Year in Review: My Top 10 Travel Highlights of 2019

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It's that time of year again: time for my annual year in review post! I love putting this post together each year, as it allows me to take a look back and remember all the awesome adventures I've had in the last 12 months. It's always a humbling task, too, as I'm reminded just how lucky I am to still be doing what I love as my job.

My 2019 travels took me all over the world; I visited 13 countries (4 of them new-to-me), 5 US states, and one Canadian province. I traveled by plane, train, boat, jeep, and even camel. I ticked off a few bucket list items, and traveled a lot this year with family and friends.

Girls trip to Alberta
Girls' trip to Alberta
Avalon Waterways cruise
Living my best #robelife on an Avalon Waterways cruise

Here are all the highlights by the numbers:

  • Countries visited: 13 – Portugal, England, Scotland, Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Morocco, Kenya, Tanzania, Canada, USA
  • US states visited: 5 – Arizona (x3), Nevada, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio
  • Total flight legs: 43
  • Days on the road: 159 (that's nearly 44% of the year!)

I didn't travel every month in 2019, but when I did travel it was often on extended trips; in attempts to fly a little less (and to take fewer long-haul flights), I combined trips and projects within specific regions when I could. This meant that there were a few months this year that I was barely home at all!

2019 travel map
My 2019 travels mapped out

And, while it's always difficult to narrow down my adventures to just a few highlights, here were my top 10 from my 2019 travels:

My Top 10 Travel Highlights of 2019

10. Ringing in the new year at a snowy Grand Canyon

Sunset at the Grand Canyon in winter
Sunset on January 1, 2019

Let's start at the very beginning, shall we? The rest of this list won't be in chronological order, but it seemed appropriate to start where I started 2019: at the Grand Canyon.

A friend and I headed out West just after Christmas last year, spending time at Valley of Fire State Park, celebrating New Year's Eve in a snowstorm in Sedona, and making it to the Grand Canyon at sunset on January 1.

The New Year's snowstorm had made it to the Grand Canyon, too, and the canyon dazzled under a dusting of snow. The roads in/out of the canyon were pretty awful, but the drive was worth making (twice!) for the special views.

>> Read more: Yes, You Can Visit the Grand Canyon in Winter

9. Getting my rodeo on in Calgary

Amanda at Calgary Stampede

This past summer, I spent a week exploring two of Alberta, Canada's largest cities. My visit coincided with the Calgary Stampede, which is one of the biggest annual events in Calgary. The massive state-fair-meets-rodeo has been on my bucket list for years, and the reality was even more wacky and fun that I had imagined.

We spent two days at Stampede, watching rodeo events, eating the craziest foods we could find, and taking the whole “dressing the part” thing very seriously.

>> Read more: 8 of the Best Things to Do in Calgary in Summer

8. Feeling like a princess in Sintra

Amanda at Pena Palace in Sintra

From cowgirl to princess… Next on my list is the day I spent in Sintra, Portugal, which makes a great day trip from Lisbon. Sintra is known for its colorful castles and villas, and I spent the whole day feeling like a princess as I hopped from castle to castle.

I loved everything I did in Portugal, but this day stands out as a favorite!

>> Read more: How to Plan an Epic Day Trip to Sintra in Portugal

7. Re-visiting the Harry Potter studios in London

Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

I first went to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London the year it opened, in 2012. As a Harry Potter fan, I LOVED it of course. But I've always wanted to go back as they've expanded the tour every year. I finally had the chance in October during my time in London with Monograms Travel.

Visiting the Harry Potter studios was just as fun the second time around – in fact, it was perhaps even more magical since I went just after my birthday, and got to explore new parts of the tour like the Forbidden Forest and Gringotts that weren't there back in 2012.

This is an absolute MUST do for any Harry Potter fan. The tour is so well done and worth every penny.

>> Read more: A Harry Potter Lover’s Guide to London

6. Being a beach bum in Zanzibar

Beach in Paje, Zanzibar
That Zanzibar water!

After dreaming about the Spice Island for years, I finally made it to Zanzibar in August! The island is beautiful AND historic – the perfect mix in my humble opinion.

The highlights of Zanzibar for me were the two boat trips my small group took; one was a full-day snorkeling trip on a traditional dhow, and the other was a sunset cruise with drinks and music that was the perfect end to a great trip in East Africa.

>> Read more: East Africa Highlights: Kenya and Tanzania with Rock My Adventure

5. Going on an active river cruise

Danube Bike Path in Austria
Cycling in the Wachau Valley

I fell in love with river cruising on my very first one in 2015. But that love was taken to a whole new level this summer when I went on an Active & Discovery cruise with Avalon Waterways on the Danube in Europe.

The cruise from Budapest to Linz, Austria, was so unique. The focus was on active excursions and unique cultural tours; I cycled in the incredible Wachau Valley, toured a monastery with the most amazing library, baked bread in Vienna, hung out with a count at his castle, did a beer tasting at Austria's only Trappist Monastery, and much more!

