It’s that time of year again, a yearly round up of the best moments of 2017 travel. The last week of December is always a good time for reflection on all of the highlights of the year, in addition to looking forward on plans to come for 2018. When I first started my blog it was a way for me to journal my journey and ever so slowly, five years later, it has been a way for me to share experiences, inspire others to see the world and maybe live a little less conventionally. Each year, I pull together a round up of moments I’m happily reminded of the rewards that come from hard work that it takes to work full time, travel permanently and enjoy yourself and your surroundings while doing it all.
Thanks so much to everyone who has continued to follow this journey, I promise there are more exciting things to come and I appreciate all of the support & love! I hope everyone can take time this weekend to focus on a few good things they had done over the past year, a happy memory or major milestone that you’ve accomplished in 2017. I’ve jotted down seventeen (SEVENTEEN?!?) of the past twelve months of travel. Here is hoping that 2018 will be just as spectacular as 2017 travel.
Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland
The Aurora Borealis, artwork of light that dances through the sky and unless you live in a few specific locations where it can be seen frequently, this elusive phenomenon is high on a traveler’s list of ultimate vacation goals. I had the chance to see them not once but twice this year, in Iceland and then again in Finland while visiting the Lapland region, meaning I had the luck to see them at night in the Arctic Circle.
Visiting the 5th of 7 Continents
Africa. It was the first, and for certain not the last time I will be stepping foot here, there’s so much more to explore. I spent most of my year in East Africa and then in Morocco, and each place I visited I loved more than the next. I have so many people ask me if there is anywhere I would go back and since there are so many places I have yet to see, my answer is usually that I’d rather have an adventure somewhere new then go back to somewhere I’ve already been. Morocco will be the country that changes that response. I fell for the people, the culture, the shopping, the landscape and I’m plotting a return trip for 2018 already. I had the same feeling about Uganda and I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself there again next year at some point.
Viewing The “Big 5”
African Safari is an exciting trip when you think about seeing animals in the wild you haven’t encountered before and I quickly got into the “Big 5” game, seeing if you can spot a Rhinoceros, Lion, Elephant, Cape Buffalo and Leopard. The term Big Five didn’t come from the size of the animals, but their difficulty to kill when hunters were on foot. I’ve taken a more peaceful approach and since wildlife conservation is a major part of why I write about sustainable tourism, I made sure that the companies I chose to work with this year kept the welfare of the animals in mind. Because you are going on safari in the wild not in a zoo or animal park, you aren’t promised to see everything, which is why getting to check the famous “5” off in the first few weeks I was in Uganda was a fun accomplishment. This year I’ve gotten more involved in my photography so these safari trips were a special treat.
Getting Creative With Transportation
Camels. Dog Sleds. Reindeer rides. Collective taxis. Hitchhiking. Horses. Surf board. Boats. Planes. Trains. Anything with four wheels or some hooves, you name it, it seems like I rode it. I visited eleven countries this year, over four continents and in the last few months I covered a lot of ground. I’d taken over 40 flights, dozens of long bus trips and over night train journeys and out of the 52 weeks this year, I was on the road for 32 of them.
Going to the Arctic Circle
I went to Norway last year and spent time in the Arctic chasing around the midnight sun in the Lofoten Islands, so this year I opted to visit Finland in the winter and chase around reindeer instead. I’m always spending most of my time in warm weather so traveling in the winter to a cold weather destination was a fun shock to the system. Even when I’m consistently going out of my comfort zone, it is nice to make sure I’m doing something new with my travel schedule, although don’t expect me to quit heading to the beach anytime soon!
Spending A Birthday on the Galapagos Islands
The biggest treat of the year was splurging while I was in South America to travel to Ecuador and take a cruise on a luxury boat for a week through the Galapagos. It was by far the most expensive thing I did this year but it was worth it ten times over after exploring the islands, seeing all of the wildlife and experiencing such a unique landscape and preservation of nature was the best birthday present.
