2016: The Travel Year in Review
I’ve declared it already: 2016 was the best year ever. Since 2011, I’ve summarized my travel-filled years (see my posts from 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015), but no year has ever come close to 2016 in terms of the amount of travel I’ve been able to fit in. Brace yourselves: this may be a long one!
I kicked off 2016 in Havana, Cuba, although the start of the year was less than favorable: we were left stranded at a bus station at midnight, and I woke up with food poisoning the following day. The first day of the year, my last day in Cuba, wasn’t ideal, but the previous week in the fascinating country was a blast. From there, I returned to California briefly and then back to Sydney for my final weeks in the country where I had spent the last two and a half years. When I wasn’t working in January, I was continuing to explore Sydney or visiting my second Australian home, Newcastle.
February 2016 was the final month I lived in Australia. After bidding farewell to Sydney, Newcastle, and my lovely friends and coworkers, on the 25th I set off on the epic adventure I’m still on today. First stop: New Zealand, where I would spend the next three and a half weeks. I began with Christchurch, Queenstown, and Milford Sound.
My adventure of a lifetime was truly underway by March. After Queenstown, I continued exploring both islands of New Zealand, including Wanaka, Franz Josef Glacier, Greymouth, back to Christchurch, Nelson, Picton, and Marlborough. I next hopped on a ferry to the North Island, where I saw Wellington, Auckland, Waiheke Island, Matamata (the one and only Hobbiton!), Rotorua, Taupo, Waitomo Caves, and then headed back to Auckland. The best part? My mom joined me for my final week in New Zealand!
But that’s not all: March also signaled the start of my stint in Southeast Asia. From Auckland, I flew to Bali, Indonesia , explored the remarkable Gili Islands for a few days, and then returned to Bali to see more of the island with my friend Arielle before flying to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Venturing further through Malaysia, I paid visits to Melaka and Penang. Next, I headed to the lovely Taiwan, where I spent most of my time in Taipei (and stayed in two fabulous hotels!) and also headed out of the city a bit to Jiufen.
After stuffing myself with boba, I flew to the Philippines, landing in Manila, where I stayed with my friend Jo and was shown around by a few of her local friends. I headed north on the island of Luzon to Baguio, Sagada, Banaue, and Batad for a different side of the country. After returning to Manila and picking up Jo, we flew to Dumaguete, explored the mystical Siquijor Island by motorbike, and snorkeled Apo Island.
The third country of the month quickly became one of my favorites of all time: Vietnam. I began in the north in Hanoi, made excursions from there to the rural Mai Chau Valley and to a private island in stunning Halong Bay. After a final night in Hanoi, I flew south to the idyllic Hoi An and paid a quick visit to Da Nang.
May is always my favorite month of the year because of the weather and because my birthday falls on the 16th, and May 2016 was certainly epic. I wrapped up my Vietnam trip in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and then landed in my 50th country, Thailand. There, I began my stay in Chiang Mai (ohh do I have a lot to tell you about the resort, ziplining, and elephant sanctuary I experienced there!) and then headed south to Thailand’s capital, busy Bangkok.
A last minute, spontaneous change of plans had me jetting back to the U.S. for a quick ten days in May, where I did a whirlwind road trip from Washington D.C. to Orlando, Florida, passing through Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia along the way. I spent my 27th birthday at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom — not the original plan, but sometimes crazy detours are the best! We then roadtripped back up to D.C. and took a train to New York City.
I clearly have penchant for jetlag, because I then flew back to Southeast Asia to begin exploring Cambodia, starting in Phnom Penh, where I was confronted with the country’s fascinating and tragic recent history, and then making my way to Kampot. My final destination in Cambodia was Siem Reap to see the famed Angkor Wat temple complex.
I spent one final day in Cambodia in Siem Reap taking a Khmer cooking class, and then I zipped over to the illustrious Myanmar, formerly Burma. I began in its bustling but off the beaten tourist path capital Yangon and then took an overnight bus to Bagan, where I spent a few days riding around on an electric bike and climbing ancient pagodas, which I occasionally had all to myself.
I passed through Yangon once more to complete my time in Southeast Asia and then was off to something completely different, Japan. I began in Kyoto and took a day trip from there to Nara before catching a bullet train to Tokyo and seeing that city as well as Tokyo Disneyland (!!) and Nikko. Japan certainly is a world of its own.
With Asia done and dusted, the next leg of my trip was Europe. But first, I spent an extended layover in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where I had to cope with immense heat and nearly everything shut down during the day for Ramadan.
But the continent that I had so deeply fallen in love with during my time living in Spain was calling, so off I went to Paris, France, where I stayed with my friend Lauren, loaded up on all the wine and cheese I had missed in Asia, and went to my second Disney park in one week, Disneyland Paris. Next, I returned to my favorite place in the entire world, Madrid, Spain, where I was quickly reminded of all the things I adore about it and met up with old friends. My dad made last minute plans to join me in Europe for a few days, so we met in Barcelona and then road tripped to Andorra.
