Twenty nineteen. What a year. What a long year. With political, social, and environmental issues at the forefront under a constant barrage of headlines and the 24/7 newscycle, it’s a little hard to look back on the year as a whole. But if we don’t look back – on society as a society and on ourselves as individuals, we can’t appreciate how far we’ve come or learn from our missteps. That’s why I write an annual recap each year. It’s tying a bow on the year, making a mark that this time is over, and the next chapter is about to begin.
By the numbers, 2019 included:
- Visits to 6 countries
- 59 flights, totaling 91,987 miles of flights and 225 hours in the sky
- 117 days on the road
- 72 new blog posts (and 14 updated blog posts)
If you’re curious, I have my old recaps in the archives:
- The 10 Best Meals I Enjoyed in 2016 (+ Tons of Others!), 16 Photos that Perfectly Portray My 2016 Year of Travel, & 2016 in Review & My 2017 Travel Plans
- The Best Meals of 2017… and More! & My Favorite 17 Photos that Captured 2017
- 2018 in Review: A Year of Stories, Photos & More
At over 7,000 words and a whopping 93 photos, this year’s recap is not for the faint of heart or vaguely interested. You can use the table of contents to jump around, or just skim through to see what catches your eye… I love keeping these posts for posterity, but I also love to hear from you on your own year in the comments. With all that said, let’s launch in to my 2019 annual recap!
January: California Dreamin’
Ah January, one of my favorite months of the year. I’m an uber nerd about setting goals, resolutions, mantras, and all that – and I love writing loads of posts looking back on the past and reflecting to learn about the future. That’s why December/January is such a busy time here on the blog. I know you’re all waiting on tenterhooks for my annual review posts and new yearly mantra! I just know it!
As I mentioned in my January recap, January was a really good month. My blog was booming, I got to visit interesting places, and I wrote compelling stories on my blog and for other freelance outlets. What more can a self-employed gal ask for?
Where I Traveled in January
January was, looking back, quite a tame month of travel – I was on the road a small bit, but it was nowhere near the pace I’d reach by mid-year.
Mr. V and I actually started 2019 with a San Francisco staycation (of sorts, as we lived in Oakland). We spent two nights at the Fairmont San Francisco and used two complimentary San Francisco CityPasses I had picked up at one event or another to do some local sightseeing.
At one point I took a short day trip out to Amador County and the small town of Volcano for a story about amateur astronomers in California. We carried on that theme with a trip north to Siskiyou County and Mount Shasta to try and see the lunar eclipse on January 20th. It rained, so we saw nothing, and I was also ultra sick on the trip, despite how cheery I look in the photos.
January ended with a work trip to Salt Lake City. It was chilly and mostly dull, but Mr. V and I took a half-day trip to Park City before we had to head to the airport on the last day.
Top Stories I Wrote in January
In addition to my 2019 yearly mantra, I also published a new kind of post: where to travel in 2019. I’m not sure how well it worked, but it was fun to write! I had quite a theme for the travel stories I published in January:
This was continuing on a content strategy I started in November 2018, and it turned out quite well – my Seattle 3-day itinerary is one of my top posts now!
In freelance writing, I had one byline in January: Geek out on outer space at these 5 spots in L.A. This story ran in the San Francisco Chronicle travel section and ended up winning a Eureka! California Media Award later in the spring.
Other Notable Experiences in January
In this section each month, I’m going to call out a few of the notable memories I have. This is replacing what I’ve done in years past to highlight great meals and drinks (like in 2016 and 2017 when I had a specific post about the best meals of the year, or last year when I highlighted them in the rest of the post).
In January, here are some of the strong memories I have from the month:
- Hang Ah Dim Sum & LiPo Lounge – As part of our SF staycation, Mr. V and I were staying right next to Chinatown. I made sure to take advantage of that, with dinner at Hang Ah Dim Sum (one of the city’s oldest dim sum spots) and Chinese mai tais at LiPo Lounge – this was one of Tony Bourdain‘s favorite spots in town.
- Being super super sick in Siskiyou County – I mentioned this above and I hate to bring it up again because I don’t want it to reflect at all on how I felt about Siskiyou County… but holy [bleep] does it suck to be sick while traveling. Whether you’re traveling for fun or work, there’s literally never a good way to be sick on the road.
