I started traveling – really traveling (outside the spring break beach vaca or a childhood trip to Disney World) around 13 years ago when I was 19; most of these trips have happened in the last five years… being a college student didn’t give me much of a travel budget. When I look back on the past decade, most of my favorite memories stem from an experience on one of these trips.
Now that we have baby boy due in two months (!!), Dan and I talk a lot about how our travel adventures will look in the future and how things might change – if at all. Trying to be realistic about it. Finances will likely be the biggest strain, now that the huge additional cost of child care will be added to our annual budget. At least we assume that will be the bigger factor more so than our willingness to take long flights or travel internationally with a baby (which we’re both on board to do pending he’s ok to make said flights). Which we’re up for because we both believe it will be well worth it, introducing him to new places and experiences. And will be good for us since it’s our favorite way to bond and create memories.
In talking about the next trips we want to take once baby is here, it had me looking back at the ones I’ve been on and got me thinking about which ones REALLY stand out and why. My top ten favorite, I guess.
So here they are, in no particular order… hope to spark some wanderlust!
1. Road trip from Switzerland to the South of France, ending in Paris
CANNOT. RECOMMEND. THIS. ITINERARY. ENOUGH. I actually plan on doing a big long post about this trip one of these days… because this was arguably my favorite trip ever. It was Dan’s and my first big trip as a couple. His first big international trip in life. And it was perfect. We both got to see and experience places of the world neither of us had been.
We paraglided off a mountain in Switzerland. Swam in the Mediterranean. We hiked, we walked, we explored, we sailed. We drove. A lot. Got lost just a little bit. We road tripped through Provence and took the train up to Paris and nestled in a studio apartment in the center of St. Germain. We even ran into friends from home in Paris. Dan fell in love with Paris. And we both fell in love with Switzerland. I would do this trip over and over again if I could since there was so much to see in both Switzerland and the South of France that we didn’t get to.
2. Vietnam with my best friend
This might be the place I most want to go back to! My friend Lauren and I booked a super budget-friendly tour with a group via Travelzoo… and spent nine days traveling from Ho Chi Minh City in the South of Vietnam to the capital of Hanoi in the north, seeing Halong Bay and Hoi An and China Beach in the middle.
A super long post on this is also long overdo! Cannot recommend Vietnam enough but recommend going with a tour where your transportation is all sorted because that can get very… what is the word… complicated? Dodgy? Unreliable? around those parts!
3. Quebec City twice – the first time when we got engaged and the second time a year later
Love QC – even in the sub-zero temps! This is where we went when we got engaged! And again the following winter. And can keep going back year after year. It’s like a little European jaunt without having to cross the big blue Atlantic. Made me fall in love with Canada. 🙂
4. New Orleans – multiple times with girlfriends
New Orleans also feels like you’ve left the country. And my advice for anyone going: GET OFF BOURBON STREET! I mean… experience Bourbon Street. Properly. Embrace it for all its craziness. But then venture off! The history, the tours (I cannot recommend the Vampire tour enough!), the jazz bars, the bayou, the plantations, the restaurants, the shopping… it’s such a culturally rich city. Quite possibly my favorite American city – even though I feel like I’m not even in America when I visit!
5. Italy tour with my Nana
This is really the trip that started it all for me… my love of travel, Europe, road trips, new food, new people, new smells and sounds… exploring how people live in different parts of the world. SEEING what you read about in books right before your eyes.
I was super lucky to travel ALL around Italy with my Nana when I was 19 years old. She was going on a senior citizen tour with about 50 other 60+ somethings and needed a travel companion! I literally got the lucky ticket so to speak being the right age and place in life where my going was an option. We flew into Venice, drove up to the north along the alps, then down to the Italian Riviera, then Florence, Tuscany, Pisa, ending in Rome. It was a bit slower paced than I probably would have gone seeing as I was with my Nana, but we had such an amazing time. My favorite night was a wine tasting dinner in Tuscany at the Pucci Castle. Our table of older ladies downed 6 bottles of wine and the whole group was drunkenly belting out Frank Sinatra songs the bus ride back to the hotel. My nana passed away last year… the days following my wedding actually. We were really good buddies she and I, and I’m forever grateful for that experience with her.
6. Krakow, Poland – the Motherland
(all my photos are somewhere on an old computer)
After spending a semester abroad in London my junior year of college, I ended the trip by venturing over to Poland, then taking a train to Prague and finishing off the trip in Munich. I am 100% Polish decent – fun fact: Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Poland. So this was really amazing to visit the motherland, so to speak. I only got to spend two days or so in Krakow. Nicest people. Super affordable. Walkable. Great history. Great food. Ten pierogis cost like $2 or something crazy. I loved it and definitely recommend!
We also visited Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps which were… awful. And chilling. And surreal. Standing there and realizing how not long ago the atrocities of WWII and the Holocaust happened. You can read about it in books and watch movies but seeing it in person was just beyond.
7. Central China with my sister
This was a trip that I didn’t realize how much I loved while I was on it. I will say there were tears at points. Please note: we went to CENTRAL China. The majority of the trip was not the postcard version of Beijing and Hong Kong you usually see from fellow China voyagers. I was… 23 years old I think?
We landed in Hong Kong, only to be directed to a secret (local) terminal in the basement that looks nothing like “international Hong Kong Airport” then put on a shuttle out to a tiny plane filled with Chinese residents and us.
We arrived in Chongqing, traveled the countryside and made our way to Chengdu. No one spoke English and if my friend who had been living there for a year hadn’t met us, the trip would’ve been impossible for us. Literally, because of the language barrier. Locals kept taking my photo because they had never seen anyone with blond hair. (If you’ve seen me which I am guessing you have, you know that I do not have blond hair by Western standards.)
When we ended the trip in Beijing for two days before flying home, I felt like I was in New York City it felt so modern and “Western” compared to where we’d been. But we hiked a mountain, slept in a Buddhist monastery, saw lots and lots of Pandas, ate traditional hot pot in the Sichuan Province (including trying duck blood. Yes. Duck blood – cooked) and I visited two cities most people I know have never been to… it was really amazing. I took me a year to pay my sister back for that plane ticket – and it was so worth it.
8. Austria with Dan
Love Austria. Along with Switzerland – the Alps are arguably my favorite part of Europe aside from the Mediterranean coastal cities. Austria was just WAY more affordable than Switzerland – so yay! We LOVED Vienna and LOVED the magical mountainside town of Halstatt.
9. Whitefish, MT
This one might come as a surprise but little ole’ Whitefish, Montana and the surrounding areas – and nearby Glacier National Park – honestly gave me a love for the outdoors at the ripe ole’ age of 30 that I had never experienced before! I loved adventuring out and exploring in the outdoor activities, visiting the Park, seeing the gorgeous landscapes, learning about hiking and camping – truly, I’d never done it before! – and now I much more excited about visiting more destinations like that with my boys!
10. Sonoma, CA – multiple times with different people
I mean… hello! It’s wine country! I love it so much it’s where we got married! Combine my love of wine with Sonoma’s unique culture and joie de vivre? It’s absolutely inspiring – and not to mention breathtakingly beautiful. I can go back over and over and never tire of it. Definitely one of those places I feel like home.
…and 6 Trips I Still Really Want to Take
1. a big South of France road trip with my mom and sister
2. Asia with Dan – I even want to go back to Vietnam!
3. Chile and Patagonia
4. Western Canada – I’d love to see Banff, Vancouver, Whistler… I love Canada!
6. Italy with Dan