Looking back at this year (and the last few years, for that matter), I constantly have to pinch myself. Is this real life? Is this MY life?
It's been another incredible travel-filled year. I didn't move around quite as much as in past years thanks to the fact that I moved in with my boyfriend, got a part-time work-from-home job, and did a bit of nesting (like decorating our apartment and adopting a kitty!). But I still managed to have an impressive amount of adventures.
Here are 14 of my favorites:
14. Seeing wild orcas in Alaska
I went on a cruise tour with my family in June, visiting places like Denali National Park and Fairbanks and Glacier Bay. One of the highlights was definitely going on a whale watching tour in Juneau. We signed up for it because it was an activity our whole family could do together — but I don't think any of us expected the experience we had! Not only did we see a fairly large group of humpback whales, but we also saw a pod of orcas that was passing through. Watching them breach and play in their natural environment was magical.
13. Tet in Vietnam
Not long after New Years, I headed to Southeast Asia, and I got to celebrate the New Year (albeit a different one) again in Vietnam. Being in the country leading up to and during Tet celebrations was really fun — I loved all the decorations and learning about all the traditions that go along with the holiday.
12. 4×4 tour of Tahiti
During a stopover in Tahiti on my way to New Zealand, I booked a half-day 4×4 tour into the interior of the island. To my surprise, it was like something straight out of Jurassic Park! Waterfalls, jungle-covered cliffs, and lots and lots of green. I instantly regretted not booking the full-day tour.
11. Visiting Hobbiton in New Zealand
Yes, I'm a huge “Lord of the Rings” fan. The movie trilogy sparked my initial love of New Zealand, and a Lord of the Rings tour of the country nearly a decade ago was an incredible introduction to the “real Middle Earth.” This year, on my fourth trip to New Zealand, I finally got to see the Hobbiton movie set in all its glory. It was rebuilt in 2010, and rebuilt to last. Today, you can walk through the chief town of the Shire past ridiculously detailed hobbit houses, and end with a pint in the Green Dragon pub.
10. Helicopter tour over Niagara Falls
In early summer, Elliot and I decided we needed a weekend away. We'd been talking about going to Niagara Falls for months, so we decided one weekend to pack up the car and go. We spent two nights at the Falls — one on the US side and one on the Canadian. It was a fun trip, but the highlight was definitely taking a helicopter tour over the Falls with Rainbow Air.
9. Flying to Milford Sound from Wanaka
Speaking of flying, another highlight was the Milford Sound tour I did from Wanaka with Southern Alps Air. Seeing Milford Sound in itself is incredible. But to fly there and back in a small plane over Mount Aspiring National Park? THAT is amazing. (I'll be writing about this soon!)
8. Overnight cruise at Ha Long Bay
In Vietnam, I did the whole “overnight cruise at Ha Long Bay” thing. Because, well, you kind of have to! I didn't go on a party boat, though — I was on a small, more chilled-out boat with comfortable cabins and a really fun crew. We went kayaking off our “junk boat,” visited a gigantic cave, and watched the sun set among the limestone karsts. It was definitely memorable!
7. Swimming with dolphins and seals in Kaikoura
Kaikoura is probably one of my favorite small towns in New Zealand. Not many people spend time there, but this is a mistake — it's the perfect place to chill out for a few days and have some really unique encounters with the local sea life. Kaikoura is home to whales, albatross, dolphins, and fur seals year-round, meaning there are plenty of fun water-based adventures to have. I went swimming with both dolphins AND fur seals while in Kaikoura — both definitely a highlight for me because both tours were SO COOL.
>> Read about swimming with wild dolphins in New Zealand. (Seal swim post coming soon!)
6. Visiting the Angkor Temples in Cambodia
Cambodia was not an easy place for me to visit because of the heartache the country has experienced in recent decades, but seeing the temples at Angkor in person definitely deserves a spot on this list. From sunrise at Angkor Wat to seeing the jungle reclaiming Ta Prohm, my experience there will be one I'll consider special for many years to come. My favorite temple? A tie between Bayon and Benteay Srei.
5. Road tripping through the Canadian Rockies
Back in late May, I took to the road with fellow blogger and friend Stephanie from Twenty-Something Travel. We started in Calgary and spent about 5 days road-tripping through the Canadian Rockies, including Banff and Yoho national parks. It was still quite cold in the mountains at that time of year, but it was nevertheless a really fun trip, filled with some incredible scenery.
4. Getting up close with glaciers in Alaska
My parents really like cruises, and my dad especially likes Alaska. So this past summer we went on a family vacation that included an Alaskan cruise. There were a lot of cool parts about the cruise, but the best days by far were the ones where we sailed up to the Hubbard Glacier and through Glacier Bay National Park. Getting up close to some massive, ancient glaciers and getting to see (and hear) them calve was amazing.
3. Chasing fall colors in Traverse City, Michigan
When trying to come up with a fall trip to celebrate both mine and Elliot's nearby birthdays, I kept coming back to fall colors. Then an invite to a wedding in Michigan cemented it, and we headed up to our northern neighbor for a week. We spent half that time in Traverse City, which turned out to be not only a great place to see vibrant fall colors, but also just a really cool town. It's one of those places that I think back to very fondly — I wouldn't be surprised if we end up back there again in the next year or two!
2. Walking the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook
I haven't written about it yet, but one of my favorite adventures from 2014 happened at the very end, in early December. My friend Liz and I did a day trip from Wanaka to Mount Cook, with the goal of photographing lupins and doing at least one hike. We settled on the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook, an easy 3-4 hour hike that includes suspension bridges and some epic, epic views. We had perfect weather for our hike, which rocketed it up to the top of my list.
1. Volunteering with elephants in Thailand
My favorite adventure from this year happened towards the beginning, when I spent a week in February volunteering at Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand. That week was incredible for many reasons, but mostly it was the fascinating, personality-filled elephants that made it my favorite memory of the year. I would go back and repeat this experience in a heartbeat — ENP really is a special place.
Here's hoping 2015 is just as adventure-filled!
What was YOUR favorite adventure from 2014?