- Getting rained out of the Lunar Eclipse – Similarly, traveling for a specific astronomical event and then staring up at a blanket of clouds is a real bummer. Especially when you’re already sick and probably shouldn’t stand out in the cold for three hours hoping the clouds might part…
Despite all those negative notes, January was a great start to the year. If 2020 has an equally good January, I’ll be happy!
February: Calm Before the Storm
Q: Can you be a travel blogger if you don’t travel?
A: Yes, as long as you’ve left a bunch of destinations you never wrote about in years past that you can catch up on for those weeks or months when you have no trips planned.
February was a quiet month in the casa de V&V – actually it was probably quite noisy as I was home basically all month! I am pretty sure this was by design though, because starting in March I had several big trips planned and wanted to have the energy for that marathon of travel.
Where I Traveled in February
While technically I was in Salt Lake City/Park City on February 1st, that trip started in January and was almost entirely in the month of January… so I just counted it as a January trip.
I’ve been telling people that December was the only month of 2019 that I didn’t travel at all (#spoilers), it turns out February was also a very home-y month. As you’ll see though (or you might remember if you’ve been following along this year), it was a welcome respite before a maelstrom of travel between March and August.
Top Stories I Wrote in February
Like January, there was a bit of a theme to my blog posts in February. Specifically, I wrote three-day/weekend guides to the following California destinations:
In 2019 I set out to be better about writing about destinations sooner after visiting them (rather than letting them sit a year or more…). This took some effort throughout the whole year, but as you’ll recall, some of these destinations were ones I visited in January. (Others are ones I visited in 2016, 2017, and 2018… ? Now you see why I had to set a goal about being timely!)
The story I researched while visiting Amador County in January was also published in February: How one Amador County miner inspired world’s first mountaintop observatory ran in the San Francisco Chronicle travel section and was one of the most interesting stories I’ve ever written.
Other Notable Experiences in February
I’m calling an audible… I don’t remember anything notable from February! Movin’ right along…
March: Visiting the Upside Down
March was an exciting month for me personally and professionally – it was the first time I crossed the equator and spent a few days traveling truly solo in Chile for some epic stargazing. After that, I met up with blogger friends for another week of exploring; it was great to strike out on my own and be ok solo plus spend time with like-minded travelers in a new place. This trip was almost half of the month, so it definitely took up a lot of my energy and time!
Where I Traveled in March
As I mentioned, I made my first trip to Chile: I spent a few days stargazing in the Elqui Valley (which was in the path of totality for the July 2019 total solar eclipse and is also an unbelievable stargazing destination), the capital city of Santiago with its history and hustle & bustle, and gritty seaside Valparaíso. I also did a few day trips to cool spots in Chile like the Maipo Valley and Cachagua.
Like Naples in Italy, Valparaíso was my favorite of the two cities I visited – but I loved the culture and food in Santiago too. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on Chile by any means, but I am happy to encourage travelers to visit. It’s easy to get around with minimal Spanish skills, there’s plenty to see and do, and the country is huge enough to compel you for a lifetime of exploration!
Top Stories I Wrote in March
As I was on the road so much in March, I didn’t write a ton on my blog:
I wrote this post to help people planning their Pacific Coast Highway road trip – because that’s my most popular post on this site!
I also had two freelance stories published:
- The joy of seeing Canada by train in the San Francisco Chronicle travel section. This story came out of a trip I did in 2015, proving freelance writers never give up on trying to place a good story!
- A quick guide to San Francisco’s best neighborhoods for Lonely Planet
Other Notable Experiences in March
With a new country, there were plenty of experiences and flavors that stuck out in my mind:
- Classic Chilean cocktails – In addition to Pisco Sour, which is obviously all I drank while there, I also tried the frankly disgusting La Piojera in Santiago and sought out a classic pisco cocktail called Vaina. You can only find Vaina at one restaurant in Santiago now!
- Discovering new flavors – In addition to boozing, I also discovered new flavors and ingredients I really enjoyed. Cherimoya (also called custard apple, a very apt description of its flavor) is easier to find outside Chile. I also fell in love with Copao, a sour/sweet fruit from the Elqui Valley that’s a cross between kiwi and grape flavors.
