What We Loved, Hated, and Learned From Our 2016 Travels
As we reflect back on 2016, there is so much we want to share about our travels. Rather than spewing out every detail of every trip and every tidbit of travel knowledge we gained, we thought we’d highlight some of our most memorable moments based on what you want to know. Thanks to everyone who submitted the questions below. We’ve sorted your questions into categories and combined those that were similar. We hope you enjoy reminiscing about our 2016 travels as much as we do and that some of our stories inspire you to visit one of these incredible destinations in 2017. Here’s what we loved, hated, and learned from our 2016 travels.
Best of 2016
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE TRAVEL MOMENT OF 2016?
Diana: My most memorable travel moment of 2016 was hiking Trolltunga. I’ve never done anything that physically demanding before, and it really was a challenge not only physically but mentally as well. Now, whenever I encounter a physical challenge, I think back to the day I hiked 22 miles up a mountain and thought I broke my knees, and realize that what I’m experiencing in this moment is nothing compared to that.
Hope: My most memorable travel moment of 2016 was when I landed in Amsterdam. I was flying to Germany and had a 7 hour layover in Amsterdam so I ventured out and, for the first time, explored a foreign city on my own. It was a thrilling feeling and the first time I discovered the beauty of travelling spontaneously, with no plan, and of being completely alone in a brand new place. It also marked the start of the best month and a half of my life which I spent travelling in Europe and is a moment that I will remember forever.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE TRIP OF 2016?
Diana: My favorite trip this year was to the Faroe Islands. I love finding and exploring off the beaten path places on my travels, and the entire Faroe Islands fit in that category! The islands are located in the North Atlantic Ocean between Norway and Iceland, and the total population across 18 islands is only 50,000. At times, we felt like we were the only people on the islands, and we may have seen more sheep than people while we were there.
Hope: My favourite trip of 2016 was my Europe trip! I learned so much through living in Germany for a bit over a month and making it to 5 countries in 5 days. I’m sure that I will have more amazing trips in the future, but this will always be a landmark one that I will hold close to my heart.
IN WHICH COUNTRY DID YOU HAVE YOUR BEST MEAL OF 2016?
Diana: I would have to say the U.S., where I live. Since I started a new job right before the new year, my international travels in 2016 were a bit more limited as I felt unable to take a lot of time off. Also, the more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve realized that while I can find excellent cuisine abroad, the U.S. offers such a wide variety of cuisines that almost any type of food I might crave is just a short walk or cab ride away from my home in Chicago.
Hope: I had my best meal of 2016 in Krakow, Poland. I had just arrived in Krakow after riding a train all night and was starving. It was pretty early and most of the restaurants were closed, so the hostel receptionist directed me to one of the only open restaurants. The meal, objectively, was probably not amazing but combined with my lack of sleep, hunger, and desperation, it seemed like the greatest meal I had ever eaten. It was extremely cheap, had wonderful plating, and tasted delicious. The vibe of the restaurant was extremely relaxed and bright, and I can’t think of anything that needed improvement.
WHICH COUNTRY DID YOU VISIT IN 2016 THAT WAS LEAST LIKE WHAT YOU EXPECTED IT TO BE?
Diana: I was quite surprised by the US Virgin Islands. Before my trip, I had heard that the St. Thomas, where we were staying, is incredibly crowded and touristy, and that is not at all what I discovered once I got there. Maybe it’s because we stayed on a boat in Red Hook rather than at a resort near the cruise ship ports, but I found our experience to be extremely authentic and interesting. We also did quite a bit of island hopping, and I discovered that there are endless fun things to do in the Virgin Islands that we couldn’t even come close to covering in only five days.
Hope: I was very surprised with Budapest. It was my first experience in a relatively Eastern European country and I had known little about Budapest aside from what I heard in George Ezra’s song ‘Budapest’ (also largely what inspired me to go!!). The people and culture were unlike any other I’d experienced prior to going. I also made it on the day that Hungary was playing in the Euro Cup for the first time in around 50 years, and the crowds were much crazier than I’d ever seen.
ANY BIG LESSONS LEARNED FROM YOUR TRAVELS THIS YEAR?
Diana: One thing I learned this year is that I am more adaptable to new environments than I thought I was. The prime example of this is when we stayed on a small house boat in St. Thomas, USVI for five nights just a week ago. Some of my family members had a very hard time getting used to the rocking of the boat, the tiny showers, the toilets that you had to pump by hand, and the small quarters that we lived in and vowed to never stay on a house boat again. While I also experienced the same shock on my first night there, I very quickly grew to appreciate the simplicity of living there and waking up each morning to blue skies and a fresh ocean breeze. I realized that I can adapt just as easily to a luxury resort as I can to a small house boat, but that ultimately, adaptability is such an important skill to master when you travel.
Hope: I learned that everyone is capable of so much more than they believe. Prior to my 2016 travels, I was nervous about how I’d be able to travel to foreign countries alone and whether I’d be able to handle tasks ranging from navigation to meeting new people. Once put in the situation, however, I found that most things came very naturally, and I believe that this is true for many other people too.