Playing Tug O War with a Gorilla in Uganda
I saw Gorillas in the wild this year! For the last few years I’ve been doing research about gorilla trekking, learning about the endangered species and what regions are trying to keep these families of apes alive. During my tour of Uganda with Destination Jungle, we hiked for a few hours through Mgahinga National Park until we came upon a troop of about a half dozen gorillas, including two babies all foraging for lunch, napping and playing in the shade. I sat on the ground, set my camera on the jungle floor, watched and I cried. It was the most impressive experience to witness these massive creatures in their own habitat, not even paying attention to us. In the latter half of our observation time, a juvenile came over to our small group and became really interested in my scarf. Before we went on our trek we had a meeting sharing how to keep yourself and the animals safe, and one was you can not approach the gorillas BUT they may come up to you if they are curious. If that happens you can’t look at them straight in the eye, don’t make any sudden movements or run away and they will most likely investigate and then go back to doing something else. The teenage gorilla tugged on my scarf for a bit and then went back to rolling around in the grass. It was the most wild wild animal encounter I’ve had!
Encouraging Our Future in the High Atlas
I’ve made it a point to give back globally while traveling. Most people volunteer in and around their own community where they live and since I don’t really have one set home, volunteering during my trips is the best way for me to connect with where I’m living at the moment and also do my part as more of a global citizen. I love having the ability to share what I know with others, help those less fortunate and in turn learn more about myself and others. This year I had the opportunity to participate in one of the most impressive programs for promoting girl’s education in Morocco. Education for All allowed me to spend a month living with a group of high school aged girls in the High Atlas Mountains, a place where traditionally girls would not have as much of a chance to continue their education. I’ve never met a group of more motivated, bright, polite and inspiring women. Lessons were learned, friendships were made and when goodbyes were said there were many tears. I will forever have a space in my heart for my 39 girls at EFA and the three women who work tirelessly every day keeping a warm, loving home over their heads when they are away from their families. This is a project that I will certainly be a part of again in some way.
Seeing Machu Picchu in Person
Machu Picchu is honestly and truly like nothing else you’ll ever see in person. I was looking forward to visiting Peru and the Incan ruins were a high point for my trip to South America (literally and figuratively). When you’ve learned and heard so much about a travel destination before you’ve been there because of it’s popularity, often time I am skeptical if it will live up to the hype. Know that Machu Picchu is everything you’d think, mysterious, majestic and spiritual. It is the UNESCO world heritage site that I was most interested in seeing for myself and it so far was one that met all of my expectations. The icing on the “lost city of the Incas” cake was that I went with a photography group, The Giving Lens. It was a chance to make some new friends, learn more about photography and spend time teaching local children how to take pictures too.
Promoting Ethical Tourism in Tanzania
2017 travel memories wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the most poignant stories I had the opportunity to learn more about this year. I had the hard task of choosing not to summit Kilimanjaro this year and instead spend the week learning more on the ground about the ethical treatment of workers on the mountain, spending a few days with the porters on and off Kili and also interviewing some of the hard workers who are fighting for porters rights with the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP). I encourage everyone who is visiting poorer countries to make sure the staff they work with is paid a fair living wage! I’m looking forward to taking what I learned and forming a comprehensive story to share what I’ve learned to help others to make positive travel choices.
Staring Contest with the Bolivian Salt Flats
Bolivia was a last minute addition onto the South American travel itinerary and the short few days I spent there made me quickly realize that it’s a country I need to revisit and explore further. The highlight of the trip was my whirlwind journey to Unyuni, the famed salt flats that stretch like an other worldly landscape.
R&R in Zanzibar
I had a few days down time on Chumbe Island Coral Reef where I lived like the Swiss Family Robinson, in a simple but lovely hut, snorkeled every day, ate some of my best meals and read 5 books while lounging on a private beach with the small reef sharks swimming for lunch close along the waters edge. It was the perfect ending to my time in Tanzania.
Meeting my Travel Sisters in Zambia
I had the chance to give back again with Unearth the World. Last year I watered plants in Nicaragua, this year I smoothed mud in Zambia. Wanderful is a community of women travelers and a small group of fabulous ladies all gathered for what started out at a few weeks of volunteering turned into a lifetime of friendships. It is safe to say that a bond was formed over pizzas the first night we arrived in Livingstone and group hugs were in order the last night before we left.
Getting a chance to meet the newest traveler in training, my niece. It was so fun to see how such a little girl could insert so much life into our family. Her constant smiles and laughs are contagious, and each time I had time to be home to visit my family it was extra special when having her involved. When I look towards travel in 2018, I’m also looking forward to seeing our family grow and change with moments and memories like the ones we made with each other this year.