- All the empanadas – Chilean food is generally weaker than neighboring food cultures (Peru, Argentina), but their empanada game is strong.
- Traveling with my blogging mastermind group – It’s so great to travel with blogger friends, because they just get it. So hey Ashley, Julianne, Kay, and Tim! ?? Thanks for being great travel buddies!
April: Nature Calls
Long time blog readers will know that April is my birthday month; it’s exactly opposite in the year from when I started my blog (October) and three months from my year-end/new-year posts – so it’s a great time to do a check-in on life and my goals! Every April, I do an update to my 40 Before 40 blog series – in 2019, it was for my 32nd birthday. I also spent plenty of time on the road, as travel bloggers will do.
Where I Traveled in April
April was a full month of travel; the first trip of the month actually started in late March (but like Park City, was almost entirely in April so that’s when I’m counting it). Mr. V and I spent a week cruising around Hawaii with UnCruise – we made stops at Molokai, Lana, Maui, and The Big Island. It was much needed after a cold, grey winter in the Bay Area!
Mid-month I took a trip with my blogger friend Marissa to St. George, Utah and Zion National Park. This was our second annual national parks trip (last year we went to Joshua Tree) and it was fun to spend a few days exploring, relaxing, hiking, and eating the delicious foods.
Lastly, I spent the week of my birthday (and my birthday itself) in Napa, California. Not Napa Valley, just Napa the town. There’s a lot more going on there than just wine and the trip ended up being a delicious few days.
Top Stories I Wrote in April
Despite so much travel in April, I was able to crank out a bunch of fun blog posts:
I also had three fun personal blog posts I shared:
- Introducing Mr. Valise: My #1 Travel Buddy & Life Partner – In case you’re curious who Mr. V is!
- On My 32nd Birthday: A 40 Before 40 Check-In – My annual check in
- Announcing Dark Skies: A Practical Guide to Astrotourism – The first official post announcing my book!
I also had one freelance story published, How close are we to sending tourists to space? in Canada’s Globe & Mail travel section. It was a delight to write about space tourism for one of the biggest newspapers in the country.
Other Notable Experiences in April
Here are a few more of the highlights from April that stand out in my memory:
- Eating and drinking literally everything on UnCruise – UnCruise chefs and bartenders are so so so talented. I’m still dreaming of Jessica’s special Mai Tais.
- The whale encounter described at the end of this post – No spoilers, but this is my #1 travel experience of the year!
- Lanai cat sanctuary – Did you know there’s a cat sanctuary on the tiny island of Lanai? Did you know this is also what I call heaven?
- Celebrating my birthday at Gran Electrica in Napa – Celebrating one’s birthday on a work trip could be lame, but mine was great. Gran Electrica is a Brooklyn-based restaurant group and their Mexican food and urban vibe were awesome.
May: Conference Hopping
Following April, May was another busy month of travel – primarily driven by conferences and personal travel, rather than visiting destinations for travel writing work. While it was a bit exhausting to be on the road so much, it was nice to travel to see friends and family and professional development instead of being ‘on-the-job’ every day while on the road.
Where I Traveled in May
I started the month in Maine, I made a short trip to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park to see the park and try stargazing a bit. I then drove back south to Portland for the Women in Travel Summit, where I was speaking with my friend Leslie from Huntsville, Alabama.
After that, I flew to Ohio, for a short individual trip to the Hocking Hills followed by another conference in Columbus. I made one final stop on my way home to visit my Maid of Honor in Memphis, Tennessee.
One week later, my MoH and I met again in Arizona; I had booked the Arizona trip before I realized I could stop off in Tennessee, but it was fun to get together twice in a month. Then, I ended the month at my parents house in northern Minnesota, where my youngest brother graduated high school. Like I said, it was a pretty busy month!
Top Stories I Wrote in May
Somehow in the midst of all that travel, I also wrote a ton – both on my blog and for some freelance outlets. I guess having a bunch of flights helped with that!
