My Christmas Letter 2013

In my family, it’s a bit of a tradition to send out a Christmas letter to all your friends and family.  I too have kind of taken that idea and plugged it into blog form for the past couple years.  Not only is it nice to give a bit of a personal update on things to readers, but it’s also an easy way for me to trick my family and friends to actually read something on my blog for a change.  Of course, when you travel the world as I do, these letters can sound a bit self indulgent, so I’m sorry if it does.

This is the Ghost of my past, present and future:

The Past

This past year was definitely the wildest of my life thus far.  I rung in the year to the sounds of West African music at an outdoor bar in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso with complete strangers.  Of course, I had just set out on the stupidest idea I’ve ever had.  I decided to drive a scooter from Mali, in northern Africa, all the way down to Cape Town, South Africa.  The journey would take me nearly 20,000 kilometers down the west side of Africa.  I crossed through countries like Nigeria, DR Congo, and Gabon.  Through the journey I fought through a nasty crash in Cameroon, suicidal drivers in Nigeria, cases of malaria in DRC and Togo, and countless flat tires and tough roads.  It really was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  To this day, I’m completely confused by how I got through it all.

I was alone a lot, fought mightily with extreme cases of loneliness.  However, despite being alone in person for the majority of the journey I learned how strong the support is of my family and friends, I love them all immensely for all their positive energy they sent me throughout the journey.

The Congo Border

Of course, the journey was difficult.  But it had so many positives as well.  I learned a lot about Africa I could have never learned from in books.  I hope I was able to dispel some of the myths about Africa as well.  The people, in general, I met there were incredibly kind, and there’s a sense of community I think we have lost a lot in the “West.”

This lady in the DR Congo saved my life.

This lady in the DR Congo saved my life.

Tiffany and I in Bratislava

Moreover, the trip led me to Tiffany.  I met Tiffany on a sand dune in Namibia, and in Tiffany I’m sure I found not only an incredibly beautiful person, but a partner, something I haven’t had since, well, ever.

Following my arrival in Cape Town, I sold my trusted partner Anne Murray to a bellman and explored a bit more of South Africa on my own before returning to Canada for 6 weeks.  I got the chance to meet my niece and nephew who are two of my favourite people in this world now.  They are so awesome!  I give so much credit to my sister Jen for how she’s raised those kids.  I can’t imagine raising twins is easy, but she’s brought up some amazing little rug rats.  Moreover, she’s become a badass photographer at the same time (check out some of her work here).  Being away from my family, and missing the chance to watch the twins grow up, is easily the hardest thing about my lifestyle.  Thankfully, things like skype can keep us all connected to some degree.

My and the monsters: Jack and Sloane... and the puppy, Bowie.

My and the monsters: Jack and Sloane… and the puppy, Bowie.

I also got the chance to see my little brother who is still smarter than anyone should be allowed to be.  He still has the best sense of humour ever, as well.  It’s funny how different two brothers can be “career-wise”, though.  He works as an accountant and is about to take the first real vacation of his life this winter, whilst I frolic around the world somewhat aimlessly.  As different as our lifestyles, political ideas, and credit limits are, there are few people I respect more than my bro.  If you own a fortune 500 company, he’s the tax man you want!

My parents are doing well also, but I’m starting to think they’ll never retire.  My pops stopped teaching a while ago, but for some reason feels the need to go up to Northern Alberta at -50000 degrees and work in the oilfield.  I thought one was meant to play golf and drink mojitos when they retire?  Mom is still working way too hard.  She works for an oilfield construction company in Rocky, and based by the amount she works, I’m fairly sure she is secretly positioning to become an owner.

Anyways, after again leaving home in September, I headed to Dublin where I ran a photography workshop with my friend Pete Heck.  I then continued on to Amsterdam where I again met up with Tiffany.

The Present

Tiffany and I have made our way overland from Amsterdam to Istanbul before hoping a flight to here in Bali, Indonesia.

