My Top 17 Travel Moments of 2017

Vatican City
Vatican City

I always love looking back on my favorite travel moments of the year. And wow, wow, WOW! By 12/31, I will have visited 13 countries this year—and France twice! Eight of these were new for me. That’s a pretty impressive amount of travel on three weeks of vacation, if I do say so myself!

As luck would have it, we still have more adventures to enjoy this year, as we’re off on a Viking River Cruise next week, but here are my top 17 highlights from this year so far. I’ve listed them in the order that they happened, since it’s simply too hard to rank them in order of awesomeness!

1. Giving the World for Christmas
One of my very favorite travel moments of 2017 happened right at the end of 2016, when we surprised Kyle’s parents with a trip to Paris and Rome for Christmas—and to celebrate their 30th anniversary. I’d always imagined how incredible it would be to literally “give someone the world” for Christmas, and we actually got to do it, thanks to an incredible TravelZoo deal. Kyle and I hadn’t really traveled with another couple before, but we had a blast exploring with his parents for a week. I was so excited to show them my two favorite cities on earth. We made memories to last a lifetime—or at least until our next trip together!

2. Capturing Memories with Flytographer in Paris
Speaking of memories, another part of the gift we gave to Kyle’s parents was a photo session with Flytographer in Paris. I love having professional pictures taken, since you otherwise have to rely on kind strangers who, let’s face it, often have lackluster photography skills. 2017 was their 30th anniversary and our 5th, so we decided to celebrate with a romantic photo shoot in the city of love. The photography session was lots of fun, and we got a variety of pictures in several locations. I’d do another Flytographer session again in a heartbeat!

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3. Digging a Little Deeper in Paris
I ticked a few more sites off my Paris bucket list this year: Sainte Chapelle and its phenomenal stained-glass windows, and Palais Garnier and its gold-drenched interior. What spectacular places! I could have stayed in the main hallway of Palais Garnier for an entire day, marveling at every intricate detail. Another goal for this year was to make it to the top of one of my favorite buildings in Paris: Notre Dame. I wanted to get a gargoyle’s-eye-view of the city, and it certainly didn’t disappoint!

4. Finally Kissing My Husband in the City of Love
On my third trip to the greatest city on earth, I finally got to take my husband!!! Cliched though it may be, I’ve always wanted to kiss him by the Eiffel Tower and walk hand-in-hand under its sparkle by night.

Flytographer

Flytographer

5. Third Time’s a Charm in Rome
What can I say? Rome, I was so very wrong about you the first time I visited. It keeps getting better and better. My third visit solidified Rome as one of my favorite cities in the world. It certainly helped that this time, we saw the sights the right way! I booked a private tour of Vatican City through Roman Candle Tours, and our guide, Elisa, met us an hour before the museum opened. Standing in the Sistine Chapel with a handful of people instead of hoards, and actually having each painting’s significance explained to us made a world of difference. I had also requested to visit the Mosaic Workshop, typically off-limits to the public, but because of my glass connections, I was desperate to see it. Elisa set it up, and it was phenomenal. We enjoyed her company so much that we booked a Colosseum and Roman Forum tour with her the next day—made all the more special because she had earned her Ph.D. in archaeology working at the Roman Forum. The stories she told brought everything to life.

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6. Our First European Road Trip
I’ve been to Europe a number of times, visiting 20+ countries, but until this year, I’d never taken a European road trip. I was pretty terrified to drive in Europe, but come to find out, it’s super easy—if not altogether better—than in the U.S. Let me clarify: We were driving from Amsterdam to Zurich, passing through Belgium, France, and Luxembourg along the way. There are still places I probably wouldn’t drive in Europe (cities in Italy, much of Eastern Europe, etc.), but our journey through Western Europe was incredible. And everything is SO close! When we mapped out the trip, we kept tacking on cities, as the next place we wanted to go happened to only be an hour or two from the last. Such a vast difference from road tripping in America.

Road Trip!

Road Trip!

7. I Adore Amsterdam!
I’d always heard one thing about Amsterdam: You either love it or you hate it. The Venice of the North had been on my bucket list for quite a while, and a springtime $400 flight made it a possibility. I kept my expectations at bay, but as we Ubered to our Airbnb in Jordaan, I quickly found myself falling for the place. The whole city seemed to be bicycling along the houseboat-lined canals that lazily twisted their way through the heart of Amsterdam. Add in all the cheese and windmills at Zaanse Schans, and I became thoroughly entranced. Until next time, stay beautiful, Amsterdam!

8. Easter + Tulips in Amsterdam = Perfection
I’ve dreamed about visiting the tulip fields in the Netherlands for a very long time. This was the year! Spending five hours at Keukenhof Tulip Gardens was the most picture-perfect way to spend Easter—about 700 pictures, actually! I had so much fun photographing the colorful flowers and basking in the beauty of nature that day.

