I’m usually not one for trends, but a few of my favorite travel Instagrammers have been participating in an A to Z travel challenge these past few weeks, and since I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my favorite trips.
Come along with me on a trip down memory lane. I promise not to cry too much as I remember a time where we all could travel.
Or, well, I’ll try my best.
I could have chosen so many things for A: Azerbaijan, Austria, Australia…but I went with Aruba for several reasons. For one, this was our honeymoon trip and holds a special place in my heart. For another, I wanted to break up my run of European countries and cities as much as possible. It seems most of my travel is in Europe and though I love it so, looking back on my Euro-heavy list makes me want to branch out in 2021 and beyond.
Aruba is one of my favorite places. This tiny little island is known for its dry, sunny weather, bright sandy beaches, and gentle surf. Constant trade winds bring beautiful breezes and cause the trademark divi-divi trees to slope southwesterly in a uniform fashion. If you want to lay on the beach for a week and have drinks served to you without moving a muscle, this island is for you. If you want to rent a car and do some offroading, this island is for you. We did both, of course, and I still look back on our honeymoon as one of my all-time favorite trips.
We went to Brussels kind of on a whim back in 2015 during our first trip to Europe for Christmas Markets. I pretty much said, “screw it, let’s go so we can knock another country off the list.” I’m embarrassed by making it the afterthought now since it became hands down my favorite city on that vacation. First of all, it’s beautiful. Cobblestone streets, old houses, large parks, you name it. Plus, a street where every single store is a different chocolate shop. Does it get better than this? I don’t think so.
C: Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the few countries I’ve visited more than once. I was there in 2012 for a study abroad my senior year of college, and again in 2018 with Sean before we left for Georgia. In 2012, my trip was half (well, maybe a quarter) educational half spa-hopping, zip-lining, beach-lounging galavant masquerading as a study abroad. In 2018 it was much of the same. We visited the beautiful Monteverde Cloud Forest, got slightly lost on our way to our hotel, swam in the Pacific Ocean, and survived a strenuous waterfall hike. Simply put, I love Costa Rica.
Oh, Dubai. What a love-hate relationship I have with thee. I think the main reason for my distaste for this city is the number of times I’ve been stuck here for 12-24 hours on a layover coming in and out of Dushanbe. Even going to Abu Dhabi meant 12 hours on either end waiting for flights. There are only so many times I can wander around the malls (one of the few free things you can do here) before I truly get bored of them.
However, the one time I traveled to Dubai to STAY in Dubai I had a fantastic time. It’s was an excellent little trip from Tajikistan that hits the Goldie Lock’s requirements: not too far, not too expensive, not too similar to anywhere you’ve been before. We stayed at a lovely resort outside of the immediate downtown area and enjoyed four days of sun, sand, and delicious drinks.
E is for England, but London to be exact. I did a trip to more than just London back in…2007 I think it was (jeez, I’m old), but I don’t have any digital photos from that trip because THAT’S HOW OLD I AM. In 2012 the day I graduated from college I hopped on a plane to visit my then-boyfriend in London where he was living during grad school. London, to me, marks the start of my love for traveling internationally. It was an easy place to start since I could communicate fairly well with locals. It holds a special place in my heart, and I’m sure we have not seen the last of each other.
Our trip to Helsinki, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden marks the last time we traveled outside of our country of residence before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It wasn’t the original trip we had planned for Christmas 2019, but I’m glad it was the one we chose for Plan B. If I were to describe Helsinki in one word it would be approachable. For anyone nervous to travel outside the English-speaking world, you need not worry here. Everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – speaks beautiful English with a welcoming (and vaguely midwestern) attitude. Helsinki is a relatively small city, especially when you compare it to Stockholm and Oslo, which makes exploring on foot extremely easy. We had just three nights here but still managed to see quite a bit of the city in such a short time. We visited the Christmas market, explored the Fortress of Suomenlinna, ate delicious Lappish food, and fell in love with the quirky little Moomins.
