2017 Travel Year in Review

How do you measure, measure a year? 2017 was the year I spent time in 13 different countries and 11 different states. I traveled to Europe three times. I set foot on my fifth continent. I revisited London, Indianapolis, Ireland, and Portugal. I reunited with friends from college in Prague and Dublin and old coworkers in London, Chicago, and Dubrovnik. I traveled for 10 days in Cape Town with someone I met in Mandalay and for 12 days in Croatia with someone I met in Dublin. A twelfth of my year was spent dog-sitting, both in Chicago and Jersey City. I added Shenandoah National Park to my list of U.S. National Parks.

2017 was the year I fell in love. Time and time again. With the rushing sound of waterfalls, that first glimpse of a mountain range out of the corner of my eye, the satisfaction of a flaky almond croissant and warm cappuccino successfully ordered in French, the feeling after conquering a really tough hike that made my legs shake, the kindness of strangers in times of need, cobblestone streets, a baby goat named Jupiter, and every single puppy I met.

2017 was the year I was in Redbook magazine, even if they accidentally (?) aged me three years. I worked without being confined to cubicle walls (though multiple people have told me I’ve been on “vacation”). I started my freelance writing career, becoming a professional writer for the very first time. I’ve worked since March on one of the biggest travel sites on the internet. I realized I could make this work, this alternative life I’ve got going on, but I also long for stability, a routine, and Brooklyn. But that’s for 2018. Let’s talk 2017.

Cape Town & the Wine Region of South Africa

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Though I’d always thought the first time I’d be in Africa would be on safari, I couldn’t resist joining Marie and our mutual friend Cathy in Cape Town, where they both had lived for a few years. I set foot on my fifth continent, loved being in the sunshine in February, ate my way around Cape Town, volunteered at a few nonprofits, saw penguins in the wild (a childhood dream of mine), bought tons of jewelry, watched five stunning sunsets, drank wine in the winelands, marveled at mountains, and slept on an almond farm.

United Kingdom

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The reason for visiting London was to celebrate the marriage of one of my oldest childhood friends to her husband who we’d met together at a bar in NYC, an afternoon with a crossword puzzle that turned into a wild night of dancing with inflatable palm trees. I flew right into London Town from Cape Town, met up with an old coworker at a pub, and did a few touristy things (including the way-cool Churchill War Rooms and Borough Market) with my cousin Em and her now-fiancé. The highlight of course was the 12-hour wedding in the beautiful English countryside where I was the third person on the dancefloor, the last person on the bus, and the only one with a huge red wine stain on her dress.

Budapest, Hungary

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Budapest began my solo part of the trip and it meant a lot to me because the parents of the only great-grandmother I knew were immigrants to the U.S. from Hungary. Though we have no idea if they were even from current-day Hungary since the borders have changed many times since then, I loved walking around Budapest wondering if my ancestors had crossed the same bridges and eaten the same poppyseed cake. In Hungary, I ate like a freaking queen, took a bath with strangers outside in February (which, in hindsight, was an activity I could have skipped), and was told by a woman at a nesting doll stand she could tell I had Hungarian roots, even if it’s just an eighth of me.

Bratislava, Slovakia

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From Budapest, I took the bus to Slovakia and stayed two nights in Bratislava. Though I’ve seen pictures of a ridiculously crowded Old Town while cruise ships are visiting, I felt like I had it all to myself in mid-February. There weren’t that many “must-sees” like in other spots I visited, but I did really like the street art, the random statues, and the local cuisine, and I found enough to do without feeling rushed. On my way to Bratislava Castle, I did accidentally walk through a half-mile-long tram tunnel from which I wasn’t sure I was going to make it out alive, but we all make mistakes.

Vienna, Austria

Cafe Culture in Vienna, Austria

I spent a few nights in Vienna after Slovakia, and before I even got there I decided this would be more of a spot for me to rest and relax rather than truly absorb the city. I decided Vienna was for people who are 300 years old and enjoyed the opera and classical music. I had to think a little outside of the guidebook, but I did succeed in finding some things I liked about Vienna and I also did get some much-needed rest.

Cesky Krumlov & Prague, Czech Republic

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Cesky Krumlov is by far the strangest place I’ve ever been, while also being the most charming. It felt like being in a medieval-themed Disney attraction but it was all authentic. I ate Czech cuisine in restaurants that were basically caves with lanterns, explored the 800-year-old castle grounds as quite possibly the only American tourist, met a person whose job was “fire eater”, and the toilet in my hotel was an actual “throne”. While there, I came across the most bizarre festival I’ve been to, with children dressed as birds, wolves, and Marie Antoinette, that I *think* was to celebrate the end of the winter, but for all I know, it’s a daily event because the town is that strange.