Budget Travel 2016
HOW DO YOU AFFORD TO TRAVEL SO MUCH?
Diana: As most of you know, I work full time as an attorney so I have a steady stream of income. I’m also fortunate enough to not have any student loans. My only “big” financial obligation is my mortgage on my condo. Other than that, most of my money goes toward travel and experiences (mainly travel, but also food, events, festivals, etc.). Shopping is not enjoyable for me at all, so I don’t spend much money doing that. I try to live simply and make meals at home whenever I can instead of eating out.
Hope: When I travel, there aren’t many more costs than I would have in my daily life. I typically choose to either couchsurf, which is free (though I’d be really careful when considering this option) or stay in an affordable hostel. I travel outside of popular tourist areas for meals because they’re usually cheaper in more local areas, and the attractions I go to are generally free. The only real cost is the plane ticket, and all I can say for that is to save and look on various discount websites.
WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR CHEAP FLIGHT DEALS?
Diana: I check www.theflightdeal.com on a weekly, if not daily, basis. The site posts error fares, and if you snag them quickly enough, you can get roundtrip flights from the US to Europe or even Asia for under $400! Other than that, my go to booking site is Skyscanner, and I use the Hopper app to track price changes.
Hope: The two websites that I absolutely swear by are www.skyscanner.com and www.studentuniverse.com (this one is only for students!). Between the two of these, I have always managed to find the cheapest flight prices even after hours of looking at tickets. However, the two vary in terms of which tickets are cheaper. I find that Student Universe is usually cheaper for domestic flights and Skyscanner is usually cheaper for international flights, but again, they vary.
WHAT WAS THE BEST COUNTRY FOR BUDGET TRAVEL THAT YOU VISITED THIS YEAR?
Diana: I unfortunately did not visit many budget friendly cities in 2016, but I have a lot planned for 2017!
Hope: I visited a few countries that were budget friendly. In Europe, Prague, Budapest, and Krakow were all pretty budget friendly. I also visited Mexico City which was quite affordable.
WHAT TYPE OF ACCOMMODATION DO YOU NORMALLY USE?
Diana/Hope: We use hotels, hostels, Airbnb, and couchsurfing, depending on who we’re traveling with and where we’re traveling to. If we had to pick our favorite in general, it would be hostels. We’re not luxury travelers and are very low maintenance, so the lower quality of most hostels (compared to hotels) doesn’t bother us. What we love about hostels is the opportunity to meet fellow travelers and make life long friends. We also like the more casual atmosphere of hostels, especially ones with bars connected to them, as that is more fitting for our personalities than 5-star luxury hotels, where we feel like we are being watched and need to be on our best behavior at all times.
Packing Tips 2016
WHAT IS YOUR MUST HAVE ITEM OF 2016 THAT YOU COULDN’T TRAVEL WITHOUT? / WHAT ARE SOME MUST HAVE ITEMS YOU ALWAYS PACK FOR YOUR TRIPS?
Diana: My one must have item when I travel is my headphones. Traveling can be so hectic and so many things can go wrong (i.e. you could be late for your flight, you could get stuck sitting next to a screaming baby, etc.) and music really calms me down and helps me stay positive. Other than that, I try to always have my portable charger on me at all times
Hope: I couldn’t choose a single item! I wouldn’t be able to survive without my headphones for plane rides. I also always make sure to pack a portable phone charger because I take a ton of pictures. Other than that, something that will always be in my bag is a black tank top which is easily the most versatile piece of clothing that I’ve ever owned, and a black windbreaker which is great for both light winds and possible rain. For foreign trips, I make sure to bring my adapter that includes outlets from all over the world.
WERE YOU GALS ALWAYS LIGHT PACKERS? IF NOT, WHEN AND HOW DID YOU TRANSITION INTO PACKING LIGHT?
Diana: I was not always a light packer. In fact, for my first trip to Europe, I brought an XL suitcase that my boyfriend ended up carrying for me on most of the trip. It felt like such a burden to have to lug that big thing everywhere with me, especially while traveling via train. When I got home, I realized a lot of the clothes I’d packed remained untouched, and some items I brought, such as a curling iron and steamer, were only used once or twice during the entire two week trip. The suitcase became such a hassle for me that I vowed to never bring that with me again unless I was moving my entire life to another country. For my next trip to Europe, I brought only a backpack for the same length of time (two weeks) and realized how much easier that was and that I still over packed. I am constantly honing my packing light skills and am ready for my next challenge when I travel to Southeast Asia for an entire month with just my backpack!
Hope: I was never a heavy packer, but I definitely packed a few extra thing that I didn’t need. Starting from the beginning of university, I started packing lighter and lighter as I started travelling on my own. I began realizing how precious my travel time is and how impatient I am with things like baggage claim. I began bringing only the absolute essentials and stopped packing anything I didn’t use more than once on my previous trips or other unnecessary items. I will gladly trade looking fashionable if it means less weight to carry in clothes!
