What a Year of Travels!
2016 turned out to be the year where I did the most traveling and created some of my favorite travel memories.
To start off, I’ve just rebranded my blog, so welcome to the new site! 🙂 Thanks for joining me on this recap of the trips I took in 2016. Not only is this site a representation of my passion for travel, it symbolizes a refreshing start to living a more intentional life.
For the past three and a half years, I’ve been cranking away at my accounting job and getting lost in the whirlwind of attaining a “successful” life. Although I love a fast-paced and challenging environment, mid-way through 2016, I asked myself, what am I doing?
I wasn’t content with the progress of my personal development and realized that I generally prioritized work over my personal health, goals, hobbies, etc. In the beginning of 2017, after much deliberation, I finally decided to take a break from my job. Whether I come back to it or not, I promised myself that I will give myself time to reach a mindful decision that should uphold the value of maintaining a well-balanced life.
So, how did I travel so much when I worked relentlessly? Something called flexibility…I worked remotely, when necessary, on my shorter trips. However, traveling was something that I tried hard to not let get compromised with my hectic work schedule. Traveling keeps me sane and most importantly, it has contributed tremendously to my personal growth, so I see it as my fountain of knowledge. I keep seeking for more.
The most important thing about traveling, to me, is that it enriches me with perspective. And let’s be real, it’s something that we all need more of nowadays. Compassion, empathy, perspective.
Additionally, my boyfriend, Nicholai (N), and I started getting into travel hacking and figuring out the best way to travel with as less spending as possible, in early 2016. I’ll go briefly into some of the perks that we took advantage of below, but will probably save them for a later post, to not inundate this one with so much info.
Anyway, that was my self journey in 2016, and I’d like to share with you the awesome trips that I took. Hopefully, it’ll inspire you to get out and make a memorable trip for yourself this year!
I’d have to say that Chicago is one of my favorite U.S. cities. It’s not a hyper city like New York and not too spread out like LA. You could easily walk around or take a short Uber ride to the attractions and sites.
It’s a lively city, but has a chill vibe at the same time. If you are a foodie, Chicago would be your playground!
When I was there for a weekend in January, the weather was 40 degrees one day and a whopping 0 the next. Thankfully, the sun still shone.
My boyfriend and I gorged ourselves at a deep dish pizza place, stared at our reflection at the Bean, and sipped on drinks at the bar in the Observatory deck overlooking the Chicago skyline. Needless to say, we had a great time.
I would never want to live in Chicago because of the wind (I dread wind), but I desperately want to visit the city again! If only we could move Chicago over to the West Coast…
Want to know the details of what we did in Chicago? Read my post about Chicago here.
Punta Mita / Puerto Vallarta
I’m a tax accountant, so right after April 15, I needed a quick, relaxing getaway!
Thus, the research for all-inclusive resort deals began. I only planned to take 4 days off since I still had a lot of work to push through. We initially looked into tons of resorts in the Caribbean Islands and the Bahamas. Unfortunately, no good deals popped up, especially considering we’d be flying across the country for only 4 days.
Then, we thought why not look into destinations in Mexico. It’s closer and cheaper. While browsing hotels.com, deals for Puerto Vallarta turned up to be quite enticing!
Finally, we landed on an all-inclusive resort deal at Iberostar Playa Mita for $764.40…for two people! Note here that we have the Citi Prestige credit card, which we used for its “4th night free benefit” to essentially pay for a four night stay for the price of three.
The all-inclusive included all meals, alcoholic drinks, room with ocean view, and a massage during our stay.
Overall, this vacation was exactly what I needed and more. I’m currently searching for another beach resort type getaway, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know. 🙂
Park City, Utah
N has an IT client who has a vacation home rental in Park City, Utah. In exchange for some IT work to be done at his vacation rental, the client offered to let us stay there for a couple of days.
At this point, we achieved Companion Pass (CP) status with Southwest, so we put this to use. Two flights for the price of one, and accommodation was covered. Although we didn’t choose this destination, we were thrilled that we got a deal out of it. Even though snow season ended, we took this opportunity to do some hiking in the areas around Park City. Hiking, relaxing, and shopping made for an all around good time! I would definitely want to come back here in the winter and go snowboarding (on the bunny slopes).
Ah, Japan. One of our favorite destinations! We couldn’t get enough of it the first time we went there in 2015, so we decided to revisit – this time for 2 weeks! Cities we explored included Yakushima, Osaka, Kyoto, and a bit of Tokyo. We also tackled Mt. Fuji!
Read below related posts to discover the enchantment of these places:
Part 1: The Beauty of Yakushima Island
Part 2: Timeless Kyoto vs. Modern Osaka
What To Do: 3 Days in Tokyo
(Post on Part 3 – Mt. Fuji coming soon.)
By planning this trip early in the year, we racked up enough credit card bonus points to book our flights to and from Japan on the glamorous first class train. We flew first class Singapore Suites on the way there, which felt like a dream come true. We were pampered and basically had a room onboard a plane. For the returning flight, we flew Japan Airlines first class. It was N’s birthday the day we flew back. As a surprise, the flight attendants gifted him a small airplane toy along with a box of macarons. Both of these airlines provided such impeccable service!