I fell in love with Prague immediately and I haven’t yet been able to quantify why. It’s a gorgeous city, which is still intact despite its troubling history. It might have had something to do with the perfect spring weather I had while there, the first I’d seen since Cape Town, but I even started looking for jobs when I settled into a cafe the first day. I kept getting lost because at each corner there were six choices of roads to walk down, but that made it more fun. I was enamored with the energy and the magnitude of the Charles Bridge. It was in Prague I met up with a friend from college who I’d never been one-on-one with before, though we’ve been drinking buddies for 15 years. Prague is a city I’ll visit again for sure, even though I’m not moving there due to my love of New York.

Dresden, Berlin, & Cologne, Germany

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I first learned about Dresden in high school while reading Slaughterhouse Five as the city was decimated by the Americans and allies during WWII as a message to the Germans. Though I didn’t know anything about it from a tourist perspective, I wanted to be there. The city is small but everything was beautifully rebuilt after the destruction. Though you could get a little tired of exploring churches when you’re traveling in Europe for a long time, the Frauenkirche is not to be missed.

Berlin hadn’t been on my short list but I was in the area right around ITB, the largest travel conference in the world and a few of my friends were going to be there. I initially was going to go to the conference, but after talking to people at Travel Massive the night before (including some friends from #Escape2Goa), decided to explore Berlin instead. I came across a free tour in front of the ginormous Brandenburg Gate and the guide said something that is so true: in Paris, everywhere you look is beautiful, but in Berlin, you have to know where to look to find the good stuff. I was glad I took the tour to learn more about the important history of the city, especially during WWII and during the days of Communism. I took another tour the next day to explore some of the “rougher” areas of Berlin, which of course are now becoming popular.

I hadn’t meant to travel to Cologne, but when my flight to Paris was canceled, I needed to find an alternate way to get closer to Paris. I stopped in Cologne for the night and while I was actually mostly busy completing my edit test for the travel website job, I still found 11 things to do in the short time I explored. It’s a beautiful city with potentially the best gelato I’ve ever had (and yes, I’ve been to Italy).

Paris, France

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Paris. A place I’ve wanted to visit at least since 1994 when I wore a red French beret around the house every single day. Yes, I did find and buy a real red French beret while I was there in March. Paris is a magical place, that I hope to return to several times throughout my life, but a place I’m so happy I explored on my own for the first time. Paris was a little treat, a reward for making it to nine (that became ten) other cities in the previous five weeks. Spring weather. Reading books about Paris in secluded gardens and in front of the Eiffel Tower. Red wine. Almond croissants. Cappuccino. Macarons. Monet. The Louvre. A carousel ride. Speaking in French. I wouldn’t have changed a thing, aside from that I got there a day later than I’d intended. But really I was 23 years after I’d intended.

Shenandoah National Park / Monticello

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My sister and dad had been talking about hiking in Shenandoah National Park for a while, and they planned it for the weekend of my birthday. No way was I going to not join in, even if my sister didn’t think I’d be as into the hiking as they would be. And sure, I complained a lot during a few uphill parts of some of our multiple hikes a day when I didn’t think I could breathe one more breath, and my stomach anxiety went bananas when faced with a rock scramble that I had no idea how to climb, and my calves hurt, but I was elated with the views and the feelings of accomplishment when I did everything I’d set my mind to. Meeting baby goats on the way out there at my sister’s friend’s farm, the live music at the hotel, seeing a baby bear in a tree in the wild, visiting Monticello, and celebrating my birthday at my cousins’ house in Maryland just increased the joy that was 32.

Chicago, Illinois

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Just two days after we returned from Shenandoah, I packed up my things for Chicago where I was going for three weeks to dog-sit for a stranger I met in a travel-writing group on Facebook. I fell in love with sweet little Ruffles and had a more challenging relationship with Layla as she was super high-maintenance and wanted to sit on my chest at all times. I met up a ton with my friend Kristyn who used to explore NYC with me. We went to a super cold Yankees/Cubs game, ate and drank a lot, and traveled to Madison while someone else watched the pups for a night. I reunited with an old coworker and with someone I met on a bar crawl in Prague, and my cousin Christie came out to visit for a few days. We went HAM on the tourist circuit and ate some of my favorite meals all year while she was in town.