On this site, I wrote three posts from my trips in April, catching up in a more timely fashion than my old habit:
- How to Make the Most of One Day in Zion National Park
- 3 Days in St. George, Utah
- My UnCruise Hawaii Review
And then for freelance work, I had a chance to write two stories for Nat Geo Travel, which was both a dream and a nightmare. (The second editor was honestly the worst I’ve had to work with all year long!)
- A solar eclipse is coming this summer. Here’s where to see it.
- Magical places to experience the midnight sun this summer
Finally I had a non-bylined* piece for Roadtrippers about stargazing stops in the Pacific Northwest. (*It was supposed to be bylined, but they never responded to my queries asking to add my name…)
Other Notable Experiences in May
When I look back over my pictures and notes from May, a few memories stick out strongly:
- Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis – When visiting Memphis, my last dinner was at Gus’s Fried Chicken; as Tennessee is known for amazing fried chicken, I was obviously all about that.
- Hocking Hills Getaway – While in Ohio, my overnight trip to the Hocking Hills was a highlight from end-to-end. Ziplining through the forest, pulled pork for lunch, visiting the Pencil Sharpener Museum and stargazing at John Glenn Astronomy Park! What’s not to love?
- Dinner at Wolf Ridge, Columbus – As part of the conference in Columbus, we had one night of dinner on the town. My small group enjoyed a huge sample of the menu at a restaurant called Wolf Ridge, with one of the owners sitting at our table to guide us. It was a highlight to have that personal touch along with amazing food.
June: Some Like it Hot
In my memory, I remember June as a blaze of sunshine and heat. This was partially based on the destinations I visited: Arizona is hot in the summer, but Northern California got some warm weather that month too…
Nevertheless, I had some really interesting experiences in June, from being a mentor at a travel blogging summit to going on safari and staying at a waterfront resort a few hours from the Bay Area.
Where I Traveled in June
Like I said, I made a few trips in June. The month started in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I spent a week on a pre-trip and then Bloghouse. You might remember I attended this event myself in 2016; this time I was a mentor rather than an attendee. It was awesome to be able to help other bloggers coming up in their own careers.
In the rest of June, I took two weekend trips here in California. The first was to Santa Rosa, the largest town in Sonoma County. Mr. V and I got to go on a wildlife safari, eat some amazing food, and drink fantastic wine… obviously – we were in wine country!
The last trip of the month was to Lake Tahoe. I was somehow invited on a wildly extravagant press trip to the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe; I flew private, had some astounding tasting menu meals in the area, and had a day at the Ritz’ lakefront resort. While I still haven’t been able to place a story about that, but I’m sure the opportunity to show people how to spend literally all their money will come to me soon!
Top Stories I Wrote in June
I also wrote a bunch in June, covering some recent destinations as well as one from 2018. ?
- 3 Days on Hawaii’s Big Island
- What to Pack for Hawaii
- 3 Days in Huntsville, Alabama ← from my trip in October 2018, and way overdue considering how much I loved my trip
- How to Make the Most of One Day in Acadia National Park
- 3 Days in Bar Harbor, Maine
An editor at Lonely Planet also asked me to put together a story on Dark Sky Parks which I was more than happy to do!
Other Notable Experiences in June
While my memories from some months are heavily focused on the food and drink I had a chance to enjoy, June was much more varied:
- Diego Pops in Scottsdale – I had a lot of great meals in Scottsdale, but my favorite was at Diego Pops. They have a delicious prickly pear margarita, brussel sprout nachos, and bananas-good elote aka a menu of a bunch of food I love.
- A Weekend in Santa Rosa – From seeing African animals at Safari West to a great tasting room near the vines at St. Francis Winery, from champagne and dessert at The Jade Room to Americana nostalgia at the Charles Schulz Museum… Santa Rosa was a real surprise and put this town on the map for me. Highly recommend for Northern California getaway!
- Moon Month around the Bay Area – Toward the end of June, several places around the Bay Area started their events in advance of the Apollo Moon Landing 50th Anniversary. I really enjoyed the exhibit of lunar photography at Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland and seeing the moon at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
- Five Star Life in Tahoe – I mean, obviously traveling to Tahoe like I had real IPO money was a treat. I’m not in tech anymore, but if I was, I’d be weekending like this all the time.