We’re spending an entire month here in Bali, hoping to bathe under the sun and mix in a bit of adventure as well. We’ve also rented a couple scooters which has me feeling the need to try to drive this thing all the way back to Canada somehow.  Oh, how I miss Anne Murray.  I’m meant to be writing a book about my scooter journey down Africa well we’re here but I’ve been far too distracted by the beach, temples, and satay lunches.  I think in 10 days I’ve only added another 1000 words to the book.  It’s shameful, and with the holidays coming up I can’t really see that improving too much.

Tiffany hanging out in Uluwatu

Tiffany hanging out in Uluwatu

Regardless, I can’t tell you how nice it is to have a partner in this travel game.  I hit the jackpot with Tiffany, she’s perhaps as adventurous as I am.  If there’s something strange on the menu, you can be assured that Tiffany will be ordering just that.  On the scooters, she spends most of her time trying to pass me, or at least tossing elbows in traffic.  She really is awesome, way cooler than she’ll ever know.

The Future

There was a time in the heart of loneliness in Central Africa that I was sure I was ready to settle down, maybe open a hostel somewhere with an ocean.  However, I now know that I probably wont be completely satisfied until I’ve seen the entire world.  Thus, this year I have big plans again.

Christmas Card-5

Early in the New Year, Tiffany and I will be travelling up Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and maybe some other places in between.  We’re hoping to hit China by May.  From there we’ll travel up to Mongolia and then hopefully jump on the trans-Siberian across Russia and back to Europe.  I need to be home in Canada by October since my good mate Ted has gone and got himself engaged.

What happens post-Canada is anyone’s guess.  I’m trying to get back to Antarctica, so maybe another jaunt in South America is in order. Then back to Africa? Or maybe Central Asia?  Or Australia and New Zealand?  Honestly, your guess is as good as mine.

Anyways, I hope your 2013 has been amazing and I wish you all the best in 2014.

Season’s Greetings from Bali!


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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15 Comments

  1. You have had a most amazing year. I can only imagine the next will be even better, especially having someone to share it with. Really looking forward to your Siberian Express jaunt as that’s been on my list for a while.

    Happy New Year to you both!

    Annual Christmas letter used to be a tradition in my fam also.

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    • Thanks for following along with the year Gaelyn, all the best in the new year!

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  2. Impressed with your year and even more so, happy you have found peace and happiness. Jealous I am.

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    • Yoda you are. Hope all is well, buddy. Here’s hoping for another meet up in 2014.

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  3. Great post Brendan. An amazing year! Loved following your adventures in Africa especially! Here’s to an equally amazing 2014!

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    • Thanks Helen. Hope all is well with you! Wishing you a splendid 2014.

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  4. He Brandan,
    From Cape Town, wish you all the best and luck with Tiffany. I just read about her and what a luck you’ve had finder her!! In a week from now, we’ll be traveling back home along East Africa. You can always hop in when we meet again…

    Safe yourney for 2014!

    Sonja and Jeroen, the DoubleDutch!

    Post a Reply
    • Double Dutch!
      You know you guys are famous on the blog! haha.
      Hope to see you guys again at some point. Also, I have some photos of you guys to send on at some point when I get to slightly better internet.

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  5. A nice summary of your 2013. Best wishes for 2014. I look forward to hearing more about your adventures and hopefully will have some of my own to share with you. God Bless

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    • Thanks Lori! Wishing you all the best in the year to come!

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  6. Looks like your sister has your future film crew there with the little “monsters” – train them well! 😀

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    • Totally, right?! I think they’re more interested in being in front of the camera though!

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  7. What a great read! And what an amazing year you had.
    Your solo trip across Africa is impressive and oh-so-very inspiring.. keep on sharing such good travel stories. I love that your blog is not all about roses, rainbows and unicorns (love story aside.. but that I do like!).. and shows a very raw, realistic and often forgotten side of travel on many blogs. Thumbs up! 🙂

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    • Thanks for reading Zara! I appreciate the comments 😀 All the best in the new year.

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