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.



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.

Top 15 Travel Moments of 2015

Gullfoss in Iceland
Gullfoss in Iceland

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:


  1. 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.
    Il Duomo
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
    Visiting Ephesus
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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  7. 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.


  8. 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.
    Looking out over Reykjavik after the first snowfall.

In the U.S.

  1. 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.”
    Enjoying the view from Chicken Point.
  2. 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.
    Taking it all in.
  3. 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.
    Admiring the view.
  4. 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.


  5. 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.
  6. 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.


  7. 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!

My Love/Hate Relationship with Florence

Il Duomo
Il Duomo

Five years ago right now, you could have found me living on Via Sant’ Egidio, a couple of blocks away from il Duomo, in what has been consistently named the best city in the world. Since that time, I’ve had a passionate love/hate relationship with Florence, Italy. I absolutely despised it 95% of the time I called it home. But it’s the city that changed me. It made me who I am today. And recently, I got to go back.

Mia bella città.

Mia bella città.

When our train from Rome pulled into Santa Maria Novella, I had this deep sense of déjà vu. I’d been here many times before. I recognized the train station, the street outside. I knew exactly how to get to the Duomo, my school, my old apartment. I’d walked this road dozens of times. In a different life.

After checking into our AirBnb a few blocks away from the heart of the city, we set out to explore. I had a map in my purse, but I knew I wouldn’t need it. It had taken me two months of living in this city to finally figure it out, and it’s something that’s forever ingrained in my memory. Within minutes, I’d found the main building of Lorenzo de Medici, the American school I attended my last semester of college. It was the first stop of many on my road to rediscovery.

Next, we passed through Piazza della Repubblica, glancing up at the archway I walked through each morning on the way to school. I knew I was almost there. One more turn, and I would see it. The Duomo, in all its detailed glory. It really is a stunningly beautiful sight—the façade seemingly one giant work in cameo. So ornately decorated, almost dripping in sculpted beauty. This is the place I passed by every single day. I had tread these grounds before—only five years prior, but a lifetime ago. How could I not have appreciated this?

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Within minutes, we’d made our way to my old apartment, a place we’d both been before. Kyle had visited me here briefly during his trip to Italy over our mid-semester break. We’d just gotten engaged in Venice, and we had one final night before he returned to America. We walked hand in hand through this city I felt held me captive. All I wanted was to go home with him. I would have given just about anything for a seat on that plane next to him. But I had to stay. I still had two more months to spend in this city I’d come to loathe. Two more months before college would end, and our life together would officially begin. I couldn’t wait for it to start.

My first apartment.

My first apartment.

But walking through this city again, revisiting all of the places I frequented, made me feel so nostalgic—yet so out of place. The city was still the same, but something inside me had changed. Over the last five years, I’ve completely romanticized my memories of Florence. They say hindsight is 20/20, and never in my life has that been more true of anything than my semester abroad.

This is the place that completely changed me, setting in motion everything that was to come. Before my study abroad, I’d never even set foot on a plane. I embarked on this crazy journey reluctantly, at the persuasion of my college roommates who chose to study abroad in Florence. Come with us, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. And so I got on that plane, heart in my throat, and my newly-printed, unstamped passport in hand. It was the beginning of my love affair with travel.

It was a surreal feeling, to find myself back in the city where I once felt like a prisoner, but now remember as the place that changed me for the better. I wanted to love it. I wanted to hate it. I wanted to feel it—to soak it in, and never let it go. I was overcome with nostalgia, and the need to recreate new memories with my husband.

Standing atop Piazzale Michelangelo, the only part of Florence I ever adored, I knew this spot would hold a special place in my heart forever. Somehow, we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of people who gathered to watch the sunset cast golden hues over the birthplace of the Renaissance.

View from Piazzale Michelangelo.

View from Piazzale Michelangelo.

