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2019 Year in Review

Zodiac boat

2019 TRAVEL RECAP

In 2018, I somehow visited 90 cities—and going into 2019, my goal was to take that number wayyy down. The reasons were twofold: First, I wanted time to edit photos and create blog posts from all of my trips, and extra cities meant both less time for content creation and a longer to-do list. Second, I wanted time to explore and enjoy my new home of Portland.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I had it in me to slow things down, as I acknowledged in last year’s version of this post. I am definitely a “yes” person who jumps at travel opportunities even when my schedule is already packed, and year after year I get carried away by my ambition to see every inch of the world. Inspiration will strike, and no matter how bad the timing, I’ll feel compelled to get to whatever place is on my mind as fast as possible, come hell or high water.

BUT I DID IT!

I fully get that this is a weird thing to pat yourself on the back for, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m proud of cutting 90 cities down to 52 in 2019 (and pleased that in my first year of consistent blogging, my site’s name feels especially apt 😂) Finally giving myself the time and space to get everything I’ve learned about travel out of my head and onto this blog was something I’ve been wanting to do—but felt incapable of doing—over the last few years, and it’s been one of the best things I’ve done for myself in a long time. 

Looking ahead, I’ll be scaling my travel schedule down even further in 2020 to focus on my blog and business and to take care of some health-related issues that I intend to share more about when the time is right. 

All of this is not to say I didn’t have incredible travel experiences in 2019 (and that I don’t have plenty dreamed up for 2020). I did, and I do! Here’s a look back at 2019, and tomorrow, I’ll preview what I’m expecting to do in the year ahead.

Kayaks

MY 2019 RECAP

2019 BY THE NUMBERS

Cities: 52 (see them all here)

States: 19 plus D.C. (Oregon, California, Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Washington, Georgia, Nevada, New York, Hawaii, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida)

Countries: 11 (USA, Australia, Israel, Jordan, Canada, Spain, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Argentina, Switzerland, France, Mexico)

Continents: 5 (North America, South America, Australia, Europe, Antarctica)

HOW DID I TRACK ON LAST YEAR’S GOALS?

Bondi Beach - 7 days itinerary Sydney Australia

AUSTRALIA – DID IT

I honestly can’t believe how long I waited to go to Australia—and that when I finally did go, it was basically just so I could tick it off before Antarctica. Sydney absolutely blew me away, and it was without a doubt the biggest surprise of my 2019. I couldn’t believe my eyes at Bondi Beach, despite the thousands of photos I’d seen on Instagram; it has to be one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever beheld. Plus, Australia is basically my dream food country: You can get anything vegetarian, gluten-free or both, and halloumi and avocado are optional add-ons to everything.

The icing on the cake was cashing in 30,000 World of Hyatt points for a night at the Park Hyatt Sydney with one of my best friends—and then scoring an upgrade to a harbor-facing room with a view of the Sydney Opera House. I literally screamed when I saw it. 

Read all Australia posts here.

Petra Treasury

JORDAN – DID IT

If you think Jordan looks incredible, you’re right—and it’s probably even more incredible than you suspect it is. Glimpsing the Treasury at Petra for the first time was truly unforgettable, and the whole site—which is much, much, much bigger than I ever imagined—is awe-inspiring. As amazing as Petra was though, Wadi Rum rivaled it. Between the pristine desert landscape, the solitude and the night sky lit up by billions of stars, the whole experience glamping in the desert was pure magic. My only regret was that I didn’t have time to see more of this spectacular country, but I’ll definitely be back. (I also didn’t wind up using American Airlines miles to book Qatar Airways’ Qsuites, as I was able to tack the trip onto a work trip to Israel. Instead, I used those miles for another special flight, details of which I’ll share in tomorrow’s post!)

Read all Jordan posts here.

