This year has been one filled with incredible highs and some very low lows. Despite being out of commission for the first quarter of the year (Kyle recovering from surgery and me with a broken arm and head injury!), somehow we still managed to set foot on four continents this calendar year. (And I clocked more than 100 hours in the sky on 24 commercial flights!) We both celebrated our 30th birthdays this year and planned some epic trips to mark the occasions. Here are some of my favorite travel moments this year.
Ringing in the New Year in Sydney, Australia
This was serious bucket-list material: watching fireworks explode over Sydney Harbor, hours earlier than most of our friends and family would welcome 2019 on the other side of the world. It’s funny the optimism you have as the calendar changes from one year to the next. This was a tough year in our household, but we certainly managed to kick it off the right way!
Flying to Hawaii on New Year’s Day
Even though we were leaving Oceania on January 1, the fun didn’t stop there. At the end of a month-long adventure, we spent five days in Hawaii, relaxing before it was time to go back to work. It was really interesting to experience the Sydney fireworks at midnight, go to sleep, fly to NZ then Hawaii, and arrive a mere 6 hours after Honolulu’s firework display. January 1 lasted 43 hours for us, consisting of plane rides, beach walks, and naps in the hotel lobby.
Discovering our favorite beach on Oʻahu
Kailua Beach is absolutely gorgeous! We spent lots of time walking in the waves, picnicking on the shore, and sleeping an afternoon away before our flight back to the mainland. We later found out that Kyle lived near here when his parents were stationed on Oʻahu.
Taking a helicopter ride over Oʻahu
I surprised Kyle with a helicopter flight over the island where he spent the first few years of his life. His dad worked on helicopters when he was in the Marines, so I thought it would be fitting to see this island from the air like he had so many times. Our private tour was filled with rainbows, scenes from Jurassic Park, and pineapples from the sky!
Celebrating my 30th birthday in my 30th country!!!
I broke my arm exactly 6 months prior to my 30th birthday. I was sure the trip I’d been dreaming about for years was not going to happen. I’d been “country collecting” to ensure I’d hit 30 countries at the perfect moment—and I knew exactly where I wanted to be: South Africa! (Fun fact: Africa was also continent #5 for us)! After months of uncertainty, we finally got the OK to book the trip. It was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken, and I’m so glad I got to welcome my next decade in such an incredible way. Special thanks to Lion World Travel for putting together such a spectacular experience!
Hangin’ with the African penguins at Boulders Beach
Confession: This was practically the sole reason I wanted to go to South Africa. I’d seen pictures of this penguin-filled beach for years, and I HAD to be part of it! I was so excited that our tour to the Cape of Good Hope and Boulders Beach fell on my birthday.
Tasting wine in Stellenbosch, South Africa
Living in wine country, I never have a great desire to go winery hopping on vacation, but visiting Cape Winelands in South Africa was a special experience. We even got to blend our own wine! (Finger Lakes wineries take note—this was SO cool!)
Seeing Cape Town from the sky
Sweepingly dramatic, the view from the Cape Town sky was one I had to see “in my eyeballs,” as Kyle and I often say. It was ridiculously awesome to see Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope from the air with our skillful lady pilot.
Scoring the absolute best guide for our safari
This was hands-down one of the biggest highlights of the year. I have been reading reviews and watching videos about Shamwari Private Game Reserve for years, and everyone raved about their fabulous safari experiences with their guide Headman. I knew it was highly unlikely that we’d be able to score a specific guide, but I figured there was no harm in asking. Even our agent at Lion World Travel said she didn’t think it would happen. Imagine our delight when we got to Bayethe Lodge and Headman was waiting to take us on our first game drive! Come to find out, he worked at Bayethe for many years, but was now at another property on the resort (of which there are seven), and they brought him over for the five days of our visit specifically to accommodate our request. And that was the start of an impeccable experience at Shamwari.
Spotting the Big 5—and then some!
With 19 years of guiding experience at Shamwari, Headman was the animal whisperer. When we looked for the only two cheetahs in the park, we found them. When we asked for baby elephants, poof—there they were! Kyle requested a caracal one evening, and it walked in front of our jeep not five minutes later. To say our first safari was amazing is a ridiculous understatement.
