Ah, the end of the year reflection post. In typical fashion, I’m late to write it, seeing that we are already on day three of 2018. It’s been a busy holiday season for me, but I wanted to sit down today to reflect on the past year.
2017 was by far the most intense and incredible in terms of experiences, travel, personal growth, and accomplishments for me. I was on a plane every single month. I saw more countries than I could ever have imagined, met inspiring and fantastic people along my journey and checked countless items off my bucket list. I feel like the luckiest person in the world and my heart is so full.
After winning a video competition for Anthony’s Key Resort in 2016, my family and I were finally able to cash it in and enjoy a week-long stay at this beautiful resort on Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras. It was a perfect way to start 2017.
Our first trip as a crew altogether, my co-workers and I rented a car and drove to Cáceres in Extremadura, Spain, for a one-night weekend getaway. I really developed an appreciation for lesser-known Spanish cities this year. Cáceres is small enough that you can see most of it in just a day.
Finally got to cross this gem off of my Portugal bucket list! I hadn’t been to Portugal since 2014 when I went with my mom and aunt before starting my study abroad experience. Porto had amazing food, beautiful buildings, an easy layout to walk around and of course, incredible Port wine. Bonus – I got to see my Australian friends there after planning on being solo for the weekend!
Asturias – Gijón & Oviedo
The north of Spain really captured my heart this past year. The food and sidra (cider) of Asturias, Spain, is life-changing. It was so much fun to explore this beautiful region, complete with seaside and mountain views. I think if I were to go back to live in Spain again, I’d opt for living in Gijón or Aviles in the north.
The wine region of Spain didn’t fail to disappoint. My friend Alex and I had an incredible (albeit rainy) two days of tasting all the different wines and indulging in countless tapas on the famous Logroño street of Calle del Laurel.
Our trip to Bucharest was my first real glimpse at Eastern Europe. It was an incredible experience. We visited beautiful castles (Dracula’s was one of them!) ate like kings for next to nothing, and gained a fascinating perspective on a country that has made great strides since coming out of a communist dictatorship. The people were very kind and we had a great adventure going from Bucharest to Transylvania.
Back to back weekends in Eastern Europe was the theme of my travel in March! Right after returning to Romania, it was time to get back on a Wizz Air flight to Sofia, Bulgaria, where I spent three packed days full of adventure with my co-worker Melina. We visited Plovdiv, the Rila Mountains and explored the city of Sofia in just three days.
Marrakech & Sahara Desert tour
For my Easter break, my friend Laura met me in Madrid and together we flew to Marrakech for a weeklong adventure in Morocco. We embarked on a three-day desert tour of the Sahara, met awesome people in our tour group, rode camels in the sand dunes, saw wild monkeys over massive waterfalls and ate a LOT of tagine and couscous. It was quite the adventure that I’ll never forget.
Another relaxing weekend in a small Spanish city was our trip to Cadiz for two nights. There were endless beaches to walk on, and the city itself is historic and beautiful, being one of the oldest inhabited cities in Western Europe. I loved sitting at the beachside bar “chiringuitos” and having a cocktail, watching the sunset over the ocean.
Geneva will always hold a special place in my heart! Not only was it by far the most expensive place I’ve ever visited, but it was the location of the first full marathon I’ve ever run! Finishing the Harmony Geneva marathon in 4 hours and 3 minutes was the biggest physical accomplishment I’ve ever achieved.
Granada & Malaga
I had the privilege of taking my dad and brother to visit the Alhambra, melt in the Andalusian sun, and explore two awesome cities in Spain during a long weekend when they came to visit. It was a fun family time full of tapas and tourist activities.
Stockholm was an AWESOME solo weekend trip. It was super warm at the end of May, and because it’s so far north, it was light out late into the evening. While it was not a cheap trip by any means, I loved walking around the city, trying authentic Swedish meatballs that blew my socks off and meeting some really interesting people at my hostel.
Asilah & Chefchaouen
My full coworker crew and I embarked on another adventure together – this time to Chefchaoeun and Asilah in Morocco! Chefchaoeun is the blue city of the mountains, while Asilah is the white city on the beach. It was a fantastic time, we had a lot of fun exploring both places together.
July was by far the most intense month of travel that I ever have (and probably ever will) experienced in my life. 15 cities in 12 countries, three weeks solo and two and a half weeks with some friends, a wild month to say the least! It was surprisingly not too difficult to pull off since I carefully planned my route geographically.
First stop was the farthest north! Tallinn was absolutely beautiful and so much fun to explore. I met some awesome people in my hostel, had a great guided tour of the city and ate some awesome food. The cool and rainy weather honestly felt so great after leaving the extreme heat of Madrid.