July: To Infinity & Beyond
If I could have all my months be as much fun as July was, I’d be set for life. I spent the first half of the month home and the second half of the month on the road – but both of my trips were tied into space tourism and astrotourism, and I met some amazing people on my trips. I also got to write some incredible stories about the focal point of the month: the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary on July 20th.
Where I Traveled in July
As I mentioned, July was all-space, all-the-time – but it wasn’t just stargazing. Instead, I had the chance to participate in Apollo anniversary events, see some incredible space relics and meet space industry people, and yes, do some stargazing.
My first trip was for the Apollo anniversary, and started in New York City. I spent two days there as part of the official NASA ‘launch’ for the anniversary events that continued in Houston. I saw the space shuttle Enterprise and a Saturn V rocket; ate astronaut ice cream; met so many astronauts!; saw Gene Kranz in the historic Apollo mission control (and got to take some insanely cool photos in there too); ate space cookies, drank space cocktails, and drowned in space swag; danced to Walk the Moon at a celebratory concert… it was honestly an unforgettable trip.
My second trip was a few days later – to Nebraska. While most people might scoff at the fly-over states, I know better: I went to college in neighboring Iowa! The trip was five days of road tripping through corn and soybean fields, eating food from the land, learning about Nebraska history, and visiting the Nebraska star party (obviously the pinnacle for me!).
Top Stories I Wrote in July
I was a little writing machine in July – and had a large number of stories I wrote in May and June go live. It was definitely my most prolific month for blog posts and bylines.
Here on V&V I wrote stories from recent trips and resources for my favorite city (London!):
- 11 Local Foods & Drinks to Try in Scottsdale, Arizona
- 3 Days in Scottsdale: A Desert Oasis Weekend Itinerary
- 10 Things to Know Before Your First Trip to London
- 7 Days in London: What to See & Do for a Week
- How to Make the Most of 1 Day in the Hocking Hills, Ohio
I also had some great stories go live:I had two stories about San Francisco published for Lonely Planet: How to Weekend in SF and the Best Day Trips from SF. LP also wanted a couple stories about space:
- The best places to celebrate the Apollo anniversary
- Places NASA was celebrating the Apollo anniversary
- and Where to see the Perseids meteor shower in August
I was super proud that my story about 5 ways to celebrate the Apollo 11 anniversary in California made the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle travel section on the weekend before the anniversary. And this story about Huntsville, Alabama, the Saturn V rocket, and man’s journey to the moon for Roadtrippers was my favorite story I wrote this year.
Other Notable Experiences in July
Honestly, it’s hard to narrow down my favorite memories from the month, but here are a few standouts:
- Astronauts on cocktails! – Pretty much everything about my Apollo anniversary trip was great, but I really enjoyed these cocktails printed with moon landing astronauts, and then dancing off all those carbs at the Walk the Moon concert.
- My first peanut butter burger – In Nebraska I got crazy and tried a peanut butter burger. It was definitely weird and messy but also oddly delicious. Perfect for those of you with a savory tooth like m.
- Nebraska Star Party – I was lucky to do a lot of stargazing in 2019, but one highlight was at the Nebraska Star Party, where we stood under cloudy skies with the director of the event until a small pocket of sky opened up and everyone jumped into action with their telescopes. It was stellar serendipity, my favorite kind.
August: You Went Where?
I was on the road most of August – and honestly, it was too much. I visited one of the most challenging places I’ve ever been, with the hands-down worst travel blogger I’ve ever traveled with (here’s what one of my fellow travelers wrote about them). Oh, and I got food poisoning. Needless to say, August was my last month of intense travel for a while – but it was also eye-opening and helped me grow as a human and traveler. Sometimes that’s what it takes, I guess!
Where I Traveled in August
As I alluded above, I spent most of August in Central Asia. This included about five days in Kazakhstan (split between Almaty and more rural areas) and five days in Kyrgyzstan (split between Karakol in the east and the capital Bishkek). My trip was sponsored by the U.S. government and was an incredible opportunity: in addition to opening my own eyes to a new part of the world, I’d like to think many of you also had your eyes opened and saw beautiful sights you might someday explore too.