HAS PACKING LIGHT EVER PREVENTED YOU FROM BRINGING SOMETHING YOU LATER REALIZED YOU NEEDED?
Diana: Not really. On the contrary, I’ve come home with clothes I didn’t even wear once on my trip, which just goes to show that I’m still over-packing on most of my trips, even with just a backpack.
Hope: It’s never prevented me from bringing anything I later needed. The only times I realized I needed something that I didn’t bring with me were from actually forgetting to bring the item and not from wanting to save space in my bag.
Travel Fails 2016
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST TRAVEL FAIL IN 2016?
Diana: I’d have to say it was forgetting to bring a map with us when we hiked Trolltunga. We ended up getting lost and adding on 6 miles to our 16 mile hike, making it a total of 22 miles that we hiked in one day. What’s worse is that the 6 miles we tacked on were the most exhausting 6 miles of the trip, as we scaled a nearly vertical mountain, which looking back could not have been a safe thing to do without climbing gear. Lesson learned: If you’re setting off for an intense hike, bring a map!
Hope: I bought a Eurail pass when I was backpacking Europe and had made a few separate reservations for overnight trains. I made one overnight reservation from Prague to Krakow and had booked a sleeper on the train. I walked to my sleeper number and found another person there. He showed me his ticket and it also had the same sleeper number, so I walked to the cabin director to tell him that they had double booked me. He looked at my ticket and pointed out that I had actually booked the sleeper for the next day! Thankfully he let me stay on the train in one of the seats, but this was still a pretty big fail.
HAVE YOU MISSED VISITING ANY PLACE IN 2016 THAT YOU HAD ACTUALLY PLANNED FOR?
Diana: Luckily, no! I’ve become quite infamous among family and friends for my penchant for missing flights, and I didn’t miss a single flight in 2016!
Hope: Thankfully I did not! I had a few close calls during my Europe backpacking trip but luckily they all worked out!
WHAT WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE OF 2016?
Diana: One night when we were in the Virgin Islands, I got a horrible migraine accompanied by full on nausea while we were living on a rocky house boat. Luckily I had some migraine medicine on me and was able to sleep most of it off, but for a few hours I felt really awful. I’ve been sick while traveling before, but that was one of my worst experiences.
Hope: When I was staying in Germany this past summer, I had a series of unfortunate events happen. Don’t get me wrong, my time in Germany was my absolute favourite experience ever, but there were more than a few bumps on the road. First, I broke my toe playing soccer barefoot with a few Italian and German guys (I have no idea what compelled me to do that), and after my toe finally healed, I sprained my ankle really badly while climbing the tallest steeple in the world. The unfortunate part is that I didn’t even sprain it climbing the actual steeple, I sprained it while stepping off the platform of one of the lookout posts. This sprain kept me from walking for the next two weeks, so it was probably my least favourite experience.
Future Travels 2017
WHAT ARE YOUR TRAVEL PLANS FOR 2017?
Diana: I’ve only got the first quarter of the year planned so far, but I’ll be traveling for about 1.5 months starting in March 2017! I’ll be in Europe (Iceland, Ireland, and UK) for about 10 days and then Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar) and China for about a month right after! Depending on where Hope ends up for her internship next summer, I may make a trip to Europe to visit her in the summer, and then I’m planning to go to Oktoberfest in the fall.
Hope: I’m pretty bad with making plans in advance. So far, all I have down for sure is Washington D.C. on January 20th for Inauguration Day. Other than that, we will have to wait and see where the world takes me!
HOW FAR IN ADVANCE DO YOU TYPICALLY PLAN YOUR TRAVELS?
Diana: I typically book my trips pretty last minute, but I actually had my 1.5 months of travels in March/April 2017 booked almost six months in advance. Usually I’ll wait to find a cheap flight somewhere and then decide to go to that place, so I typically don’t book my trips more than one month out.
Hope: I almost always don’t plan in advance, as shown in the last question. For shorter domestic trips, I typically plan them a few days in advance. I once booked a ticket to NYC late Friday night and left early Saturday the next day. For international trips, I book my ticket a month in advance but don’t really do any planning for them until days before, if ever.
DO YOU PREFER TO VISIT NEW PLACES OR GO BACK TO OLD PLACES THAT YOU REALLY ENJOYED?
Diana: Both. I am always down to visit a country I’ve never seen before, but I do enjoy going back to the places I really love, such as the Nordics.
Hope: I definitely prefer to go to new places! There are too many countries in the world that I haven’t seen and once I’ve seen more of them, then I can decide which old places I’d like to revisit.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET LIST ITEMS FOR 2017?
Diana: I would like to visit some national parks in the US and Canada in 2017. I haven’t been to many, and the Canadian national parks are free in 2017 in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary and the Canada Parks’ 100th anniversary.
Hope: I am putting skydiving in either Interlaken, Switzerland, or Livingstone, Zambia, on the top of my bucket list for 2017. I would also love to visit continents that I haven’t been to yet, such as South America and Africa.
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