If there’s a reason to love Florence, this is it. There’s something magical about witnessing it all. We stayed for over an hour, and I snapped picture after picture of this city that had somehow twisted my heart more than anyplace on earth. I knew I’d never be able to put into words how standing there again made me feel, but I also knew I’d never ever forget it.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Even during dinner an hour later—the city aglow with streetlights and cigarettes—I felt entirely conflicted. As we sat enjoying a delicious Italian feast mere feet from the Duomo—one of the greatest, most recognizable structures on earth—I couldn’t fathom how I’d walked by this every single day, but never really looked at it. I felt completely ungrateful in that moment, and somehow I just couldn’t peel my eyes away—wanting desperately not to make that same mistake again. I had to use this single night to make up for the four months of missed opportunity.

Waking through the streets, I wondered aloud if somehow I liked the city more because I knew I was leaving the next day. I didn’t have to stay there for months this time—I was just a visitor passing through. Was that why I was finding it all so romantic?

The next day as the train pulled out of the station, I knew I’d had my fill of Florence for a very long time. Somehow in just over 24 hours, I’d managed to do more in the city than I had in four months of living there. I’d retraced my steps. I’d revisited old memories. And I’d made new ones—better ones to replace some of the negativity I’d packed in my suitcase and carried home with me.

Florence is a strange place. I’ve read a lot about it since I returned home from my study abroad, and somehow it always seems to be a hotly-contested destination. It has a way of yanking on people’s heartstrings. You either love it or you hate it. But for me—I feel very passionately persuaded in both directions.

I hate this city that pushed me out of my comfort zone and held me captive. I love this city for exactly the same reasons. I hate this city for its nonstop activity, pushy vendors, and labyrinth of streets. I love it for its energy, passionate people, and for the way you can get wonderfully lost in back alleyways and stumble upon something beautiful. I hate that this city is the most significant place I’ve ever been. But I love it because it changed me, opening my eyes and my heart to the world.

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I don’t know when I’ll make it back to Florence, but I know it will forever be a huge part of my life. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to this city I once called home. It forced me to grow up. It gave me my first taste of the unfamiliar. It persuaded me to see more. Over these last five years, I’ve learned that a bit of time and perspective changes everything. I’m so glad I got to see this city again through new eyes.

And I know I’ll be wonderfully conflicted with Florence for a very long time.

Going Back to Europe Five Years Later

Florence as seen from Piazzale Michelangelo.
Florence as seen from Piazzale Michelangelo.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the journey I embarked upon five years ago today would change my life forever. After hugging my family goodbye, and waiting anxiously to board a plane for the very first time, I settled into my seat and gazed out over the ocean—wondering what the heck I had just done.

Two days before my 21st birthday, two friends and I left for our study abroad in Florence, Italy. It was my first true travel experience. Sure, I’d taken a road trip or two back in the states, but no one in my family was much of a traveler, so it was never a big part of my life. I was so hesitant to go. It was my last semester of college, and I either needed a 12-credit internship stateside to graduate, or a study abroad. My roommates were going to Italy, and talked me into it, as well. I owe them both one enormous debt of gratitude.

I won’t pretend like it was the easiest four months of my life—it certainly wasn’t. It was filled with a lot of homesickness, drama between friends, and anxiety that comes with being 4,000 miles away from your mom for the first time. But it was a time filled with great adventure. It’s the single period in my life that I look back on with the fondest of memories. It was a time marked by courage and self-discovery—and it set something in motion that can never be undone. It was during this trip that I became hopelessly—eternally—addicted to travel.

And I’m SOOO excited to be going back!

I was thinking the other day that with as much traveling as I’ve done throughout Europe, I’ve technically only been there once. Let’s be real, I know I haven’t even scratched the surface yet, but 10 countries in 16 weeks was still a lot of ground to cover.

So, where are we going for this epic 3rd-anniversary trip?