Maui

HAWAII – DID IT

Jake and I put off going to Hawaii for years, dreaming that someday we’d go more easily from a home city on the West Coast. So once our move happened, I got right to work planning a trip. While we want to go to all the major islands from Portland eventually, we started with Maui thanks to an opportunity to use a Hilton free weekend night certificate at the Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea. We also maximized British Airways’ distance-based award chart to book nonstop flights on Alaska Airlines for just 25,000 Avios per person roundtrip in economy. Double points and miles win, and the trip lived up to all our expectations!

To learn more about earning and using points and miles to travel for free, visit the 52 Cities free resource library or join me on a points and miles masterclass!

MEXICO – DID IT

2019 brought the resort trip to Mexico that I’ve been dreaming about since I returned from a similar trip two years ago. I did indeed end up staying at the Hilton Puerto Vallarta as I’d planned, cashing in 70,000 Hilton Honors points per night and making use of Hilton’s fifth-night-free policy during my six-night stay. Thanks to an upgrade, I also got to check out the new adults-only side, which was beautiful as anticipated. Most importantly, I got to spend some resetting (a.k.a. watching Star Wars to my heart’s content) and getting my ducks in a row for the new year, which is a favorite December ritual of mine. 

EAU CLAIRE – DID IT

I had a feeling I was going to love Eau Claire, and I was totally correct. For one, I adore the Midwest, and for two, I love any city you can describe as “going through a renaissance.” Eau Claire has a thriving small business scene, hip hotels (one of which you can book with Hilton Honors points!), some great food, a cool music scene, ample street art, and blissfully cool summer temperatures—plus, it’s small enough that you can get a great sense of it in just a weekend. I think it says a lot that despite having to skip most of the music festival we went for because of rain, my mom and I still had an absolute ball.

Read all Eau Claire posts here.

FAROE ISLANDS – MISSED IT

I decided not to go to the Faroe Islands this year for a couple reasons. The first was that I didn’t have a travel buddy for the trip. While I love traveling alone, I didn’t feel like this particular trip would be a good one for me to do solo considering all the hiking I wanted to do. I’m WAY too paranoid about safety—and insecure in my outdoors abilities—to do any serious hiking alone.

The other reason was that as I started regularly blogging about my points redemptions, I felt my travel priorities begin to shift. Now more than ever, I find I’m drawn to destinations where I can use points, not just so that I can save money, but also so that I can break down how I did it in a post that may be helpful for someone else planning a similar trip. Getting to the Faroes doesn’t involve an award chart sweet spot, and the islands don’t have points hotels. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever go, but I feel fine about leaving this one off the roster for 2019.

CHILE – MISSED IT

This is another one I really can’t complain about; I initially penciled Chile in for November which is, of course, when I ended up going to Antarctica instead. No regrets in the least on the swap, but Chile is still at the top of my international wish list!

CLEVELAND – DID IT

I pretty much knew I’d have a blast in Cleveland thanks to the same factors that told me I’d love Eau Claire, and it didn’t let me down. A change in family plans wound up cutting my trip down to just one day, but in that short time, I saw gorgeous lake views, a world-class art collection, impressive botanic gardens, lots of great architecture and more. Plus, the food was awesome (shout out to Spice Kitchen & Bar and Mitchell’s Ice Cream, which is now safely up there in my top-5 ice cream places ever). I didn’t, however, have time to see Cuyahoga Valley National Park, so I know I’ll be back soon!

Cannon Beach view from Ecola State Park

LEAVE TIME TO EXPLORE THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST – DID IT

I’m especially proud to say I achieved this goal, particularly since I wasn’t sure it would happen. I stayed in Oregon for almost the entire summer (I mean, relatively speaking), and got the chance to explore so much of my beautiful new state, including wine country, the coast, Mt. Hood and the surrounding area. I also got up to both Seattle and Vancouver, as well as the stunning Olympic Peninsula. I can’t wait to see more and seriously feel so lucky to live in this part of the world. 