Madison, Wisconsin

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It’s on my bucket list to see all fifty states and while I was in Chicago, I spent a night in Madison, Wisconsin. I thought I would just check Wisconsin off my list, but Madison is actually a town I could see myself visiting again. Kristyn and I felt like we were reliving our college days. The one thing our alma mater was missing was a body of water upon whose shores we could have spent hours each day relaxing, drinking, or studying.

Indiana

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I might have included a trip to Indianapolis in this year anyway since my godparents live out there and it had been way too long since I’d been, but the decision was made for me to visit in June when I applied for and was admitted into Bloghouse. Bloghouse is an intimate blogging conference where you meet with other bloggers and attend workshops to learn how to improve your blog, writing, social media, etc. My favorite part, per usual, was meeting everyone, but I did learn a lot of valuable things, most of which I haven’t had time to implement yet. I spent a few extra days in the area, visiting with being spoiled by my aunt and uncle and taking a few press trips to nearby towns.

St. Louis, Missouri

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My friends from Myanmar came to the United States for the very first time, visiting St. Louis, Missouri for an event with a nonprofit they were involved with. It was a few days before I was leaving for Europe for three weeks, but when you leave Myanmar not knowing if you’ll ever see your friends again, you make every effort to see them when they are on your side of the world. I surprised them at the event and it was super fun to be with the Sundara crew again. Unfortunately, it was *literally* 102 degrees out both days so I didn’t get much of a chance to explore because I couldn’t physically move. Another downside was the one BBQ place that people were raving about was just not good. Luckily, the famous arch was right outside our window and the recommended frozen custard place was worthy of the praise. While I wouldn’t necessarily return to St. Louis, I do keep hearing good things about Kansas City.

Northern Ireland

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With a one-night stopover in NYC from St. Louis, I then met my family in Dublin to begin our Irish adventure. This trip was one of the main reasons I wanted to travel for a whole year once I realized I could do it for more than a month. We were on the island for a family reunion in Ireland, but beforehand, we hugged the coast from Dublin, visited Newgrange, and then did a rapid-fire road trip of as much as we could do in Northern Ireland in two days. It’s impossible for me to even pick one highlight of our time in Northern Ireland because I could have stayed in the seaside town of Ballycastle for weeks,  I loved thinking we were getting lost but then coming across the incredible ruins of Kinbane Castle surrounded by beautiful cliffs and waterfalls, and Giants Causeway was truly like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Ireland

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If I am allowed to have three homelands, they are New Jersey, New York, and Ireland. I haven’t written too much yet about my trip to Ireland but it was full of so much emotion. One reason was because my family was visiting some of the places we’d visited 19 years ago on my first trip out of the U.S. Another reason was because we explored so many new spots right out of paintings we’ve had on our walls for decades. And another reason is that it was here we had a family reunion with over 100 other people in my family who are all descended from (or married to people descended from) my great-great grandparents, who lived in the brick building in the photo above (or that may be their “piggery”) in what has to be the most beautiful valley in Ireland. Some of these people I’d been talking on Facebook with for 8+ years about how we are related. It was an experience I’m trying to write a full post on for next year.

Outside of the reunion, we mostly hugged the coast as we did in Northern Ireland, visiting the towns of Donegal, Sligo, Leenane, Clifden, Oughterard, and more. We hiked up mountains and around the sides of cliffs in the weird Irish weather that changes every five minutes. I was blown away by the scenery and quite literally blown away by the winds. I had to buy a wool sweater, wool hat, and wool gloves because of the weather and because that’s what you buy in Ireland, especially when your name is Erin.

Lagos, Portugal

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I didn’t know until about a week before I left for St. Louis what I was doing with the extra week in Europe I’d added to my Ireland trip, but I’m so happy I chose to return to Portugal and explore the south, the Algarve, and specifically Lagos. My favorite thing I did was take an all-day hiking tour on the western coast of the Algarve. Just like in Shenandoah, I climbed up things I didn’t know humans could even climb up and though I got nervous a lot because I am clumsy AF, at the end, I felt awesome. It was so hot and crowded that I didn’t end up spending too much time on the beaches that Lagos is famous for, but I ate and drank quite a bit. I continued my bender back in Dublin, though I swear my plans were to read James Joyce’s The Dubliners while sitting in pubs eating fish and chips.

Finger Lakes, New York

Kayaking on the Chemung River with Southern Tier Kayak Tours

In August, Katie, Marie, and I traveled to the Finger Lakes together to explore as much as possible in Corning, Elmira, and Watkins Glen. We had three and a half straight days of activities from morning to night which included wine, beer, mimosa, and liquor tastings, making glass, kayaking the Chemung River, paying our respects to Mark Twain, doing a treasure hunt in one of our accommodations, and stand-up paddle boarding. The Finger Lakes is an amazing region that I hope to spend more time in as I move back up north in 2018.