I know, I could have chosen Georgia for G, and perhaps I should have, but I really wanted to shoutout my amazing surprise birthday trip to Santorini on this list. This trip easily cracks my top five – honestly it probably ranks as a close second to New Zealand if I’m totally honest. We only had four short days on this picturesque Greek island, but boy did we make the most of it. Hikes, boating, swimming in the Agean sea, sunset dinners, photography stops, donkey rides, and wine tastings all wrapped up in one whirlwind trip. I’m glad I have so many photos of Oia at sunset to remind myself that this trip was indeed real. Not just a figment of my imagination. It really is that beautiful.
Budapest is the best. Really. It is. It’s the best of Eastern Europe, the best of Western influence, it has a Christmas market (duh), amazing food, ruin bars, and thermal baths. What more could you possibly want? We only had two days here because Sean and I apparently love to sprint around Europe and pack as much in as we possibly can in the shortest amount of time, but we fell in love with this city.
I think one of the first places I’d like to revisit when the pandemic is over is Italy. Tuscany in particular. Now that we are old enough to rent a car and can explore at our leisure I desperately want to revisit Italy’s famous wine country. I’d also like to return to Arezzo Province and hold my head high to let everyone know that the Vespa Incident didn’t scar me for life thank you very much. Aside from that, Sean and I loved our time in Rome and Venice and I wouldn’t mind returning to either of those cities to eat my weight in pasta and pizza.
Ok, I know. This one is my first real stretch on the list. But I really don’t have another J to talk about! We had loose plans to visit Japan this past summer but then pregnancy and a pandemic hit. I’m not about to go to Japan when I’m not allowed to eat my weight in sushi.
Anyway. About the printing press. This museum is on the site of Joseph Stalin’s secret printing press which operated for three years beginning in 1904. Visiting this museum was one of the most fascinating experiences we had in Tbilisi. It was so interesting to see history from another side and talk with the leader of the Communist Party in Georgia. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path in Tbilisi, this is just about as far as you can get.
During our time in Tajikistan, we visited neighboring Kazakhstan twice for a long-weekend ski getaway. I love saying that I skied in a country most people have never even thought to visit. Almaty was a quick two-hour flight from Dushanbe and though it was fairly similar to our home city, it was a nice change of scenery every time we went.
One of the last mini-adventures in Georgia was this excellent glamping adventure in Kakheti. I was heavily pregnant but managed to hike 5.5 miles to the bottom of Gurgeniani Waterfall and I’m so glad I powered through. If you’re ever in Georgia I highly recommend taking some time to commune with nature out in Lagodekhi. It’s the perfect little escape from busy Tbilisi.
Monaco marks my true introduction to the Formula 1 world. At the time I will admit I was only mildly interested in the car racing but was very interested in sitting across from the beautiful marina and basking in the sun for a day. We only saw practice since Sean had a final exam the following week and we didn’t want to risk an airline strike delaying our return to the UK. Today I must admit I’m a bit more fanatical about Formula 1 (I blame Drive to Survive on Netflix and our trip to Baku in 2019), and I’m hoping we can return to Monaco for the full race sometime in the future.
Nice, France goes hand-in-hand with our trip to Monaco. When we were planning this trip, we decided to stay in France because it was significantly cheaper than staying in Monaco and only an 11-minute train ride away. I’ll admit we only used Nice as a place to sleep but did manage to wander around for an afternoon before catching our flight back to London. I even made a point to stick my feet in the Mediterranean even though the beach was far too rocky and the water was far too cold.
It’s no secret that the whole of our New Zealand trip from 2016 is special to me, but I loved Oamaru in particular. This tiny little town is home to a blue penguin conservation project in Oamaru where you can pay to watch these little clumsy birds come ashore at night and return to their nests. The night we visited over 200 birds washed ashore, stumbled up the beach, and hobbled to their little homes. In addition, did you know Oamaru is the Steampunk Capital of New Zealand? Neither did we. After a bit of coaxing from Sean, I agreed to humor him on a trip to the Steampunk HQ museum. It was actually pretty cool, I’ll admit.
Poland is one of those countries that we desperately need to return to sometime sooner rather than later. We were only in Krakow for a day, but the city is so small and approachable I think we made the most of our very short time. We explored St. Mary’s Basilica, Wawel Castle, ate some delicious perogies, and drank some yummy Polish beer. Pretty successful if you ask me.