Keukenhof Tulip Gardens

Keukenhof Tulip Gardens

9. Tracing WWII History through Belgium and Luxembourg
A history buff I am not, but my dear husband has a particular passion for WWII history. When planning our European road trip, we realized how close we could be to some points of interest that Kyle never thought he’d be able to visit—like Ghent where the giant altarpiece taken by the Nazis and recovered in a mine is now on display. It was the subject of the movie “Monuments Men.” He also never envisioned he’d be able to make it to Bastogne, the site of a key WWII battle and now home to the Bastogne War Museum, which I must say was a surprisingly extensive place. Our last stop on this journey through history was the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial where Kyle found General Patton’s grave, and those of so many others who had died in the Bastogne region and beyond. Standing in that quiet cemetery offered a moment of tranquility after several days of somber learning.

Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial

Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial

10. Quelle Surprise! Discovering the Alsace Region of France
Little town, it’s a quiet village… While most people went to theaters to watch Disney’s remake of Beauty and the Beast this year, I road tripped through some of the quaint French towns that inspired the movie in the first place. (And yes, I went to the theater, too). We were at a crossroads: To spend a day in the Black Forest of Germany, or drive through tiny towns in Alsace, France? On a recommendation from a coworker (merci, Ellen!), we decided to visit Riquewihr—and Obernai and Eguisheim courtesy of our concierge in Strasbourg. Wow, are we glad we did. It was the most idyllic day! I had been longing to see Colmar—our overnight destination—thanks to Pinterest, but we would have missed out on so much beauty had we not gone to these other towns. We’re already planning a return trip—and we’ll be adding Kaysersberg next time—voted 2017’s favorite French village.

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11. Parlez vous anglais?
I consider myself to be fairly well-traveled, but 2017 was the first time I’d ever been to a place where truly no one spoke English. It was in Obernai, Alsace, France, and we were ordering breakfast. I had to rely on pointing and smiling to order my Black Forest Cake—oh yes, for breakfast. Later that day, I used Google translate to ask a question in a Christmas shop. I loved it. I think everyone needs to feel slightly uncomfortable once in a while; to be the minority in a particular place. I think it gives you a newfound appreciation for the universal language of the smile and basic human decency—something the world seems to be severely lacking in this year. Strip language away and try to understand each other—you’ll realize we’re not all that different.

Why yes, this is real life!

Amazing Alsace!

12. Switzerland: Is this real life?!
It’s a definite possibility that the Jungfrau Region is the most stunning place on earth. Seven years ago when I studied abroad, one of my roommates planned a weekend trip to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland—one town up the mountain from Interlaken. I did absolutely zero research before getting on the train. I remember we arrived well after dark, and went straight to the hostel. In the morning, we walked outside and there was a freaking waterfall in front of us! And thus began my great love affair with Switzerland. I had no idea how or when I’d ever get back to this magical spot, but I knew it needed to happen—none of this “once-in-a-lifetime stuff.” I just never imagined it would be a mere seven years later. Next time: paragliding!

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13. Long Weekend in Lake George
As eager as I am to explore new places, 2017 saw us returning to a lot of old favorites. Lake George, NY, was the very first place we ever vacationed together as broke college kids who would scrape together $600 to take advantage of an amazing deal at a luxury timeshare property in the Adirondacks at the end of each school year. (I still think the “Call Off” is a great travel bargain!) We won a weekend getaway package to Lake George at the New York Times Travel Show this year, and took advantage of it in the fall when the foliage was spectacular.

Lake George, NY

Lake George, NY

14. Have Pups, Will Travel
We don’t travel as light as we once did. This year, we picked up a little extra baggage in the form of the most adorable 2.5lb pup named Trevi. We got him around the beginning of July, just in time to start thinking seriously about whether we were going to book an anniversary trip over Labor Day. Our other sheltie, Sedona, had stayed at doggie daycare during several of our previous trips—and she LOVES it!—but teeny, tiny Trevi was too small to board. We decided to look for a vacation spot for all four of us. Beaufort, N.C., had been on my list since it tied with Hammondsport, N.Y., in Budget Travel’s “Coolest Small Town” contest that I was heavily engaged in when I worked at the tourism office. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it out. We rented a beach house on Emerald Isle, just south of the tiny town. It was idyllic—and the first time we’d stayed in one location for the duration of a trip! Our traveling pups had a blast!

The pups at the beach.

The pups at the beach.

15. Beach Bumming on the Crystal Coast
I like my trips to be jam packed—and I never refer to them as “vacations.” But this could only be described as a low-key vacation. We read books, played games, cooked our own meals, and took long walks on the beach. I joked that Kyle gets one of these every five years!

Trevi at the beach

Trevi at the beach. How cute is he!?

