My Top 14 Travel Adventures of 2014

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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

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

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.

>> Read more about traveling in Vietnam during Tet.

12. 4×4 tour of Tahiti

Tahiti interior

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.

>> Read more about this 4×4 tour of Tahiti.

11. Visiting Hobbiton in New Zealand

Bag End in Hobbiton

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.

>> Read more about visiting Hobbiton.

10. Helicopter tour over Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls from a Helicopter

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.

>> Read more about our Niagara helicopter tour.

9. Flying to Milford Sound from Wanaka

Flying over Mount Aspiring National Park in NZ

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

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

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!

>> Read more about my overnight cruise at Ha Long Bay.

7. Swimming with dolphins and seals in Kaikoura

Swimming with dusky dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand

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

Faces at Bayon temple in Angkor, 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.

>> Read more about visiting the Angkor temples.

5. Road tripping through the Canadian Rockies

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, BC, Canada

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.

>> Read more about road tripping in Canada.

4. Getting up close with glaciers in Alaska

Hubbard Glacier 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.

>> Read more about glaciers in Alaska.

3. Chasing fall colors in Traverse City, Michigan

Fall colors in 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!

>> Read more about visiting Traverse City in the fall.

2. Walking the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

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

Volunteering at Elephant Nature Park

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.

>> Read about what it's like to volunteer at ENP.


Here's hoping 2015 is just as adventure-filled!


What was YOUR favorite adventure from 2014?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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43 Comments on “My Top 14 Travel Adventures of 2014

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  1. Oh wow, what a an incredible year! Alaska has been a very popular destination over the last year among the people I know. Your pictures from there are beautiful! With your stories, and my friends’ experiences, I may have to look more into Alaska. I would love to see Orcas in the wild.

    I hope that you have another great year in 2015!

      Alaska is a bucket list destination for a lot of people – and for good reason! It really is incredible; if you have the chance to go, I highly recommend it!

    Looks like you had an amaaaazing year, Amanda! Can’t wait to see where you’re headed in 2015–and hopefully our paths will cross again! 🙂

      Definitely can’t complain about my year! And yes, I’m hoping to see lots more bloggers in 2015! I skipped all the conferences this year, but I’m going to do my best to be at at least one or two next year!

    Wow what an incredible year! Posts like this truly inspire me and motivate me to keep doing what I love and accumulating experiences instead of things!

      Aww, so glad to hear that, Andrea! For me, it’s always fun to look back on a year! It always ends up leaving me inspired for the year ahead. 🙂

    What an amazing year you had! Tahiti looks beautiful. Did not expect it to be so green.
    Looking forward to reading about your travels in 2015.

      Tahiti definitely surprised me – I kind of thought it was nothing but beaches, but that isn’t true at all!

    What a great year! Volunteering at Elephant Nature Park is very beautiful.
    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

      I’m so glad so many people think volunteering at ENP looks awesome – it really is!

    What an awesome year! Hope 2015 is just as amazing!

      I definitely can’t complain about my year! Thanks for reading!

    What a year and happy 2014. I can’t wait to see where 2015 takes you.

      Thanks, Angela! I’m looking forward to next year, too. 🙂

    What a fantastic year you’ve had! Full of such varied adventures! Can’t wait to see where you go and what you do in 2015! 🙂

      Thank you! I’m looking forward to seeing what 2015 brings, too! I have no concrete plans yet, but plenty of ideas!

    Your year sounds amazing, and has definitely encompassed some of the travels that are on my ‘wish list’ 🙂 Would love to get up close to elephants in Thailand, too!

      If you ever have the chance to go to Thailand, definitely visit ENP!

    Such a great year filled with a variety of experiences! I spent some time with elephants in Thailand a few years ago and understand perfectly why that would be number one 🙂

      Yes, that was definitely one of the best weeks of my year!

    Interesting mix of all sort of destinations and travels. Great list to chose if ideas for our own travels run short :). It must have been great to volunteer with elephants. I just love these animals. Nice blog post!

      Volunteering at Elephant Nature Park was amazing. I may do it again sometime! Those elephants are so special.

    Those are all amazing! I saw killer whales in the wild this year as well (but in Washington) and it was one of the best days ever! They are so beautiful. Here’s to another fun-filled year ahead!

      So cool to see them in the wild. The pod we saw had some younger whales in it, and they were so playful!

    I hadn’t realized you were in the Rockies this year! That’s awesome.

      Yup! Only briefly, but it was indeed awesome. I’m dying to go back to Banff now – and to Jasper!

    What a great year you had! I wish you an at least as exciting 2015 and a happy new year with lots of travel. I look forward to reading your stories. My highlight this year was being able to live and work on the Galapagos Islands for 2.5 months and starting to live the life I want for myself 🙂

      Thanks so much, Stef! The Galapagos sounds amazing – it’s on my (long) list of places I’d love to go in 2015!

    Amazing the helicopter tour over the Niagara falls. And wonderful the volunteering experience with elephants in Thailand! 🙂

      They were definitely both awesome!

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