Zagreb, Zadar, Plitvice Lakes, Split, & Dubrovnik Croatia

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I’d gone a whole year thinking that Ireland would be my last big trip but when it came down to it, I needed one more spontaneous adventure to remind me that there doesn’t have to be a last trip. I met up with a friend I had a ton of fun with in Dublin and traveled throughout Croatia with him. We were just outside the season of island-hopping which means I need to return to Croatia (there are 1,000+ islands to explore after all), but because of this, we explored some lesser explored areas and there weren’t too many crowds.

The old towns of Split, Dubrovnik, and Zadar were all super cute and the way modern shops and restaurants exist within the Roman ruins, city walls, and in Split’s case, within Diocletian’s Palace, is flawless. Zagreb, the capital city, reminded me of Prague in some ways. I didn’t even know that you could have multi-level lakes and waterfalls as we saw in Plitvice Lakes, above. Croatia was challenging in some ways (no good coffee shops to work in, too much driving, no luggage for five days), but it wasn’t challenging in the ways that it could have been, considering my friend and I had only spent a few days together in Dublin before deciding to spend 12 more together in a new country.

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island balcony

Brianne and I went on a short trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia where I think I truly relaxed for the first time all year. Though we were only there for two days and were definitely the only people between 7 and 70, I fell in love with this resort area. It used to be where all the rich people from NYC “summered” in mansions back when my great-grandfather was living in that stone hut pictured above in Ireland. My favorite activity was riding bikes underneath Spanish moss that you could reach up and run your hands through while cruising down the miles of secluded paths. I also loved exploring Driftwood Beach and eating tons and tons of seafood.

Asbury Park & Red Bank, New Jersey

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My final trip of the year (aside from visiting family and traveling back and forth to NYC) was to Asbury Park and Red Bank with Brianne. I’m a total beach snob and haven’t explored much of the Jersey Shore beyond my home beach, but Asbury Park has an awesome personality. It’s a cool mix of the way old (the buildings and boardwalk that my 97-year-old grandmother enjoyed as a kid and teen) the old (the music hall where Bruce got his start) and the new (the street art, the acclaimed restaurants, and the boutiques).

New York, New York

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There was about 20% of me that wondered when I left NYC if I wanted to live in Philly instead. But every time I traveled back to NYC after being away, I was soooooo happy, even though it rained or snowed 75% of the time. I know it’s not for everyone (and so many people tell me “I could never live there”, which I find SO WEIRD because I would never say this to someone about where he or she lives), but believe it or not, it is more for me than anywhere else in this world is. Even though it would be fun to live in Prague, Paris, or Cape Town for a little, New York is truly where I belong, at least for the time being.

So in my 20 or so trips to NYC this year, I visited with as many friends as possible, used them for their couches and spare rooms when I had flights in or out, went to a dozen or so travel events and even had some business-y things to take care of. I’m so excited to be back in 2018, though I still need help finding an apartment. If you like looking for things like this, please contact me because I need some help.

Home, New Jersey

And of course, I spent a lot of time this year at home. Though I’ve clearly been away a lot, when I’m home, it’s been fab. Our favorite activity is of course going to the beach, but we’ve done a little exploring of the area to a few wineries, restaurants, and some animal sanctuaries, including an alpaca farm. It’s been such a fun time to be home with my parents as they are both newly retired and exploring their own talents, including watercolor, pastel, and writing. And obviously, my puppy and I have bonded so much that I’m going to need to kidnap her when I move back to NYC.

Though I missed my grandmother’s birthday while I was in Cape Town, I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas with my extended family. I celebrated an engagement, an upcoming babe-o, the holidays, and a wedding with my neighborhood family. I spent many days and nights in Jersey City and Weehawken, including the last day of the year at a Scottish/American NYE party, with some of my best blogger friends and some of my best college friends.

Posts from earlier travels written in 2017:

As exciting as 2017 was, I’m even more excited for 2018, though it will definitely be a year with less travel. Despite that, there are good things to come, but you’ll just have to keep following me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to find out more. Thank you for all of the support this year, with likes, clicks, and comments, and for the real-life support, like feeding me, letting me live on your couch, and being there for me when I’ve been solo traveling for too long and need to connect with home. You guys are truly the best.

xx

5 Responses

  1. Glad to see you had fun in the U.K. We somehow merged Bath and Stonehenge into as comprehensive a trip to London as you could plan in a week. London is the craziest place that I’ve ever been. You can see so much, but also miss so many sites of historical and cultural significance.

    Like

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