16. Hedges and Giants in Northern Ireland
I planned most of my 2017 travel at the very beginning of the year. Naturally, as soon as all my trips were booked, gorgeous pictures of Ireland started popping up all over my favorite travel sites and blogs. I was desperate to go back! As luck would have it, I was able to go to the Emerald Isle for a work trip to attend TBEX Killarney. The conference itself was incredible—and thoroughly intimidating, as we’re hosting next year—but I got to do as the bloggers do and make use of my extra days before and after the conference. I visited a couple of those places that had unrelentingly flashed across my radar in 2017: Dark Hedges and Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Talk about out-of-this-world beauty! What’s more, Belfast and the Causeway Coast were just named Lonely Planet’s #1 picks for top 2018 destinations. Apparently, I was just slightly ahead of the curve!

Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland

Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland

17. A Delightful Day in Dingle
I’m an obsessive travel planner. I need to work out all the details to ensure we maximize every precious moment during a trip. But I’m also the first one to admit that I’m always delighted by the experiences I seem to have when I just let things happen. Such was the case with the Dingle Peninsula. I knew we had one extra day to spend near Killarney, Ireland, following the TBEX conference, and I figured we’d do an excursion around the Ring of Kerry. But we happened to meet the lovely Caroline with Dingle Tourism who offered to show us around her beautiful corner of the world. From dramatic coastal views to Star Wars filming locations, and pottery throwing to whiskey tasting, it was the most unexpectedly delightful day, and made me SO grateful I’d left a little room in the trip for spontaneity.

How My Study Abroad Changed My Life

Cinque Terre
Enjoying a Cinque Terre sunset and writing about my day.

It’s a funny thing, looking back on your travels past – especially when you’ve written them all down! In preparation to officially launch this website, we imported my posts from the WordPress site I had when I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, nearly five years ago. I’ve been working on editing them – fixing the typos and removing any of the information you really wouldn’t care about – like mundane days where I complained about Italian class, and such. You know, those blogs that delighted my parents to no end, since a post proved I was still alive without having to spend obscene amounts of money to call home. I didn’t intend for those posts to be a travel blog, per say. It was more of an online diary to document my thoughts, feelings, and ultimately, my adventures.

What amazes me, though, is that my outlook on travel was so incredibly different before I studied abroad. Sure, I went on plenty of road trips with my college friends, and my boyfriend (now husband). But that was my first travel experience that lasted longer than eight days. I’d never even set foot on a plane! I was terrified, and having some serious doubts about whether I’d made the right decision in going on this trip. I was sheltered, immature, and frankly ungrateful. And it pains me to read through those blogs knowing how I feel about travel now. I wish I could slap my 21-year-old self and say, “You’ll remember this as the single greatest time of your life. Stop complaining about how hot it is, and soak up every moment!”

I had always been hesitant about it. Two of my college roommates decided they wanted to study abroad, and convinced me to go with them. I was in a college program that required a 12-credit internship or a study abroad, so I figured for my very last semester, why not go to Italy and study art history and Italian cooking? Sounded perfect.

I don’t think I started to process it – really – until my first full week in Italy. The day after I got there, I turned 21, and wrote a post about how I could have never imagined spending my birthday so far from home. The posts that follow are about going to a charming Italian town called Lucca, and visiting the Cinque Terre, during which time, I had a “freak-out session,” wondering what the heck I was doing there!?

It’s so shocking to me now, that I could have been in Vernazza, one of the most stunningly beautiful places on this planet and be missing home. It’s exactly the opposite of what I do now. Here I sit at home, dreaming about Italy. But hindsight is always 20/20, and I’m just glad I started to enjoy my travels through Europe more as the weeks passed.

I didn’t realize what a big impact that trip had on my life until I started working in tourism marketing when I got home. I host a lot of travel writers in the Finger Lakes, and more often than not, I get to pick their brains about their chosen careers, and hear their stories about the incredible places they visit. It made me realize how passionate I am about making sure I have the same experiences.

If you choose to read through my study abroad blogs, you’ll learn about my adventures in all kinds of places. I was lucky enough to travel not only throughout Italy, but Scotland, Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, and Croatia. I visited Paris, London, and Barcelona. Kyle and I even got engaged in Venice!

My study abroad truly shaped me into the person I am today, probably more than any other experience in my life. I won’t say it was always perfect – and you’ll sense my uncertainty and homesickness in some of my posts. But looking back on it, the experience made me a strong person, and a confident traveler. I get asked rather frequently if I’d recommend studying abroad, and I rarely let people finish the question before I give a wholehearted, “YES!”

I wish I had known at the beginning of my Italy trip that it would be the experience I looked back on as the single best period in my life. Maybe I would have stopped worrying so much, and appreciated each moment more. I can only hope that’s a lesson I need to learn just once, and can go into the round-the-world trip we ultimately plan to take with an open mind and the willingness to live every day to the fullest. And that I’ll always appreciate how blessed I am to be able to see the world.

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