Paragliding, swimming through deep canyons and dark caves, snorkelling in glacier water and whitewater rafting are just a few of the high octane adventures I got up to in 2021. In a time when it seems harder than ever to travel, I’m still amazed that I managed to safely visit 11 different countries this year, as well as enjoy some staycations in my own backyard.
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From sleeping in race cars to bringing home a new addition to the family, here are 10 of my favourite travel moments of the year.
1) Celebrating my birthday in Iceland
My ideal birthday typically includes champagne and a spa, which is exactly how I got to celebrate in Iceland this year. I headed over for about a week in early December, and while it might seem weird to visit during a time of year when you only get sunlight for five hours, I found the entire experience absolutely magical.
In a single day you can see a geyser shoot out of the frozen tundra, visit cascading waterfalls, snorkel between two continents, drink at an ice bar, and cap off the day with a relaxing soak in natural thermal waters while gazing up at the northern lights. Add in a volcano hike and sipping Moët & Chandon in the spectacular Sky Lagoon on my birthday, it was the perfect trip and I’m already plotting a summer trip back to the Land of Fire and Ice!
2) Driving to Seattle to get a puppy
This little guy is basically the highlight of my year; meet Oliver! Ollie is a french bulldog, who I picked up a few days ago just in time for Christmas.
My beloved 11-year-old Frenchie Iggy passed away in April, and while I still miss him all the time Ollie is doing a great job of filling the void with his fun energy. While Dudley doesn’t seem terribly excited to have a new, excitable baby brother yet, he has the patience of a saint and even lets Ollie snuggle with him.
3) Baja bliss
My first international trip didn’t happen until May (omg COVID go away nobody likes you) when I headed down to Loreto in Mexico’s Baja peninsula. Guys, Loreto is so awesome! The week was full of adventures including kayaking, running on sand dunes, hiking to cave paintings, deep sea fishing (we released!) and wine tasting.
My fave part of the trip was a couple of days on a catamaran in Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto, a UNESCO-protected reserve known for its blonde beaches, volcanic islands and incredible marine life. The water was so warm and beautiful, the sunsets were dreamy and we saw oh-so-many dolphins!
4) A big, spontaneous Europe trip
In mid-July, I spontaneously decided to plan a solo, weeks-long European getaway, since I hadn’t been in a couple years (thanks COVID) and was going stir crazy after sticking close to home for so many months.
With restrictions easing up, I decided to tick off four countries I hadn’t been to yet and are relatively affordable: Latvia and Lithuania, then over to Georgia and Armenia. I was set to fly back to Oregon for a couple weeks, then head back to France and Germany in the fall for a separate trip that had already been in the works. I spent more than 100 hours researching, planning the itinerary, booking important logistics and triple-checking the ever-changing restrictions, and was ready to go in early August.
But the American government had other plans.
Just a few days before I was set to fly out, I became aware of a quirky rule that many people overlooked: when everything first shut down in March 2020, the USA declared that you couldn’t enter if you’d been in Europe in the past 14 days, and still hadn’t lifted it by this summer (that finally changed in November). While it didn’t affect American citizens, it meant pretty much no one else was allowed to fly to the USA from Europe, even people like yours-truly who has a US visa and is legally allowed to live and work here.
As you can imagine, I felt like I got hit by a truck and nearly canceled the entire thing (it didn’t help that I’d also just learned I had to cut Latvia due changing to restrictions). But, considering how much time I’d put into it already and how much I was looking forward to it, I ended up rebooking seven flights (!!), swapping a couple of countries, extending the time to stay in Europe for the full six weeks instead of trying to come back to Oregon in between, and flying home to Canada instead. Whew.
While there was a horrible amount of stress leading up to it, the trip itself ended up being spectacular. I traveled through Georgia, Armenia, Albania, Corfu (Greece), France and Germany, enjoying incredible experiences like soaking up the sun along the Albanian Riviera, sipping Armenian wine, a beachfront suite in Corfu complete with a private pool and paragliding through the Caucasus mountains in Georgia.
5) Riding the rails on the Rocky Mountaineer
A train trip aboard the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer has been on my travel bucket list for years, so I was grateful to get invited on a trip between Vancouver and Jasper this fall. I had a misconception beforehand that I might get bored just sitting on a train all day, but it turns out there’s actually something incredibly relaxing about sitting back, and simply enjoying the stunning scenery with nothing to think about other than deciding what to order for lunch.