OTHER 2019 HIGHLIGHTS

Penguins on an iceberg

ANTARCTICA

The highlight of my year, and one of the highlights of my life. I’m still trying to find the words to describe this trip and what it meant to me. Getting to Antartica was as close to a lifelong dream as I’ve ever had, but at the same time, it was one I’d been putting off (in part because it’s not exactly a simple undertaking, least of all financially). With a little urgency from my youngest sister helping speed things along, both of my sisters and I decided to take the plunge in November. More than a month later, I still feel as though I dreamed the whole thing: the vastness, the isolation, the towering scenery, the adorable penguins. I will treasure this experience forever.

Bixby Bridge and ocean cliffs

LEARNING EXPERIENCES IN CARMEL, MARFA AND BOSTON

This year, I prioritized getting out there and learning from people in the worlds of blogging and photography, and I’m so incredibly glad I did. Without a doubt, the Gather & Getaway retreat I did in Carmel, California was the best way I could have started the year; I learned so much from two amazing mentors, Jessica and Anne, and made relationships with other bloggers for the first time. It’s been so wonderful having a support network in this space, and I couldn’t be more grateful!

Not long after, the Canon USA and Roads End teams blew my mind with so many useful photography and Lightroom tricks at the Yeah Field Trip retreat in Marfa. And TravelCon in Boston over the summer was another great chance to meet bloggers, as well as other points and miles enthusiasts!

Read all Carmel posts here.

Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES

I really hadn’t spent more than a day in Los Angeles until this May, and let’s just say that going forward, I intend to fully reverse that trend. Jake and I spent a long weekend in the city and that was enough to make me realize I am firmly in the “love it” camp. Highlights of the trip included visits to former Eagles hangouts, a trip to Griffith Observatory, my first Dodger Stadium experience and so much good food. I already have plans to return early in 2020, and hopefully that won’t be my only trip of the year!

Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM

Jake and I tacked on a couple days in Amsterdam at the end of one of my work trips back in October, and we may have loved the city even more the second time. I’ve learned throughout the year how nice it can be to return to places you’ve already been; for me, it takes off a lot of the pressure to EXPLORE EVERYTHING and SEE IT ALL and gives me a chance to just relax and enjoy things in the moment. While the trip was a short one, we had enough time to try a couple new restaurants that I adored and to return to a few spots I loved last time. Amsterdam has definitely rocketed up the list and now definitely ranks as one of my favorite cities on earth. We will definitely be back soon!

Mala Strana buildings

PRAGUE

I’m not going to lie—trips back to visit Prague, where after college I spent two of the most formative years of my life, have been tough in the past. Some of my closest friends still live there, and it can be difficult to see how things have changed and moved on without you around. That’s not to mention that it’s always hard to leave people and a city that I hold so close to my heart, and short visits have tended to make me more sad than anything else. 

But this fall, I had an incredible time in the city, which I owe in part to my decision to check out Prague’s points hotels. Sure, I visited all my favorite spots and did the things I loved to do when I lived there. But instead of simply retreading pieces of my old life, I also got to uncover a new-to-me part of the city and come at it from the perspective of my new life, which was exciting in its own way. Already scheming a way to get back next year, too.

Read all Prague posts here.

Girona

GIRONA

With two work trips to Barcelona this fall, I finally had a chance to get out of the city and see some of the surrounding towns. Girona was an easy day trip with lots to see, do and eat, and I liked it even more than I expected to. The city itself is walkable and beautiful, with colorful buildings along the river and a stunning historic center (it’s no surprise it served as a backdrop for Game of Thrones!). It’s also full of fascinating history and excellent cuisine⁠—definitely worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood. Plus, taking the train from Barcelona couldn’t be easier!

ANNECY & MONTREUX

I was lucky enough to get to sneak these two beautiful cities in at the very end of 2019 when I traveled to Geneva for work. Both were the perfect size to explore in a day and had excellent food (read: raclette), tons of charm, and the most stunning mountain and lake views. Plus, I was there during Christmas market season, which I haven’t had the chance to experience since I lived in Europe in 2010. December may not be the best time to visit Europe in terms of weather, but it can be totally magical!

Hope you enjoyed this 2019 recap! What were your favorite travel moments this year? Tell me in the comments below! >>

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2019 recap
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Carly

January 2, 2020

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