I LOVED this cruise, and am already thinking about when I can do another one.

>> Read more: 6 Highlights from an Active River Cruise with Avalon Waterways

4. Traveling with my dad in Turkey

Amanda and Dad in Cappdocia
Dad and I in Cappadocia

Ever since reading a book called The Historian in college, I was obsessed with visiting Istanbul and Eastern Europe. I finally made it there in 2012; and then the dream became one day returning to Turkey to see the rest of the country. That dream finally became a reality this autumn – and I took my dad with me!

Dad and I took a 2-week tour of Turkey with Intrepid Travel, hitting up all the major spots including Istanbul, Cappadocia, Antalya and the Turquoise Coast, and Ephesus. It was a great trip, and my dad loved every minute of it – especially the food!

I haven't written about this trip yet, but expect lots of coverage in the new year!

3. Riding a camel in the Sahara Desert

Sunrise in the Sahara Desert
Sunrise in the Sahara

My first big trip in 2019 was to Morocco and Portugal, and the highlight in Morocco was definitely camping overnight in the Sahara Desert and using a camel to get to our camp.

Riding a camel is far from graceful, but I thought the strained muscles and sore tailbone were 100% worth it. Plus, we got to watch the sun set and rise from atop orange dunes, and saw the stars come out while sitting around a fire… it really doesn't get much better!

>> Read more: Camels, Dunes, and Drums: An Overnight Trip into the Sahara Desert

PS – Did you know I'm running a reader tour in Morocco in March 2020? I still have a couple spots left! Learn all about it here (spoiler: a camel ride in the Sahara Desert is definitely included!).

2. Whisky road trip in Scotland

Bow Fiddle Rock in Scotland
(We stopped at some non-whisky places, too!)

Elliot and I usually go on one “big trip” per year, and this year it was a trip to Scotland. I usually name Scotland as one of my favorite countries in the world, and I was so excited to share it with Elliot!

For this trip, we focused on something Elliot loves: whisky! We planned our trip around some of Scotland's top whisky regions, including the island of Islay and the Highland region of Speyside. I'm decidedly not a whisky drinker at all, but I still had the best time on this trip.

>> Read more: A Non-Drinker Travels the Scotch Whisky Trail – And You Can, Too!

1. Going on safari with my sister

On safari in the Maasai Mara
On safari in the Maasai Mara

If I'm being completely honest, it was *really* tough to rank my top 5 this year. But I think my favorite trip was the one I took with my sister, Melissa, to East Africa. Going on safari with her in Kenya and Tanzania was magical, and her laid-back personality was the perfect fit for the trip we did with a company called Rock My Adventure.

The whole trip was great (the Zanzibar portion made this list, too!), but my favorites were the safaris we went on in the Maasai Mara in Kenya, and in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Seeing lions and leopards, having a close encounter with a bull elephant, and camping under the Milky Way were such memorable moments.

Going on safari is something I don't think I'll ever get tired of, but sharing this trip with my little sister made these safaris extra special.

>> Read more: 6 of the Best Places to Go on Safari in Africa

2019 travel highlights

This isn't everything, either! There was also re-visiting Nashville with Elliot; eating my weight in pasta in Bologna; day tripping to the Douro Valley in Portugal; re-visiting Venice; hunting for fairies in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and visiting Scottsdale, Arizona, not once but twice!

Overall, 2019 was a fantastic year. Here's to another in 2020!

Which of these adventures is on YOUR travel bucket list? And what destinations would you like to read about next year?

"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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14 Comments on “Year in Review: My Top 10 Travel Highlights of 2019

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  1. Soooo many amazing trips!! I spent most of 2019 settling into Edinburgh, but it’s been a great excuse to explore more of Scotland so I’ve been doing PLENTY of that. 🙂 We’re planning a safari in Tanzania for our honeymoon, and your trip to Zanzibar has given me the perfect beach idea to add on at the end! I was originally thinking of trying to tie in the Seychelles, but Zanzibar would be a lot easier and it looks gorgeous and right up our street. Hope you have a fantastic 2020!

      Scotland/Edinburgh are not bad places to spend time! And how exciting about Tanzania! Zanzibar makes for an excellent beach destination, and is quite easy to get to from Tanzania!

    Great recap! I love your Sahara trip too! What did you use to create your map? It’s super cool and clean. Happy travels in 2020!

      I made the map on a site called Travellers Point! And happy travels to you in 2020, too!

    What a year Amanda – and so great to finally meet you in person after all these years of following your blog 🙂 Some of these trips are on my list for 2020, including Zanzibar and safaris!! So excited to be heading to Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania and your posts and Insta pics have made me even more excited. All the best for 2020!

      Sounds like your 2020 is going to be excellent, too! Maybe we’ll cross paths again – Australia is on my tentative list!

    Camping out in the Sahara Desert via a camel ride is definitely on my bucket list now!

    Looks like it was an amazing year! A lot of your year is on my ‘must do’ for next year 🙂

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