While the train trip ended in Jasper, the Rocky Mountaineer has options for extending the trip by staying in Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff for additional nights. Our group got to do just that, and enjoyed a fall trip along the Icefields Parkway with stops at some of the most scenic spots in the Rockies. From the great company to all the great sites, it was a wonderful trip even for this Albertan who thought she’d already seen it all!
6) Rappelling through a cave in Brazil
In October I got the chance to head down to South America for the first time in a few years, and check off a new country: Brazil. It was a wild, wet adventure with days spent whitewater rafting, kayaking, spelunking, swimming under waterfalls and hiking through rainforests, with the craziest experience happening on day two when we were one of the first groups ever to rappel 40 metres down in Caverno do Diablo (‘Devil’s Cave’).
Our clothes never got a chance to try throughout the nine days we spent exploring the Ribeira Valley, but all the laughs and adventures more than made up for it!
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7) Staycations in Washington
It’s easy to overlook exploring our own backyard, and if the past couple years have taught us anything it’s to appreciate what’s close to home. With that in mind, I spent the first half of this year venturing around the PNW, including trips to a few vacation spots in Washington state that have been on my list for a while.
First up was a weekend of wine tasting in Walla Walla which made me love Merlot again, followed by a quick glamping getaway in a luxurious treehouse at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson.
And did you guys know that there’s a place in Washington that’s the next best thing to Germany? Leavenworth is designed to mimic a Bavarian town, right down to the McDonalds and Starbucks signs all done up in medieval fonts and the downtown facades that look like a European streetscape. We spent a few days sipping brews in the beer gardens, meeting reindeer, touring a nutcracker museum and hiking the impressive Enchantment mountain range- I’d love to head back and do a backcountry trip there!
8) A slow sojourn through the Alsace
If you haven’t heard of this picturesque region in eastern France yet, add it to your bucket list right now! The Alsace is near the German border, and while Strasbourg and Colmar are the best known cities there are dozens of ridiculously charming villages all around, as well as vineyards and castles. So, basically the cutest place ever.
We weren’t on any set itinerary, so spent our days driving to random villages and wandering the streets at our own pace, made it up to a hilltop castle, took boat tours down canals and ate truly fantastic food. The trip was perfection, and definitely a spot I’d love to head back to at Christmas time.
9) A spontaneous trip to the Painted Hills
On a random Sunday morning in spring, my partner came into the bedroom and suggested, ‘hey, wanna head to the Painted Hills today?’ which doesn’t sound that crazy until you consider that it was already 10 am and it’s more than three hours away. But since we had literally nothing else to do that day…why the heck not?
The Painted Hills are in eastern Oregon, where stratifications in the soil dating back millions of years created an incredible natural phenomenon of colourful formations. The area is massive, and since we didn’t even get there until early afternoon it was a race against the clock to try and hit as many landmarks as possible, including a hike up to the one of the best viewpoints.
We didn’t make it home until midnight and nearly ran out of gas (a hazard of few services around these parts), but it still sticks out as one of the more memorable road trips this year thanks to the unexpectedness of it all.
10) Sleeping in a race car in Germany
Finally, one of the best travel moments of 2021 was getting to stay in a car-themed hotel in the city of Stuttgart, Germany which is Mecca for auto enthusiasts and home to the headquarters of Mercedes and Porsche. Staying a night at the V8 Hotel was at the top of my list, since it has more than a dozen different car themed-rooms and y’all know I love quirky hotels!
If you’re anything like me, when you were a kid you thought it would be uber-cool to have a bed shaped like a race car. Well, my eight-year-old self would have been stoked on this stay, since we got to sleep in an actual restored Porsche. I highly recommend heading here if you find yourself near Stuttgart!
So what’s the 2021 plan? A trip to Hawaii! I’m heading to Maui for the first time in mid-January, and then to New York City a few days later for an annual travel conference with some of my best pals in the industry. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine (thanks, variant) and I’m grateful to be boosted!
Sending love to all of you for following along and supporting my journey all of these years, and wishing you a fun 2022!
2021 travels by the numbers:
- Countries: 11– USA, Canada, Mexico, Albania, Georgia, Armenia, Greece, France, Germany, Brazil, Iceland
- Flights: 25
- Travel days: 79
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