Queenstown served as our jumping-off point for exploring the South Island of New Zealand. It’s sad, since Queenstown is absolutely adorable and has a lot of fun things to offer including luge, bungee jumping, and skiing in the winter. It’s definitely on the list of places to return to whenever we get back down that way. We did manage to stop at an awesome wine bar for about an hour and got a brief introduction to New Zealand wines which sparked a love affair that continues to this day.
Thank goodness New Zealand has so many interesting city names. It’s really helped me fill out this list when nothing else was working! Rotorua is one of the most interesting places we visited. It’s geothermal, so it’s completely normal to walk through a park and see portions roped off to keep people safe from boiling water or mud. Our hotel was naturally heated which was fascinating, and Rotorua is also where we picked up our amazing jade sculpture which remains one of my favorite souvenirs from any trip. This is also where we participated in a Maori cultural experience – a true highlight of our time in New Zealand.
Like A, I had a lot of choices for S, but I chose Stockholm, Sweden for the alliteration (and because I loved this trip). We visited Stockholm over Christmas which offered a unique experience that I’d highly recommend. We participated in the annual viewing of Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul: “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas,” on Sweden’s main public-television channel, devoured a traditional Juleboard, and visited several museums. A lovely way to celebrate Christmas.
Tajikistan was our first overseas post, my first experience living overseas at all, and when I first started this blog. I wasn’t sure at the time what this blog would become, so the posts from that era are a bit more garbled and rambly than they are now. Dushanbe is the capital city and it can be easily explored in a week or so, but if you’re visiting for longer there’s tons of beautiful mountainous country to be seen. Easily my favorite trips were GBAO, Seven Lakes/Panjikent, Iskanderkul, and Nurek Dam.
I don’t know many people who can say they’ve taken a road trip from Dushanbe to Samarkand and Bukhara, Uzbekistan. This was such an epic road trip and easily one of the most fascinating expat experiences we’ve ever had. I loved learning about the old Silk Road rulers, standing where they stood, and exploring historical sites hundreds of years older than anything you’d find in the United States.
V: Vatican City
We had quite a crazy experience at the Vatican. It was absolutely mobbed with tourists yelling in all different languages and we were nothing short of harrassed by guides the whole way through. Still, I’m glad we visited the center of the Catholic Church – it is the faith I was raised in after all. I’ve heard from people who’ve visited after 2012 that things are considerably more calm and a much more pleasant experience. I certainly hope so!
Another letter where New Zealand came through for me! I could have also chosen Wellington, but our visit to the Waitomo Cave system was far more interesting if you ask me. These caves are famous for their glow-worms and there are plenty of tours to get you up close and personal with them. The one we chose involved repelling into the cave, zip-lining in darkness, and dark water rafting. Such a cool experience.
This is perhaps the biggest stretch on this list. Depending upon how you translate the spelling of this city to English, you can spell Khujand (the generally accepted spelling) Xujand. Considering I have no other X’s to choose from, I’ll go with it. Xujand is one of the northernmost cities in Tajikistan and we spent a long weekend here in the summer of 2016. It’s a fascinating city, and if you have the time I’d say it’s definitely worth the 7-hour drive from Dushanbe.
I think this might be the oldest trip I’ve ever talked about on this blog. This was a vacation I took with my family in the summer of 2011 after I scraped through my second semester of physics. I was beyond excited to visit Ansel Adams’ stomping ground. Yosemite is known for its stunning granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, lakes, mountains, glaciers, and biological diversity. We spent quite a bit of time driving around admiring the beautiful views, and even hiked alongside one of the park’s many waterfalls.
Z: New Zealand
Ending on a stretch, but I did manage to get the whole alphabet! If you know me you know I love to gush about New Zealand. I’ve talked about it several times on this list, but it deserves one more final shoutout. This remains the big one. The trip to beat. The place I loved and miss the most. It’s the place I’d run away to if I could and I’m sure we will be back here again sooner rather than later. Kia ora.
So, what do you think of my list? Did I go too far with my stretches? Do you have any suggestions for how to make those letters more legitimate? Let me know in the comments below!