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2018 year in review + my 2019 travel goals

Cobblestone street in Edinburgh

When I tallied up the numbers on 2017 travel, I knew it was going to be a tough year to top. I hit 59 cities across 11 countries, 20 states and three national parks. And somehow, I made SEVEN separate trips to Europe (I had to recount multiple times before I actually believed that last part).

So when I sat down to go through 2018’s stats, I was pretty much blown away when my city count nearly doubled my annual goal of 52 and reached 90, by far the highest total I’ve posted since starting this challenge. 

What made it even more surprising is that I hardly felt like I was on the road all the time. I spent most of the summer and early fall staying (relatively) put since we knew we would be moving out of D.C. but didn’t quite know when it would be. My company also cut down my work travel schedule because of budget constraints, and I traveled for far fewer weddings this year than I did last year. On top of that, I visited many places multiple times but only counted each of them once (helloooo Ft. Lauderdale, Minneapolis and Chicago—just to name a few).

SO HOW DID I GET TO 90?! TWO WORDS: ROAD TRIPS.

I’ve been a big road trip enthusiast for years now, but in 2018, I really took that enthusiasm to new heights. I got things going early in the year with a journey through the Carolinas, a region Jake and I both absolutely love and return to again and again. My dad and I traveled through Alabama to see an Eagles concert in the spring, and then from Nevada to Arizona for another one in the fall. Fourth of July weekend featured a jaunt through Kentucky and Ohio, and the following month, I went back through the Carolinas—this time on my own—to kill a week between my friends’ bachelorette parties. 

Later in the year, the big trips materialized. My sister and I spent about two weeks traipsing around central and Eastern Europe, and just a few days after I returned stateside, Jake and I packed up our things and set out on another two-weeker bound for our new home of Portland, Oregon. Each of those itineraries featured a new city nearly every day, so as you can imagine, they added up!

While getting to experience so many new places this year was incredible, I’ve been reminded more than ever that if I want to truly get to know a place (and leave myself time and space to create content around it!), I have to stay longer. 2019 will hopefully look a little different in that regard. 

Speaking of, let’s take a quick look back at 2018 and what’s in store for the new year!

Balboa Park San Diego

2018 BY THE NUMBERS

Cities: 90 (see them all here)

States: 26 plus D.C. (Minnesota, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, New York, Maryland, Illinois, Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Ohio, Nevada, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Arizona, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Missouri, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, New Jersey)

Countries: 14 (USA, Belize, Japan, Canada, Qatar, Maldives, Georgia, Scotland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, England)

National Parks: 7 (Congaree, Biscayne, Mammoth Caves, Lassen Volcanic, Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon)

HIGHLIGHTS

MALDIVES

This trip was a points bucket-list item through and through. I had a Hilton free weekend night certificate to use that I wanted to redeem in the fanciest way possible, so I paired it with a few hundred thousand Honors points and got an overwater villa for six nights at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. Jake and I got upgraded to a bungalow larger than our apartment with a hot tub on the balcony, and we spent the entire trip pinching ourselves. I wrote up my experience here (including details on the free stay) and my story was featured here on The Points Guy!

Overwater bungalow Conrad Maldives

REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA

 My mom had a Georgian friend (who happened to own a Georgian restaurant) when I was growing up, so I got a lot of exposure to Georgian culture early on. When I started seeing the country pop up a couple of years ago on lists of foodie destinations, it skyrocketed to the top of my list and stayed there until I finally made the trip happen in May. I redeemed Citi ThankYou points for my flights and Starwood points (now Marriott) to stay at beautiful Design Hotels properties in Tbilisi and Kazbegi as part of a two-week itinerary. I can’t recommend Georgia enough!

EUROPEAN ROAD TRIP

The fall brought a pair of work trips to Europe, and before the first of them, I spent a couple of weeks roadtripping with my sister Betsy. We hit some places we’d been before—including Ljubljana and Lake Bled—and some we hadn’t, like Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. We redeemed points for hotel rooms along the way and lucked out with a crazy upgrade streak, too. Let’s just say our rooms at Schloss Fuschl and Hotel Bachmair Weissach convinced us to cancel our other plans for those days. (While it wasn’t part of my road trip, I also visited Budapest during this stretch, and I have to give it a shout out—I adore that city and the Hilton there!)

Carly walking down cobblestone street in Ljubljana 
Kitzbuhel chalet

MOVING ROAD TRIP

In November, Jake and I used our cross-country move as an opportunity to visit nearly all the U.S. cities at the top of our list and to visit with friends and family. We spent two weeks tracing an incredibly indirect route across the country and had an absolute blast. My favorite cities were probably Kansas City and Santa Fe, both of which I would love to return to ASAP! We also redeemed points for every hotel stay on this trip and visited a handful of properties in the Curio Collection, which is my favorite Hilton brand.

Downtown Columbus, Ohio

LOUISVILLE

We visited Louisville over Fourth of July weekend this year, and the food there blew me away. I hadn’t read anything particularly describing it as a culinary destination, but I can’t think of a single other place I traveled this year whose food was consistently as good. Unfortunately, I lost all of my photos from that trip thanks to a hard drive accident, so I’m already scheming a way to get back there to recreate them!