Although I’ve taken two trips to Japan already, it’s one of those countries that I can’t get enough of. Culturally stimulating in so many ways, I keep wanting to get to know it better. Two descriptive words that pop into my head when I think of Japan: clean and efficient. Because I wish our practical world could strive to be more of those two words, I highly, highly respect Japan for it.
It’s weird to talk about Japan and then, jump to Austin. Ok, back to America.
Austin has a “cool scene” and very friendly people. Ultimately, I had an amazing time because I spent it with some of my close girlfriends from San Jose, where I grew up. I enjoyed the city, but I enjoyed the company more. 🙂
Five of us girls rented an Airbnb for a few days as well as a car to get around. If you’re looking for a party scene, you should stay near 6th street. We didn’t stay in that area, but we did give 6th street a visit for its nightlife. It sure does get rowdy since the street is lined with bars that are filled with college kids.
Besides that, you can visit the State Capitol, chill out at Ladybird Lake, snap cool pictures at the massive Graffiti Wall on Castle Hill, dip in the Barton Springs Pool, and have a picnic at Zilker Park. Endless things to do in this city!
New York City
I went on a little, domestic travel spree in October/November, right after another busy season at work.
I coordinated a mother-daughter NYC trip with my mom, my aunt (my other mom), and my best friend (who lives in NYC) and her mom. 5 total, including me, if you didn’t get that.
My mom doesn’t travel domestically too much, and she expressed an interest in New York City before. I thought, why not, let’s use my Companion Pass!
The highlight of this trip was spending time with my mom, of course. I rarely get to travel with her, so I’m glad we got to explore New York City together on this one. The real champion of this trip, though, was my best friend, Christina. Without her taking us around and keeping me company with the moms, I probably would’ve returned home a little crazier.
With NYC’s many diverse neighborhoods, you would be overwhelmed trying to figure out all the go-to spots. Luckily, I had a local guide the whole time. I think this would be the best method in getting around the city; but if you don’t know anyone, besides all the big touristy stuff, you could do some research into the neighborhoods that sound appealing to you and then, go from there. I would probably have to visit the city several times to check off all the places that I’d like to visit.
With plenty to do and see, you’ll be running up and down the streets of NYC all day! So wear comfy shoes.
Not a far off destination from home, Portland has long been on my radar. The idea came up casually as I was chatting with another one of my best friends. It ended up being a double-date weekend trip, with boyfriends in tow.
Portland Pros: amazing and unique food, quirky town, coffee shops on every corner (me!!!), beer!!, beautiful nature accessible right outside the city, and no sales tax!!
Want to know where you should go for delicious eats in Portland? Read my Portland food guide here.
December / January
Iceland, Edinburgh, Paris, Cologne, Stockholm
Last but not least, I ended 2016 with an incredible, but freezing Europe trip!
I have been dreaming of going to Iceland since forever, with the goal of catching the northern lights. When affordable flights showed up on WOW Air to Iceland, I jumped for joy! We bought our tickets to Reykjavik from Newark (we were in NY for Christmas) for only ~$361 per person (and that included paying for a seat assignment, plus WOW Air’s crazy luggage fees). Even though we had points, this turned out to be a better deal, especially since the flight was only around 5 hours long.
Driving around Iceland, despite the harsh weather, and seeing its landscape made for an out-of-this-planet experience. Sadly, the weather kept us from going on an ice cave tour, which would’ve been even more mind-blowing, plus killed any chance we had to catch the northern lights. 🙁 The saving grace to the trip was our steamy bathe in the Blue Lagoon. Pretty darn magical.
Edinburgh, Scotland came into play when we researched “What to Do on New Year’s Eve in Europe.” The Hogmanay festival popped up as a fun NYE event. Not only did Hogmanay exceed expectations, Edinburgh will transport you into Harry Potter world and bring out your inner kid. 😀
Next, we flew over to Paris. I love Paris, but I’m also biased to anything France. I studied abroad in a small town called Poitiers, so France has my heart. No matter what people say about Paris, I always have a wonderful time exploring different parts of the city.
After Paris, we started to inch our way up towards Stockholm, where we would be taking our return flight home. To satisfy N’s love for the German accent, we made a brief, one-day stop in Cologne on our way up. We ate schnitzel and curry sausages (must try!), cozied up in cafes, and gazed at the formidable Cologne Cathedral.
Finally, we landed in Stockholm, which surprised us with its festive streets and delicious food. I definitely want to go back to spend more time in what I found to be such a charming city. We mainly decided to fly back to LAX out of Stockholm because N wanted to try the newly updated business class seats on Scandinavian Airlines. Apparently, it’s one of the best, and I can attest to that now. 🙂
TLDR; We knew Iceland and Stockholm were going to be our starting and ending points. We, then, filled the middle destinations with Edinburgh, Paris, and Cologne after some research and group discussions. I found all of these places/cities captivating, so I think you should give them all a try if they fit in your itinerary at any point!
Read about the specific things we did in my Europe post here.
Whew, thanks for sticking through ’til the end, my friends. All that made me more excited to see what’s in store for 2017 and to share with you more exciting stuff!
I wish you a 2017 filled with intentional thoughts and deliberate actions. Do that thing that you’ve been wanting to do, and stop pushing it aside!
Did you have any redefining moments this past year? Any travel plans cooking for you in 2017? I’d love to hear it!
*This post may contain affiliate links. As always, opinions are my own.