The first stop will be Rome. It’s a city that I didn’t particularly like the first time around. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful place, but sometimes it’s hard to look beyond the hordes of tourists. I am desperately going to try this time. Kyle hasn’t been there yet, so I’m curious to see if I end up liking Rome through his eyes. I have a few very distinct memories I want to relive—the awesome gelato near the Trevi Fountain, standing in front of the Colosseum at night, and dining near a large building with a hole in the roof—and we wondered how they kept the floor dry when it rains. Naturally we later found out it was the Pantheon. College students at their very finest, folks.

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Next, we board the Celebrity Reflection bound for Greece and Turkey. I have been dreaming about the white-washed cityscape of Santorini for the last year. We debated spending most of our vacation on Santorini alone, but we knew we wanted to see more places—and a cruise seemed like the only realistic way to do that with limited vacation time. We’ll also get to explore Mykonos and Athens.

Photo: Maggie Meng

I am so excited to be heading to Istanbul on this cruise, too! It’s a city Kyle has wanted to see for a long time. It was never that high on my lengthy bucket list, but now that we’re headed there, I’m thrilled! Hopefully Kyle will be able to pry me away from Christmas shopping at the Grand Bazaar long enough to appreciate the beauty of the ancient sites.

Photo: Moyan Brenn

We are also stopping in Ephesus, Turkey, and Naples, Italy, before heading back to Rome. Kyle is so excited to see Pompeii (although I desperately wanted to return to Capri, but I’m letting him have this one!) He convinced me to go there by saying that studying these ancient ruins was what made him first want to be an archaeologist. That worked out well for him.

Vesuvius seen from Pomepii.

Vesuvius seen from Pomepii.

Once the ship docks back near Rome, we immediately hop a train bound for Firenze. It’ll be a whirlwind as we only have one night to spend there, but I didn’t want to be that close and not go to the city that changed my life. I look back and realize how little I appreciated it. Hate is a strong word, but I really didn’t like Florence. It was the place I had to go back to every Sunday. It was the place where I did homework and boiled pasta. It was the place I got stuck in tourist groups and was harassed by gypsies and vendors on the way to school. It was dirty. It was loud. It was home. And you never truly appreciate where you live. Nothing has taught me that more than working in tourism for my home region these last five years. I am excited to return to this city with a fresh perspective. I’m more than ready to begin my love affair with what is often called the greatest city in the world.

Florence after four months.

Florence after four months.

After Florence, it’s back to Rome for one night before saying goodbye to Kyle for a couple of days while I head to France for work. Each year, we take a hot glass stage over to Domaine de Boisbuchet, a design workshop in southern France, and I’m so excited to see this in action. I’ve heard so much about the laid-back vibe and inspiring collaborations. I won’t even be there for 48 hours, but it will be a great experience. Then it’s on to Paris for one night of some whirlwind exploration before hopping on a plane to Rome early the next morning to catch another flight back to New York.

Paris circa 2010.

Paris circa 2010.

It’ll be an amazing couple of weeks. Make sure to follow along on social media! I’ll be sharing lots of beautiful pictures on Instagram @bytesizetravel.

Photo Byte: Soaking Up Cinque Terre

A seagull looks out over Italy’s beautiful Cinque Terre coastline.
A seagull looks out over Italy’s beautiful Cinque Terre coastline.

It was a swelteringly hot late-August day—one of my very first in Italy—and actually, one of my first travel adventures ever. My study abroad in Italy marked a lot of firsts for me. My first time out of the U.S. (aside from a few visits to Niagara Falls), my first time on a plane, and my first long-term travel stint.

Everything was new and exciting! There was a lot to take in in 16 weeks, and I was determined to make the most of it. And I did it all at lightning speed.

I see this lone seagull sitting here, soaking in his surroundings, and I find myself wishing I’d taken the time to do the same. When you find yourself in a truly enchanting place—such as Cinque Terre—take a few moments to just “be.” Those are the memories you’ll hold onto. Those are the moments that find their way to your heart and make you fall in love with a new place.


Cinque Terre, Italy

Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore, La Spezia, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore, La Spezia, Italy

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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