2017: The Travel Year in Review
Well, folks, we made it through another year. And what a year it was. While most of the world sought redemption for the world events of 2016 but were met with a new crop of issues, I had my own roller coaster of a year. I saw eighteen countries, half of which were new to me, and made some of my all-time favorite travel memories before returning home to face the challenge of building a stable life after years abroad.
When I launched my fabulous backpacking adventure of 2016, I was certain I’d be wrapping things up and settling back in the U.S. by the end of the calendar year. However, the best part of travel is that it’s unpredictable. After exploring South America in the final months of 2016, I found myself completely hooked on Latin America, so I kicked off the year by heading down to Central America.
First stop: Belize, where I spent a week visiting Belize City, the stunning island of Caye Caulker, and the inland town of San Ignacio (including the nearby ATM Cave). I crossed the border into Guatemala and fell in love with the country as I checked out Flores and the Tikal Maya ruins, the natural pools of Semuc Champey, and the colorful colonial buildings of Antigua.
Action-packed January then took me to a country I’d been dreaming of for fifteen years: Nicaragua, where I got to see Managua and León, stay in a hostel on a private beach at Islas Brasiles, and experience the city named for the Spanish destination that first made me a true traveler, Granada.
I continued my journey south through Central America with a visit to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua and wrapped up my two-week Nicaragua journey by relaxing in San Juan del Sur. I hopped in a southbound van and crossed the border into Costa Rica, where I ziplined through the jungles of Monteverde and chilled in the hippie beach town of Puerto Viejo. Also while in Puerto Viejo, I took a tour of the Jaguar Rescue Center, which (spoiler alert!) ended up playing a major role in my life the following month.
My final destination on this Central America trip was Panama. First, I visited backpacker island paradise in Bocas del Toro, and then I ventured deep into the jungles of the Chiriquí Province to stay at a part-hostel, part-escape room/scavenger hunt called Lost and Found. After a few days away from civilization, I traveled to Panama City to witness the Panama Canal and enjoy the colorful architecture of Panamá Viejo. Last but certainly not least, I headed to the San Blas islands, where I stayed in a hut on a tiny island surrounded by the bluest water I’ve ever seen.
All good things must come to an end, so I said adiós to Central America and returned home to Southern California to celebrate my brother Ean’s bar mitzvah and enjoy a bit of family time before setting off on my next adventure.
I began the month at home sweet home in California, spending time with family, attending a UCLA basketball game and gymnastics meet, and visiting my beloved Disneyland.
But I knew I wasn’t quite ready to end my days as a nomad, and I was crazy about the amazing animals at Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica‘s Jaguar Rescue Center, so I returned south to spend a month volunteering with injured and abandoned animals there. While some days involved unglamorous tasks like moving rock piles or cleaning up monkey poop, I also had the unique opportunity to feed sloths, play temporary mother to baby monkeys, babysit an anteater, and take four rambunctious raccoons on forest hikes.
It was challenging but completely rewarding, plus Puerto Viejo is an adorable, laid-back town that was a delight to call home for a month. Each day, I woke up, hopped on a bicycle, and rode for several miles along tropical beaches before helping the animals. I guarantee no work commute will ever compare to that. While volunteering, I was also visited by a friend I’d met in Nicaragua and my sister, and I had a chance to explore the surrounding region with both.
I wrapped up my volunteer stint in Costa Rica in early April, spending my final week removed from civilization at their jungle release center. I said goodbye to Puerto Viejo with a chocolate tour, an unbelievable sunset, and a river rafting expedition, and then it was back to California for a few weeks, including a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area and wine tasting with my best friend in Sonoma Valley.
After meeting amazing people from around the world during my years of living abroad and backpacking, I decided I’d conclude my time as a nomad by returning to Europe to revisit some old haunts and catch up with travel friends. I found an inexpensive flight to Paris, France and spent a few days hanging out with my friend Lauren, whom I’d known from my days teaching in Spain.
The real catalyst for the trip, though, was a reunion with the travel group I’d spent three weeks with in South America in November. I traveled to Vienna, Austria to see some of these amazing people and rediscover Vienna, as I’d disliked it a lot when I visited in 2012 but totally changed my mind on this trip.
May is my favorite month of the year, as it’s my birthday month, and, this year, May definitely impressed. After seeing Vienna, my local friend and tour guide Philipp led me on a road trip around some of the most beautiful parts of Austria, including small Alpine villages and gorgeous towns like Salzburg and Hallstatt. We returned to Vienna, and then I spent several hours revisiting Bratislava, Slovakia (I’d loved the city on my 2012 visit) before flying to my next destination.
A flight for a mere €10 (I miss European budget airlines!) took me to Niš, Serbia, where my friend Sarah (another friend from teaching in Spain) was living at the time. She and her Serbian boyfriend played perfect hosts and guides – so much delicious food! Then Sarah and I headed to fascinating Kosovo, where we stayed in Pristina and took day trips to Prizren and Peja. From there, I took a bus to Sofia, Bulgaria, which I’d seen in more depth in 2013 but enjoyed again for a day.
I managed, through my own error, to miss my fabulously inexpensive (just €20!) flight all the way from Sofia to Liverpool, England, but I was able to grab another one there the next day, my birthday. I celebrated with a Vietnamese dinner and an escape room with my Scouser friend I’d met in Vietnam the previous year, Tom. He and his friends showed me around Liverpool, which, I must say, is far nicer than most people give it credit for, and then we took a road trip to Wales. There we stayed in Llandudno and explored the area, including a day spent ziplining and trampolining inside caverns.
