2016 was a big fat internet meme. Lots of wild and crazy crap, like unexpected deaths and election results, happened this year. No doubt. Yet, for me personally, 2016 was damn awesome. Damn. Awesome.
I mean, my blog turned a year old. I never, ever, eveeeer thought creating this site would lead to new friendships, as well as me transforming into an even stronger ball of confidence. I normally “give up” on projects. For example, a million half-finished YA novels litter my hard drive, but this little blog stood tough for more than twelve months. And I’m so glad it did.
2016 also blessed me with a beautiful new employment opportunity. My current school is a wonderful supportive place where I feel like I can grow as a teacher. And I moved closer to New York City, now residing in my former college city and cultivating a social life.
Finally travel dominated much of 2016 (of course!). I’m so happy I had the financial and emotional resources to enjoy many international trips – including three (!!) separate jaunts to Europe.
So here are some “2016 Travel Moments” that rocked my soul!
Happy reading! In the meantime, I’m gonna make some tea and scheme itineraries for 2017. I ain’t slowing down yet.
Celebrating 2016 in Reykjavik.
I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year than Iceland. Reykjavik takes NYE seriously. Fireworks soared into the sky from every street corner. Screaming and cheering “2016!!” in the streets was the best way to welcome another glorious twelve months. I knew, as I shivered in front of Hallgrímskirkja, that this year would be special.
Prior to the evening’s festivities, I roamed the icy, crunchy streets of Iceland’s capital and pondered whether or not I should keep my travel blog (spoiler alert: I did). During those quiet snowy moments, I never would’ve guessed this website would grow and save my sanity time and time again.
Easter in San Francisco.
After I canceled my trip to Spain due to deep anxiety, San Francisco stepped in to save the day. A last minute booking and I was on my way.
It was my first time to California (ever!), and I couldn’t have picked a better city. Highlights for me were Alcatraz, Muir Woods, Haight-Ashbury, and the Painted Ladies … mostly because I wanna live in a pretty pink house right in San Francisco. Cost of living? What’s that? Pfft.
Ultimately, this trip proved to me the United State has many amazing cities, parks, and attractions for travelers of all ages. I’ve always overlooked my own country, because it’s “close” and “can wait,” but damn it, the States are massive enough to last multiple travel lifetimes.
Tasting the best wine in Napa Valley.
While in the San Francisco area, I spent two days in the Napa Valley with family. Having company was a change, but a welcome one. Don’t get me wrong. I love solo travel. But enjoying time with relatives is always wonderful, too.
Napa was a dream come true for my taste buds. The food in this corner of California is outstanding. No matter where you go – a small cafe, grocery store, high end restaurant – every morsel dances in your mouth. After savoring fresh meals and listening to their passionate chefs babble about ingredients, I knew microwaveable dinners weren’t gonna cut it forever. I promised myself that I’d stop fearing the kitchen and learn to cook.
Oh, and the wine? Don’t even get me started on that perfection. Just don’t. We’ll be here for days, and the internet isn’t known for its attention span.
Re-discovering my love for Philadelphia at BlogHouse.
My acceptance to BlogHouse was one of 2016’s bigger highlights. Like I said, in January, my travel blog frustrated me, and I wondered if I should bother renewing my domain name. I figured I had no way of “catching up” to bigger influencers in an already packed digital industry. And anyway, wouldn’t I be better off focusing on my career in education than writing random wanderlusty posts on the internet? Hmm.
On a whim, I applied to BlogHouse, because many successful travel bloggers credited this small workshop as a magical key to a thriving career. Well. My little blog was accepted into the program! Plus BlogHouse took place in my own backyard: Philadelphia.
And Philadelphia embraced me. The delicious cheesesteaks and donuts, warm people, historical sights, craft beer, all reminded me how lucky I was to have such an incredible city so close to my doorstep. Plus I’ve made blogger friends for life. Seriously, I’m still in touch with all my BlogHouse graduates and mentors, and they’re wonderful inspirations.