Finding lion cubs at sunset on our anniversary
By our last two game drives, we’d seen all the animals we could have hoped to see—and some multiple times. We decided to search for the elusive lion family. They’d disappeared several days before and none of the rangers had seen them. We spent three hours searching in the morning with no luck. It was our 7th wedding anniversary and we were really hoping the lion cubs would want to make an appearance that evening. After another hour or two of searching, a ranger radioed to everyone in the park that he had spotted them high on top of a hill. Headman hadn’t used that trail in five years, he said. Seeing little lion cubs play with their parents in the sunset light was such an amazing thing to witness.
Solo trip to SoCal
Each October seems to necessitate a trip somewhere in the U.S. I discovered that due to my injury earlier in the year, I hadn’t adequately planned all of my vacation time, and I had a few extra days to use. I decided to go visit my lovely friend Jes who had recently moved to Southern California. I had a few days to spend on my own before joining her for the weekend, so I rented a car and road tripped to locales around Los Angeles—and had a marvelous time soaking up the sun before embarking upon a New York State winter. I always love a good solo trip. Even though it can be scary to find yourself in a strange city completely dependent on yourself, you realize that you’re in charge of your own destiny. You can do whatever you want—go for a hike, read a book on a beach, sip an alcoholic beverage from a pineapple—your experience can be 100% what you want it to be.
Falling in love with Malibu
I keep a mental list of all the places I want to live someday, and I quickly added this charming city to it. How I’d ever afford it is a different issue entirely, but a girl can dream.
Visiting Mount Palomar Observatory
I’ve given tours at The Corning Museum of Glass for 15 years, and I always love talking about the 200-inch disk, a telescope mirror that was cast in Corning in the 1930s—and was designed by my great-grandfather. The first casting failed and now resides at the Museum. The second made its way by train out to Mount Palomar Observatory in California where it was ground and polished into a mirror for 9 years, then was put into use and allowed people to see farther into space than ever before. Very cool to see the disk in operation on the opposite coast!
Spending a week in a cozy cabin in Finland
Kyle and I always talk about finding a cozy cabin where we can relax for a week and watch the snow fall. So that’s exactly what he picked for his 30th birthday trip—albeit about 10 months late. I mentioned this was a rough year. Kyle had surgery two days after he turned 30, so he was in no position to take the birthday trip he’d been dreaming about: a WWII road trip through France. So we tabled that idea and booked a stay at a place that had been on our radar for years: Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Lapland, Finland. It was time to see those elusive Northern Lights above the Arctic Circle!
A different kind of safari at the top of the world
But first, dog sledding! The husky farm next to Kakslauttanen is home to 200+ good, good doggos who were beyond thrilled to take a morning run through the snowy forests of Lapland. And they let us come along for the ride! Our team was filled with hilarious, long-tongued friends who got lots of pets and belly scratches for doing such a great job. Coincidentally, this was called a “husky safari” and I realized we’d completed safaris at the top and bottom of the world, in terms of longitude, in the same year!
Wandering through a snow globe
Perfectly pristine snow—I’ve never seen anything quite like it! The snow in Lapland is fluffy, and yet somehow dense, clinging to the landscape for months and months. It’s a dark time of year—no sunlight shines on this part of Finland for 6 weeks, but everything is enveloped in a deep shade of blue during “daylight.” We loved walking through this wonderland, filled with knee-deep snow and icicles on our eyelashes.
FINALLY SEEING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!!!
It was high time for us to see this spectacular display that had eluded us on three previous trips (Alaska, Iceland, and Norway) over the past seven years. We decided that we needed to sit somewhere for a week and plan to do nothing but look at the sky. Surely then it would happen, right? Well, as our trip neared, the forecast showed completely cloudy skies over Finnish Lapland. (Did you know it’s cloudy in Lapland about 80% of the time in November? Yea, neither did I!) There was no sign of the lights for the first four nights, despite a perfectly clear sky one night. But the “aurora alarm” in our room had us bundled up and searching for the last three nights we were there. The first time, I asked the universe to show us just one little Northern Light. Ask, and you shall receive! One faint white beam cut across the sky—too subtle for my camera to capture. But the next night—one that called for complete cloud cover—our aurora alarm rang, and we ran outside to see the most spectacular, dazzling display. I think the word “phenomenal” was created just to have a way to describe the Northern Lights.
A new adventure for Christmas: Sydney
2019 was book-ended by this incredible city we fell in love with on the other side of the world. But not in the way you might be thinking. For some crazy reason still unknown to us, we got a third dog! We spent Christmas at home this year, welcoming Sydney Kailua to our furry family. She joins our other travel pups Sedona and Trevi.