From Liverpool, I hopped on over to the country that will forever have my heart, Spain. I flew into Málaga and then visited Sevilla, where I lived from 2011 to 2012, and met up with old friends. While living in Spain, I’d managed to visit sixteen of the seventeen comunidades autónomas (similar to states). On this trip, I finally crossed off the final one, Murcia, by meeting my friend Tomás in lovely Cartagena. I wrapped up my birthday month in my favorite city in the world, also my home from 2009 to 2010 and 2012 to 2013, Madrid.
My backpacking days were coming to an end, but I wanted to go out with a bang, so I chose a region I’d always been curious about but had never seen: the Caucasus. I started in Tbilisi, Georgia, a city I fell head over heels for, met a fantastic group of travel buddies on a free walking tour, and then joined Envoy Tours for several day tours that enabled me to see much of the country in a short time. If I had to pick one favorite country I visited in 2017, it would absolutely be Georgia, and I would highly recommend it to all.
I next caught a van to Yerevan, Armenia, and for the next few days I explored many of the country’s monasteries and mountains with Envoy Tours, stopping for memorable lunches with local families along the way. Due to border conflicts, I had to return to Tbilisi before continuing on to Azerbaijan, but I had the chance to stop at many of Armenia’s gems along the way. Back in Georgia, I reunited with some of my new travel friends and took a day trip to wine country, Kakheti, with an incredibly friendly and generous local I’d met.
A friend from the free walking tour and I rushed back to Tbilisi and caught the overnight train to Baku, Azerbaijan, the train itself being one of the most memorable parts of the year. I then spent a few days exploring Baku’s dichotomy of old and modern, drinking 50¢ pints of beer, and ending my backpacker days on a total high. I’ve visited 72 countries now, but, of all of them, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were three of the most amazing, and I feel very fortunate to have spent my last days as a nomad there.
It was tough to leave, but back to California I went, driving up to Palo Alto to celebrate my sister’s graduation from Stanford Law School. I stuck around the Bay Area for a few days after, exploring California’s wine country in Napa and Sonoma Valleys with my aunt, uncle, sister, and her boyfriend, catching up with college buddies in the area, and then seeing friends from Sydney in San Francisco before returning home to the Los Angeles area.
I returned to the Bay Area in early July to visit a friend near Sacramento and spend Fourth of July at San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Park. The following week, another friend from Sydney, a San Diego native, showed me around his beautiful city.
For most of the month, I was back in the L.A. area, building up my freelance business, doing a bit of casual job hunting, and spending time with friends and family. But that’s not to say it was uneventful: highlights of July include meeting my now-boyfriend, going to an Eagles concert with my Eagles-adoring dad and family, exploring L.A. destinations like Olvera Street, attending the Gold Cup semifinal match between Mexico and Jamaica, and going to the Orange County Fair, a family tradition.
I spent much of August readjusting to sedentary life, although I made an effort to enjoy it to the fullest with activities like a Lion King sing-along, escape rooms, pub trivia nights, and an Angels baseball game. More excitingly, though, I joined my aunt, uncle, cousin, and sister on a cruise that stopped in Ensenada, Mexico.
Even for travelers like me, there’s no place at home, so I enjoyed L.A.-based activities during the month of September. My aunt and uncle came to town for the first UCLA football game of the season (and I attended one more later in the month), I saw an absolutely delightful Muppets show at the Hollywood Bowl, I sat in the front row of the Emmys as a seatfiller, I cheered on the Dodgers at a game with my Australian-British friend who was visiting L.A., and I went camping in Angeles National Forest. I also took a mini-trip to Kingman, Arizona to visit family there.
I kicked off October on that aforementioned camping trip and spent the month making the most of California life. At home in L.A., I checked out Pasadena‘s Art Walk, spent time with friends and family, witnessed the Stranger Things season 2 premiere in Westwood, and celebrated Halloween by taking a spooky Paramount Pictures ghost tour and stopping by a few parties. I also took a trip to Mammoth, California for a bit of hiking and mountain scenery. But the most exciting part of October was purchasing a Disneyland Annual Pass for the first time in years and heading to the parks twice in the first month.
November was another month of freelancing and job hunting, but it was not without its exciting moments. Armed with my new annual pass, I visited Disneyland a few more times, headed to the mountains near Running Springs, California to see my aunt and uncle, and cheered on my Bruins at the UCLA-USC rivalry game before celebrating Thanksgiving with my aunt, uncle (another set!), and grandma, who were in town from Virginia for the game. I had my first Thanksgiving in the U.S. since 2011, and I continued the culinary adventures that weekend with a food tour of Downtown L.A.
As the year came to a close, I took a few trips out of town, the first to Palm Springs, California to spend time with extended family. The following week, I flew up to Portland, Oregon to meet my boyfriend’s family and explore a city I’d only previously passed through, and then I returned to Southern California to celebrate the holidays. I got to see a few friends who were in town, went to my much-anticipated ten-year high school reunion (whoa), and spent Christmas with my family at home around Southern California. I finished up the year with an escape room, Rose Parade float viewing, a UCLA basketball game, and the most enjoyable New Year’s Eve party I’ve experienced, and, with that, 2017 was in the books!
2017 was, in some ways, an odd year: I spent the first half living the dream by traveling the world, while the second half was dedicated to figuring out my life in the “real” world. It’s been a tough adjustment, but I’ve also learned to embrace settled life and have made some of my favorite memories and met some of my favorite people right here at home.
2018 may be tough, as I’ll continue job hunting and will hopefully be starting this new job in the near future, which will be a big change from my time spent backpacking, but I look forward to it. And it won’t be without travel! I’ll head down to San Diego to visit a friend tomorrow, and I embark on my first international trip this Saturday to spend several days in Cancun, Mexico.