyone else would have fun doing it next year. And trust me, if you're planning that big trip for 2011, you could do much worse than include a few of these.

Doing an Easy Rider tour through Vietnam
Ah, the open road. Just you, your driver, and about 50,000 psychos on scooters to share it with. OK, so motorbike travel through Vietnam isn't always the most relaxing pursuit, but my guided trip from Nha Trang to Dalat this year was one of the best things I've done in South-East Asia. There's scenery to stare at, small villages to explore, and constant iced coffee to be drunk. Never a dull moment.

Being serenaded by ukulele in the Cook Islands
Chances are you either think ukuleles are beautiful and evocative of islands and sunsets, or you find them twee and annoying. I used to think I was of the latter group until I was sitting on the deck of a boat as it chugged across the palm-ringed Aitutaki lagoon, with three gigantic islanders strumming away and singing traditional songs up the front. I almost brought one home with me. (A ukulele, that is.)

Staying in a Buddhist monastery in Japan
Getting up at 6am for prayers isn't usually my idea of a good time, but when you're staying in a Buddhist monastery in Mt Koya, near Kyoto, then it kind of seems like the right thing to do. And when you've spent the previous day wandering through centuries-old temples and cemeteries in this deeply religious little town, it makes even more sense. Still, wouldn't 9am prayers be just as effective?

Spending a weekend in the Hunter Valley
Great holidays don't have to cost a lot of money – they don't even have to involve much travel. All you need is good friends and an unlimited supply of wine. I spent a weekend in a rickety cabin in the Hunter with 12 mates and, from what I remember, we had a ball.

Chilling on the beach in Zipolite, Mexico
Zipolite isn't strictly a nudist beach – it's a "clothing optional" beach. This hippie heaven on the Pacific coast is known for its relaxed sunbathing laws, although it quickly becomes clear that this appeals more to middle aged men than anyone else. Still, if you're not offended by old blokes' dangly bits, this tiny beach town really is the ultimate get-away-from-it-all destination. Rent a bungalow, bag a hammock, and chill.

Doing the gorge swing at Oribi Gorge, South Africa
There's no way to accurately describe the sheer blind terror pulsing through your veins as the guy makes the final check on your harness, lays the rope over the cliff edge in front of you, and softly murmers, "Okay, ready". From there it's two steps, a leap, 2.1 seconds of freefall down a cliff face, the tug of the rope, a huge swing across the rocky valley floor, and a winch back up to the top. Oh, and a burning desire to do it all again.

Staying at La Casa del Mundo, Guatemala
To the left, a towering volcano. To the right, two more. Down below, a huge lake lapping up against the base of the mountains. The odd ferry chugs past, but other than that, nothing. Peace. This is Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan mountains, and it's stunning. But the scenery's not even the highlight. Stay at La Casa del Mundo and you not only get a Spanish-style villa clinging to the side of the mountain, but every night you share a candlelit dinner with 20 fellow travellers. Home couldn't be further away.

Fluking cherry blossom season in Kyoto, Japan
Cherry blossoms only appear for about three weeks a year. I didn't know this, and nor would I have cared anyway. Flowers? Whatever. But there I was in Kyoto in April this year, and everyone was banging on about the cherry blossoms. And you know what? They're actually really impressive. I wasn't moved to plant my telephoto lens at the base of a tree and snap away all day like the locals, but still – impressive.

Photos: Travel highlights 2010

What were your travel highlights of 2010? What do you have planned for 2011?

Hope you're enjoying the Backpacker blog – there will be a new one published every Tuesday and Wednesday on the Fairfax Media websites. To contact me with any topic suggestions or personal abuse, visit my website, follow me on Twitter, or email me at