Ahh, TBEX. Every travel blogger knows about TBEX. The biggest travel blogging conference eveeeeeer. My favorite part of TBEX were the parties, which gave me to time to chat with travel professionals, brands and tourism boards, photographers, videographers, other bloggers, and more! In particular, shout out to Amy at Globetrotter Guru, Deys at Deys of Summer, and Marissa at Postcards to Seattle (a fellow BlogHouse grad!) for spending so much time with me!
This conference also gave me time to fall madly in love with Stockholm. Stockholm has style. As much as I adored the Old Town (or Gamla stan), Stockholm’s modern architecture and subway art also captivated me. For example, Fotografiska (the photography museum) not only has a cool permanent display, but a wonderful view of the city from the top floor’s cafe. The building itself is just so … so cool.
Spending an evening on rugged Utklippan.
After TBEX, I partnered with Visit Karlskrona for a two day adventure in the Swedish archipelago. One of our stops was a tiny rugged island: Utklippan.
You could walk the perimeter of Utklippan in twenty minutes. No running water either. Just a lighthouse, a couple cabins, an outhouse, and picnic tables. Looking out at the Baltic Sea, cruise ships and ferries littered the horizon, but never ventured too close. The closest civilization? Seals sunbathing on rocks.
Yeah, this place was perfect. So perfect. More than perfect. Read my post on Utklippan for more. It’s hard to do this island justice in a couple sentences.
Vilnius. Absolutely Vilnius.
Lithuania isn’t usually featured in European travel posts or on glossy magazine covers, but man, did I love Vilnius. I knew very little (read: nothing) about this city, and it was thrilling to turn off my brain and simply experience my new surroundings.
Furthermore, I met a lot of backpackers who were not only closer to my age (23 and older rather than 18), but actually wanted to check out museums and go on historical walking tours. Travelers here have already seen all the “big European sights” and just wanted to enjoy themselves rather than run around, checklist in hand. Don’t worry, though. I still love the Louvre.
Vilnius was a surprise since it is so underrated, and I love a good surprise. Hell, it even earned a spot on my bookish cities post.
Delightful peace and quiet in Finland.
Helsinki was another unexpected surprise, because warnings from other travelers (“Helsinki is wayyyy too expensive! And it’s boring!”) had me on edge. However, I loved slowing down, taking in my surroundings, and enjoying my own company. I’m at extrovert at heart, but even I need a break from socializing all the time, and for once, it was a blessing not to chitchat with strangers for two days.
Plus Helsinki had some killer seafood.
Want More? Beginners Guide: Helsinki Finland.
Going to a hockey game in Montreal.
I really don’t like sports. Never did. Growing up, I always felt a little out of place, because I’d rather read books and draw anime characters than watch a football game. The only exception to this rule is hockey.
I. Freakin’. Love. Hockey.
My trip to Montreal happened immediately after the United States Presidential election. I won’t go into my feelings (I’m sure you can guess), and was grateful for a “break.” Fortunately, I met another awesome solo traveler on my food tour. She pulled me out of my shell and convinced me to buy a ticket to the Canadiens game.
I’m so glad I said “yes.” The energy inside the stadium overwhelmed me in the best possible way. A bigger post on this adventure is coming your way soon. Stay tuned.
Budapest in Winter.
Lastly, I spent the final days of 2016 in the Hungarian capital: Budapest!
My second visit to Budapest rocked my soul. I had plenty of time to truly enjoy the city’s many cultural delights and historical sites. For example, I spent over two hours in the House of Terror Museum, simply because I wanted to read every pamphlet in every room. I didn’t have the luxury to “slow down” on my quick summer tour in 2015.
Additionally, this trip taught me that there’s nothing wrong re-visiting a place you love, even if you go several times. Like other travelers, I count countries and aim to see new places, but a return trip to an old favorite can be just as rewarding.
What 2016 travel moments inspired and changed you? Would you visit anywhere on my list? As always, thanks so much for supporting Blond Wayfarer! I love you all. Happy New Year!