Each year, I like to reflect on the very best travel moments of the year. 2015 was a very well-traveled year for me. In November alone, I went on three trips. Throughout the year, I spent 45 nights in hotels and traveled on 27 planes. I visited five foreign countries, three continents, 18 cities, and nine UNESCO World Heritage sites.
How incredibly lucky am I?!
With only two weeks of vacation, I’ve somehow managed to spend a good chunk of my life living out of a suitcase. I can still have all the comforts of home—a nice apartment and a great job I love—but I have the ability to go out and experience the world. I’m happiest when I’m planning trips, gazing dreamily at maps, taking photos of a beautiful landscapes, and ultimately, setting foot on a plane to a new destination. It’s what I live for; it’s the part of my life that fulfills me the most.
So, let’s take a look at my top 15 travel moments of 2015:
- Revisiting Florence. It’s the place that opened my eyes to a larger world, and made me fall in love with travel. Florence and I will always have this strange, love/hate relationship, but I’ll never stop being grateful to it. It was beyond incredible to go back five years after I studied abroad there, and retrace my footsteps (sans map!) with a little time, perspective, and travel under my belt.
- Falling in love with Rome. I never saw that one coming, which made it one of the sweetest surprises of the year. When I visited Rome back in 2010, I was completely unenthused. It was loud, dirty, and busy—all the things I hated about Florence, only amplified. I reluctantly agreed to go back to Rome because Kyle wanted to see it, and because our Mediterranean cruise was leaving from a nearby port. Imagine my shock when I found myself eating spaghetti and sipping an Aperol spritz while staring in complete awe at the Pantheon. We spent hours walking around the city that evening, marveling at the glow of the ancient sites at night. That evening, Rome quickly became one of my favorite cities on earth.
- Crossing Santorini off my bucket list. Greece had long held a top spot on my bucket list—and no place more so than Santorini. It’s the subject of every Pinterest travel board: the white-washed, blue-domed buildings of the glittering, volcanic island in the Mediterranean. The jewel in the Greek crown. The afternoon we spent there only left me wanting more. I know there’s a wall somewhere in Oia with my name on it, just waiting for me to come back and sit there to watch one of those famed sunsets.
- Setting foot on my third continent. I’ll admit I hadn’t done much research about our cruise port Kusadasi in Turkey. I was too excited about our two-day stay in Istanbul, which ended up being canceled. I felt like a typical uniformed tourist when three hours into our stop in port, someone welcomed us to Asia. How could I not know that 97% of Turkey is in Asia? (Istanbul is part of Europe). Although it still feels a bit like I’m cheating, saying I’ve been to Asia, I couldn’t have been more surprised by the sites I saw there. The ancient city of Ephesus was absolutely incredible, and I highly, highly recommend a visit there.
- Spending an entire evening staring at the Eiffel Tower. Yes, it’s true—I spent hours of my brief time in Paris simply staring at the emblem of the city. It was the final day of three weeks in Europe. Kyle had gone home, and I’d moved on to France for a quick work trip. I had ten hours to spend in Paris before catching my flight home. I loved Paris during my first visit five years ago, and was even more enthralled this time. I went on a driving tour of the city, had dinner on the Seine, and visited the Eiffel Tower three separate times. Watching it sparkle in the night sky will never get old.
- Witnessing the power of nature in Iceland. Untouched. Mighty. Pristine. Those are a few words I kept saying while in Iceland. Whether it was standing in the presence of a geyser, watching water careen over jagged cliffs, or soaking in the Blue Lagoon, the power of Mother Nature constantly surrounded and astounded me.
- Standing on a beach on Thanksgiving Day. Who would have thought that I’d take my typical beach feet picture at the end of November on a black-sand beach during the middle of a graupel storm, while wearing three layers of thick socks and heavy boots? Certainly not me.
- Enjoying the first snowfall in Reykjavik. We didn’t know it at the time, but on our last day in Reykjavik, the city experienced its first significant snowfall of the year. Pristine doesn’t even begin to describe the beauty of the fresh snow by the harbor. We took a long walk that morning, marveling at the snow globe we seemed to be in.
In the U.S.
- Gazing in wonder at the Red Rocks in Sedona. I just couldn’t seem to stare long enough to take it all in. The drive into the valley was one of the most gorgeous I’ve ever taken, the rocks getting higher and higher, redder and redder, around us. We spent three amazing days in Sedona at the beginning of our Arizona road trip, and we loved it so much, we went back for another night at the end. I think it’s true what people in Sedona say: “God created the Grand Canyon, but he lives in Sedona.”
- Feeling small at the Grand Canyon. Catching my first glimpse of the monstrous expanse over the edge of the South Rim, I’d never felt so small in my life. Miles of painted nothingness—all carved by the seemingly meandering river at the bottom. Talk about the raw power of nature slapping you in the face! You realize what an insignificant place you occupy in the world, and yet somehow, you can’t help but feel grateful for the sheer privilege of just being there to take it all in.
- Standing atop Horseshoe Bend. After a long hike from the parking lot, you’re rewarded with the most wondrous of sights. I’d seen pictures, but nothing could have prepared me for the inedible beauty of Horseshoe Bend, the 270-degree bend in the mighty Colorado River. It’s this kind of mystical place, hidden away in the middle of nature. Photographers and fellow travelers sat quietly in awe as the early evening light painted the walls of the canyon.
- Watching the light shift in Antelope Canyon. I’ve wanted to go there since I saw the famed National Geographic cover. Two photogenic slot canyons (Upper and Lower) in the middle of Navajo land represent the quintessential American Southwest I longed to see. We visited the Upper canyon—the most popular and easiest to access. Spiral rock formations rise up around you as you make your way through the canyon. At high noon, light beams shoot down to the floor of the canyon, showcasing the fleeting beauty of moments in Antelope Canyon.
- Being wonderfully captivated by Chicago. I love nothing more than being completely surprised by a destination. I went on a work trip to Chicago in November, and while I was excited to go, I wasn’t expecting much out of the city. I knew about the giant, mirrored “bean” in a park, but that was about it. My first day there, I quickly became entranced with the architecture, attractions, and overall vibe of the Windy City, and I used every spare moment to soak it all in.
- Visiting the 9/11 Museum and Freedom Tower at Ground Zero. I’d been there before—this hallowed ground that holds such a significant place in all of our histories. It’s always sobering to visit there, watching the water fall into the seemingly bottomless reflecting pools demarking the exact footprints of the towers. This time, I visited the 9/11 Museum, a tasteful snapshot of the events of that day. My favorite part was seeing the massive installation by visual artist, Spencer Finch, called Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on that September Morning. It’s a massive work, compete with 2,983 individual squares of Fabriano Italian paper hand painted different shades of blue, representing every person killed in the Sept. 11 attacks and in the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. The museum was incredible, as was the view from the recently opened One World Observatory, where you really can “See Forever,” as their motto goes.
- Getting my first foray into travel photography. I’ve always loved taking phots of my travels, and have been wanting to gain a deeper understanding of photography for a long time. A week before my solo trip to NYC, I bought my first quasi-professional camera, the Sony a6000, and my new BFF. I’d always admired the HDR travel photography of Trey Ratcliff with Stuck in Customs, so I purchased one of his recommended cameras, and headed off to NYC where I’d join his photo walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d never been to that part of the city before, and after quite the struggle to figure out how to get out of Manhattan, I was rewarded with one of the most spectacular sunsets I’d ever seen. It was a great first introduction to a new part of the city—and my new camera—and since, I’ve really started to dive headfirst into the world of travel photography. And I love it!
Here’s to more wonderful adventures in 2016!