On January 1, 2015 I made a life changing decision. I have never been one to set resolutions, but I knew this year would be different. I decided 2015 would start with a promise to myself and I declared the new year to be “the year that lived”. Wow – did I keep my promise! I am proud to say that not only did I explore several amazing cities in the United States this year, I also took a leap of faith by quitting my job, leaving my city, and moving to Australia to begin an adventure of a lifetime.
It’s difficult to narrow down all my wonderful, meaningful, adventurous experiences of 2015 into a list of 10, but I’ve done my best to present them here. I am truly blessed and grateful for all that I have, all that I’ve done, the people I’ve met along the way, the family and friends who continue to provide endless love and support, and all that’s yet to come. Join me as I journey down memory lane to my top 10 travel moments of 2015.
10. Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans
I didn’t have to travel far this year to experience the glory that is Mardi Gras. Every year the entire city of New Orleans shuts down to celebrate together and I’ve been privileged to enjoy the celebrations for the past 6 years. With house parties, neutral ground tailgates, plenty of drinking, colorful parades, and an endless supply of beads, Mardi Gras is one of my favorite holidays in New Orleans.
While some tourists come for the boobs and beads on Bourbon, the rest of the city joins together to eat King Cake and revel in the week-long party with friends and family. This year one of my sisters joined me for the main event and we spent our days wearing colorful wigs, catching signature throws, and attending high society balls. Mardi Gras is a must-do for any travel bucket list.
9. Viewing the Washington Monuments by Kayak
I have visited Washington, D.C. approximately 7 times in my life and toured many of our country’s great monuments and museums. On this year’s trip I decided to explore another side of D.C. My friend and I went to a vineyard in Virginia, a concert in Maryland, and explored the new M.L.K. Jr. museum by night in DC.
My favorite activity of the trip was kayaking along Potomac River on a twilight tour of the monuments. Viewing the famous buildings from the water as the sun set behind them was nothing short of magical. I love experiencing new things in a familiar city.
8. Enjoying Texas BBQ in Austin
Austin, Texas is known for great small bars, delicious restaurants, up and coming indie bands, and an active population of young people. The weather was perfect on this April visit and I took to Hill Country in search of another famous Texas experience, barbecue.
Driving through Hill Country is beautiful with its rolling hills bursting with blue bonnet flowers and grazing Texas longhorn cattle. I wasn’t there just to enjoy the view though, I was in search of Texas barbecue! I made my way to a well-known restaurant called The Salt Lick and sat down to a massive plate of barbecued meats including chicken, ribs, and brisket and a few sides coleslaw, beans, and potatoes. I left feeling absolutely glutenous and satisfied. This was Texas at its finest.
7. Braving Beach Explosives in Vieques, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico was the destination of choice for Spring Break this year. I was lucky enough to travel with three beautiful ladies to the tropical island. We enjoyed a blissful week of rum punch, gorgeous white sand beaches, and delicious meals. Most of our days were spent beach hopping and, in turn, we found one of my now favorite beaches in the world, La Chiva.
Located within a protected park, La Chiva requires a car and a lot of patience to find. As we pulled up to the beach’s parking area, we noticed several warning signs. The signs were posted in Spanish and warned beach goers of the potential explosives danger. Explosives?! I wasn’t so sure about this beach anymore but we refused to be deterred. With a foam noodle leading the way, we cautiously made our way out to the beach.
La Chiva is easily one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen with gorgeous turquoise waters softly crashing up on the white sugar sand. We spent the day relaxing in the sun and thankfully went explosives-free! Worth the risk!
6. Hiking to Wineglass Bay
I could carve a space on this list for my entire trip to Tasmania, but instead I’ll highlight my favorite moment. Continuing with my list of beautiful beaches around the world, my hike down to Wineglass Bay comes in at #6 travel moments this year. While my time was rushed, I got to spend about 45 minutes on another perfect beach. I am now starting a new tradition of taking jumping pictures at my favorite beaches around the world — Wineglass Bay is #2.
5. Hiking Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawai’i
Hawai’i is a breathtakingly beautiful addition to the United States and it’s been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. When I booked my one way to Australia, I decided to add in a few days in Hawai’i to break up the trip and see the islands. I spent 5 short days experiencing the magic of Oahu and hope to get back to see the remaining islands soon.
One of the many gorgeous sites in Oahu is the Diamond Head crater, observable from the beaches of Waikiki and an iconic destination. I walked to the national park from Waikiki and spent a few hours hiking up the mountain to outstanding views of the island and Pacific Ocean. I did the hike on a Saturday and while it was incredibly crowded with people on the same mission as myself, the views alone were worth it.
4. Sunset catamaran cruise on the Sydney Harbor
The Sydney Harbor is Sydney’s most iconic landmark and one of my favorite sights in the city. My first views of the Harbor remain a perfect memory but last week I took my Harbor experiences up a notch by jumping aboard a sunset catamaran cruise, thus landing the #4 spot. Departing from Darling Harbor, the catamaran chartered under the Sydney Bridge, alongside the Opera House and over to a secluded beach to dock for the sunset. Watching the brilliant colors dance across the sky behind these iconic buildings was a moment I’ll remember forever. It didn’t hurt that I was in excellent company with a crew of travel industry professionals and several bottles of wine as well.
3. Turning 30 in Costa Rica
One of my favorite trips overall this year was my birthday present to myself – a 30th celebration in Costa Rica. I joined a G Adventures tour and convinced a friend to come along with me for an 8-day adventure in pura vida. I did everything from salsa dancing to hiking in a cloud forest, horseback riding through the mountains, swimming in natural hot springs, and zip lining (see #2!). I celebrated my actual birthday in La Fortuna and was treated to a birthday cake, flowers, and drinks by my guide and hosting restaurant. A friend of mine also sent a birthday dollar pin along for me to wear, a New Orleans birthday tradition. I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate a big birthday!
2. Zip Lining in Monteverde
One of the most amazing and terrifying experiences of my life, zip lining above the canopies of Monteverde, Costa Rica easily takes my #2 travel experiences spot this year. With a large harness strapping me to a cable, I soared over the trees like a bird on the longest zip line in Latin America. I remember moments of being completely terrified followed by moments of pure adrenaline and awe. Thankfully there were people ahead of me and waiting in line behind me, otherwise it may have been harder to step off the ledge. It is easily a top moment for me this year and an experience that I would recommend to anyone traveling in Costa Rica.
1. Hot Air Ballooning in The Hunter Valley
A childhood dream come true! Last month I continued my theme of floating through the air by joining a hot air balloon ride across wine country. The Hunter Valley has rows and rows of lush vineyards that, in my opinion, are best viewed from above. I was a little nervous during our ascent, but my nerves were quickly calmed as we floated gently across the sky like a cloud. The 45 minute flight was by far my best travel moment of 2015.
Cheers to an amazing year and to all that 2016 may bring! Happy New Year, everyone!