BUFFALO

I made a last-minute decision to fly up to Buffalo for St. Patrick’s Day this year to see a hockey game and attend an Irish music session since I’d heard great things about the city. It totally surpassed my expectations in every way. The architecture was beautiful, the food was great and the people absolutely could not have been nicer. The trip also sparked a love of solo travel that inspired me to take more trips on my own throughout the year.  

ASHEVILLE

After my third trip to Asheville of three days or less, I knew I was going to need to spend a larger chunk of time in this city to really get to know it and take advantage of all it has to offer. Jake and I spent a full week this summer working from an Airbnb there and had the most delightful time hiking, dining, drinking, photographing, chasing sunsets and more.  

Carly in front of Biltmore Estate, Asheville
Plants at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

EDINBURGH

Edinburgh is another place I’d been a couple of times already but hadn’t ever spent enough time in, so when my friend invited me to tag along on her work trip, I jumped at the opportunity. United had also just launched direct flights from Washington Dulles, and I cashed in 50,000 miles to book them for free. I had four magical days to wander the city, and they absolutely cemented Edinburgh as one of my favorite places on earth. 

Edinburgh skyline

WINSLOW

My dad and I have been going to Eagles concerts since I was 15, and this year we decided to tie a trip to an Eagles landmark into one of our concert trips. Winslow, Arizona features prominently in my favorite song, and we stopped there to pay homage on the way to a show in Phoenix. This trip was a long time in the making and a really special one to do together. 

MY 2019 TRAVEL GOALS

So what’s up next, you might ask? I’ve got lots of plans in the works and while I’m trying to make a concerted effort to leave time between trips, I also have an ambitious list of places to hit in 2019. Here are the main travel goals I’ll be focused on!

AUSTRALIA

At the very top of my bucket list is Antarctica, one of just two continents I have yet to explore. I’ve decided I want it to be the last one I visit, meaning Australia is up next! I have the opportunity to go with a friend early in the year so I’m hoping to check this one off sooner rather than later. We’ll probably stay in and around Sydney, and I’m looking forward to its culture, food and beautiful beach walks.

JORDAN

My travel wish list is full of Middle Eastern destinations at the moment (Oman, Lebanon, etc.), but I’m putting Jordan at the top. I’m so eager to see Petra with my own eyes and camp in Jordan’s magnificent desert landscape. I’m also hoping to be able to tick another item off my points bucket list by using American Airlines miles to book Qatar Airways’ famed Qsuites business class product for the jaunt across the ocean. We’ll see if I can find the award availability to make it happen!

HAWAII

One of the things I’m most excited about when it comes to living in the Pacific Northwest is the proximity to Hawaii and Alaska. We now have direct flights to Hawaii that will get us there in just five hours, so I’m hoping to take full advantage! There are so many islands I’d like to visit, but I think Maui will be first. I’ve got a Hilton weekend night certificate burning a hole in my pocket and I want to use it at the Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea to maximize its value. 

MEXICO

2018 was the first year in the last three years that we didn’t go to Mexico over the holidays, and I want to reverse that trend as soon as possible. The end of December is the only time I truly feel like I’m on vacation since work completely stops, and I really missed having that time this year get away and unplug. Plus, the Hilton Puerto Vallarta has a brand new adults-only section that I am SUPER excited about. This will be a points redemption for sure.

Ocean in Los Cabos, Mexico

EAU CLAIRE

Ever heard of it? This city in Wisconsin has undergone a renaissance as of late thanks in part to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who hails from the city and started popular local music festival Eaux Claires. It’s no secret that I love smaller cities, especially those undergoing a revitalization, so this one has been on my list for a couple years. My mom and I are eyeing a bluegrass festival there this summer!

FAROE ISLANDS

After visiting the Azores in 2017, islands—especially ones that haven’t been overrun by tourism—are my obsession. These ones just so happen to be in my favorite corner of the world, too, so I’m sure I’ll adore them. I very much want to get there before they become easier to reach so that I don’t have to contend with the crowds!

CHILE

My Chile list just keeps getting longer and longer. From trekking in Patagonia to stargazing in the Elqui Valley to marveling at the ancient wonders on Easter Island, there are just so many things to do and places to see in this country. For my first trip, I’m hoping to visit the Atacama desert and see its otherworldly landscapes. 

CLEVELAND

This is another city I want to visit that probably isn’t making as many bucket lists as some of the other destinations I have on here. I’m particularly interested in Cleveland because of its proximity to the Great Lakes; I hail from this region and view a visit to Cleveland as a way to get to know it even better. Plus, I have a friend there I want to visit and Cuyahoga Valley National Park isn’t far away, either!

LEAVE TIME TO EXPLORE THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Honest to God, of all my travel goals, this one is going to be the most difficult for me to check off the list this year. I am trying to be really intentional about spreading out travel this year so that I have time to come back and enjoy my new home between trips, but I’m such a “yes” person that that’s really hard to do! I’m looking forward to exploring wine country, the coast, the desert, waterfalls, Mt. Hood and so much more—and that’s in Oregon alone!

Mount Hood at sunset
Mount Hood at sunrise

What about you? What were your 2018 travel highlights, and what are your 2019 travel goals? Tell me in the comments below! >>

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Carly

December 15, 2018

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