Next stop on the Baltic states tour was Riga in Latvia! Just a 4-hour bus ride away, this city was also brimming with charm and warm, welcoming people. Despite the fact that I was traveling alone, I quickly realized that many other travelers were embarking on the same route that I was! While I genuinely enjoy traveling alone, it was fun to see the same people in different cities along the way.
Lithuania was different from any country I’ve ever been to. There’s so much green space. It’s quiet. You can feel the quiet influence of Russia and see the scars that the Soviet Union left much more vividly than the other Baltic States. It was a nice retreat after staying at a crazy party hostel in Riga, I felt like everywhere I walked, I was in a park or otherwise green area.
I had been to Krakow, Poland, back in 2014 when I traveled alone for the first time and wanted to visit Auschwitz. I had always heard negative reviews of Warsaw, that it was nothing more than a big, dirty city. While there was a new portion of the city that was quite the concrete jungle, I found the old town to be charming and super fun to walkabout.
Lviv was an experience I’ll never forget. It was like stepping back in time. The city was one of my few experiences with being in a legitimately poor and developing country, and it reminded me of how lucky I am. The people were still so friendly, I met some inspiring traveler friends and enjoyed eating countless pierogis.
Slovenia was honestly one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited. Lake Bled was an awesome day trip, the city of Ljubljana was lovely, and everyone I met was super nice. I’d love to spend more time exploring other parts of the country someday.
A whirlwind two days were spent here when I finally ended my solo travels and met up with friends Molly and Erik. Big beers and pretzels all around!
Salzburg & Vienna, Austria
I think we walked more here than anywhere else we visited. Vienna is a huge, spread out city. Loved the architecture and the landscape when driving through the country.
A one-night stop in this adorable city was the perfect way to break up the journey between Austria and Hungary. We experienced a fantastic walking tour, ate huge, delicious meals for pennies and learned a lot about the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.
Going back to one of my favorite cities in the world for five nights was like a dream come true. The first time I visited Budapest in 2014, I only stayed four nights and I had really wished it was longer. This time was the perfect amount, and I loved showing a place that is so special to me to other friends.
Sarajevo & Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bosnia & Herzegovina is an incredible country. With a very recent and painful history, the city of Sarajevo still shows the scars from the war with Serbia. Our guide from Sarajevo Urban Adventures, Muhamed, provided the most incredible two-day tour packed full of emotional stories, historical information, and stops for Bosnian coffee and typical foods.
Dubrovnik & Split, Croatia
Croatia was the icing on the cake of a perfect month of travel insanity. Sunshine, sparkling waters and boat cruises made for the perfect end to our adventures. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful country, but I will say that it made me realize the value of traveling in the off-season. It was by far the most crowded tourist destination I’ve ever experienced.
After a whirlwind of being constantly on the road, arriving home felt like hitting a brick wall head-on going 100mph. If I’m being honest, I had a hard time adjusting to being back with my parents in Minnesota initially. I had to redefine what “daily life” meant for me and learned how to be content with where I am at.
Taos, New Mexico
Upon arriving back in the United States, I had to deal with some horrific news. One of my aunts unexpectedly passed away, and we traveled to Taos in New Mexico for her funeral. While it felt strange to do any “activities” while we were grieving this awful loss, one thing that she loved was hiking in Taos, so my cousins and I went one day as a way to honor her and connect with nature.
For labor day weekend, I flew to Phoenix to visit my friend Katie who is a graduate student at ASU. She took me to Sedona where we camped on National Forest land, visited the Grand Canyon and hiked in the blazing heat. I loved every second and really gained a newfound appreciation for the American southwest (hint, In-N-Out).
Another weekend trip to visit my other friend Katie in a city that she now calls home! Chicago was fantastic – being able to stay right in the heart of downtown and explore restaurants and bars with one of my favorite couples was absolute perfection.
A quick stop in Milwaukee to visit my cousin and see her new house, and explore the famous Milwaukee Museum of Art. I also introduced her to Stranger Things, which was the perfect way to spend a rainy weekend together.
Back to Madrid? So soon? Yes, I am a spoiled brat and flew back to Madrid for a long weekend to see some friends, enjoy my favorite city, and “tie up loose ends” aka close my Spanish bank account. It was a fantastic long weekend. I love Madrid so much and I really miss living in that city.
November was a time for working, family, and reconnecting with friends. I loved seeing people who were home for Thanksgiving break and going out and about in Minneapolis.
New York City
At the end of November and beginning of December, I went on my final trip of the year – a stop in New York City to visit one of my oldest friends, Mariah, and see the Christmas windows and the tree in Rockefeller square. It was a great visit full of awesome restaurants and bars, a fascinating guided tour of the Lower East Side and lots and lots of walking.
Thanks to everyone in my life who made 2017 so spectacular. I truly love and cherish every single one of you. I am looking forward to the friendships and adventures that 2018 will bring.