After seeing a bit of the tiny nation of Andorra, we continued north, seeing gorgeous French countryside en route to Toulouse, France. Bidding adieu to mon père, I flew back to Spain, this time to my beloved Andalucía, beginning in Málaga and then returning to the first city I really fell in love with when I spent a month studying there in high school, Granada, where I got to see a friend I had known in Sevilla. Naturally, my next stop was my former home of Sevilla, where I braved the heat to wander its lovely streets and spend time with more old friends.
I was sad to say goodbye to Spain but eager to visit a part of Europe I hadn’t seen before: the Baltic States. I began in Vilnius, Lithuania and then headed to Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estona, a beautiful, fascinating, and and underrated region I’d recommend to all. Sticking to Northern Europe, I then flew to Oslo, Norway where I spent a few days before continuing to a city I’d seen and loved years before, Amsterdam, where I continued the trend of visiting with old friends. Finally, I completed July by traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland.
August began with an amazing free tour from Edinburgh to the Scottish Highlands (love The Hairy Coo!). From there, I flew to Dublin, Ireland to revisit one of my favorite destinations from years before and then headed to Northern Ireland to visit my friend and former college roommate Deirdre in Belfast. There, I also took a day tour visiting the countryside and sights like Giant’s Causeway. I returned to Dublin as my last stop in my European adventure, and then back to the United States I went!
I began in New York City for a few days and then took a bus to Washington, D.C. where I met up with my mom and sister and had a chance to see my grandma. We then continued on to Lexington, Virginia, where my aunt, uncle, and another grandma live, and the family headed to New River Gorge, West Virginia for some ziplining and white water rafting. I returned to D.C. to catch up with a few friends and then crossed the country to return to my hometown of Los Angeles (Pasadena, more specifically) for the first time since January.
I spent September in the U.S., a contrast from my wild travels of the previous months that gave me time to catch up on sleep and spend time with many of my favorite people. But the travels didn’t stop! I spent Labor Day Weekend hiking and biking in Mammoth, California with my family, and after that was time for my favorite (sort of) annual tradition, the Colorado River in Parker, Arizona. I also spent some time in California’s Bay Area, staying with my sister in Palo Alto and also hitting up Mountain View, Oakland, and San Francisco to see friends and attend a bluegrass festival.
I couldn’t stay in one country for long, it seemed, and my next big adventure began in October. I would spend the next two months touring South America, and I began in Cartagena, Colombia and followed that up with the country’s capital, Bogotá. As my 60th country visited, Colombia quickly became one of my all-time favorite places. Next up: Quito, Ecuador where I spent a few days before venturing into the Amazon Rainforest, specifically the Cuyabeno Reserve. After a bit more time in Quito, my next destination was Chile. There, I visited Santiago, Viña del Mar, and Valparaíso, although I would be back later to see more of the country.
I continued my stay in Valparaíso, returned to Santiago briefly, and then flew to unique La Paz, Bolivia. After a few days there on my own, I joined an Intrepid/Dragoman overland tour that would quickly become three of the best weeks of my life. After La Paz, we did a homestay in Livichuco, then visited the Bolivian silver town of Potosí. Next, we visited Uyuni to see the other-worldly salt flats before journeying through the vast Bolivian Altiplano, seeing surreal desert and mountains. We crossed the border into Chile to see San Pedro de Atacama and then headed into Argentina, camping in Pumamarca before visiting Salta, rafting near there, bush camping and then wine tasting in Cafayate. After another night of bush camping in the Argentinean countryside, we spent several days at a ranch (estancia) in Río Ceballos and then wrapped up the trip in Buenos Aires.
I had to say goodbye to my wonderful group members all too soon, but I was soon on a flight south to breathtaking Patagonia. I began in El Calafate, Argentina visiting the Perito Moreno glacier and then spent a few days hiking around El Chaltén.
After continuing my time in El Chaltén, for a different perspective on Patagonia, I crossed back into Chile, where I stayed in Puerto Natales and did a bus tour and a long hike through Torres del Paine National Park. With just a few days left in South America, I flew back to Santiago (I practically felt like a local by then!) and then traveled a few hours south to Chile’s surfing capital, Pichilemu, where I took ridiculously cheap surf lessons and stood up on a board for the first time.
I spent one more night in Santiago to conclude my marvelous South America trip, and then I flew to Miami, Florida and spent two days with my mom in Jupiter, where she’s planning a conference. I also had a chance to reunite with my friend Milla who coincidentally was on a work assignment nearby. After Florida, I returned to L.A. but didn’t stop for long before spending a weekend in Las Vegas with my mom, sister, aunt, and uncle, where we caught a college basketball double header featuring my school, UCLA (ranked #3 in the nation at the time of writing!), my sister’s school, North Carolina, and my uncle’s favorite, Ohio State. My sister and I turned the weekend into a Southwest road trip, continuing on to Red Rock Canyon, Antelope Canyon, and the Grand Canyon, also passing through Utah (my first time in that state!) and stopping in Kingman, Arizona to visit my cousin.
I spent the next few weeks at home celebrating the holidays with friends and family and remembering what I love so much about being home while also being supremely grateful for the unbelievable 2016 I had.
2017 is already off to a mindblowing start: I’m currently in Antigua, Guatemala after spending the last twelve days in Belize and Guatemala. I’ll spend five more weeks in Central America, and, after that, well, only time will tell! It will be hard to ever top 2016, but I think I’m off to a good start.