After getting back to the U.S. (it took 36 hours!), Mr. V and I zipped up to Seattle for our first of two engagement parties. Some friends flew into town, others live there – it was all around great to see people I love in one place and decompress from my trip with them.
Top Stories I Wrote in August
While you might think I didn’t write as much as a result of all that travel, I somehow managed to pump out a bunch of blog posts (especially after getting home):
- Why Central Asia Should Be On Your Bucket List (before my trip)
- 10 Things to Know Before Your First Trip to Central Asia (after my trip)
- 3 Days in Santa Rosa: A Weekend Getaway from San Francisco
- The 10 Best National Parks in the U.S. from Acadia to Zion
- 5 Days in Alaska: A Quick Itinerary for the Last Frontier
And I also had one story published as part of an interactive tool for the San Francisco Chronicle; I added the section on the Gold Rush along Highway 49.
Other Notable Experiences in August
I can’t deny that Central Asia was full of unforgettable experiences, and it’s hard to do them justice in a short list…
- Discovering (and learning how to make) Ashlan Fu – The dish that changed my life this year, I ate Ashlan Fu three times in three days in Karakol – and learned to make it. Come to think of it, I wonder if I can make it here…
- Trying horse milk – I’m adding this one because it was definitely a new experience (tasted like sour cream and bacon to me!) and also because we travel writers have an obligation to try new things and report back. 10/10, would try again, definitely recommend you try too.
- Losing my phone in a foreign country and being chill about it – I left my iPhone in a canyon campsite in Kazakhstan and wasn’t reunited until 5 days later… and you know what? I saw way more of the scenery outside the windows, still took plenty of pictures, and feel like I actually got to know Kyrgyzstan as a result.
- Seeing snow leopards and eagles – Animal experiences are a critical selling point for many travelers; holding an eagle (damn they’re heavy) and seeing snow leopards at a sanctuary (damn those poachers) were both tops for the year.
- Getting food poisoning in Central Asia – While this wasn’t a highlight, the general consensus among fellow travelers was “welcome to the club!” which makes me laugh and feel like I actually got an authentic sense of how Western travelers experience Central Asia. Also, I’m just grateful it happened at a hotel with flushing toilets rather than squat toilets! (That’s the silver lining!)
September: Video Killed the Radio Star
When I arrived home from Central Asia, I was the most burned out from travel that I have ever been… Yes, even I have a limit. I cancelled a planned trek in Mongolia (because who ever let me sign up for trekking is INSANE) and cleared my schedule to stay home and recuperate in September. Then a small project popped into my inbox that I simply couldn’t say no to…
Where I Traveled in September
My only trip in September was to Boston for a Lonely Planet video project. I have a video piece for my portfolio! You can see it here! It was a quick trip with a fantastic team, and also overlapped my book release, so I had champagne and oysters and a wonderful ‘launch dinner’ with my friend Ashley and Beth, the founder of Wanderful.
Top Stories I Wrote in September
I WROTE A BOOK THAT CAME OUT IN SEPTEMBER. ISN’T THAT ENOUGH FOR YOU???
Okay, okay, I also wrote a bunch of other things too:
- 12 Budget London Airbnbs Under $150 per Night
- 5 Days in London: A Quick Itinerary of What to See & Do
- A 10-Day California Coast Road Trip: San Francisco to San Diego
- 10 Essentials You Need to Pack for Alaska in the Winter
- What to Pack for a Weekend Away: My 3-Day Packing List
I had three stories published for Lonely Planet:
- Top 7 vegan restaurants around the San Francisco Bay Area
- Eat green in the Emerald City: top vegan restaurants in Seattle
- Why a trip to Nebraska is surprisingly wonderful
And one more story for Intrepid Travel about stargazing in the southwestern U.S. and announcing a big giveaway when Dark Skies launched.
Other Notable Experiences in September
As I didn’t travel much, there aren’t as many highlights to call out, but here are two:
- Lonely Planet on-screen project – It was soooooo cool to be in a video project. Can I have more please?
- Our second engagement party in San Francisco – More friends flew out for our second engagement party, again, a really good thing for my mental health as I struggled with burnout.
October: A European Yo-Yo
I was back on the road in October – and the only real reason I booked trips is that they took me to places I loved. I still think I’m struggling with burnout (writing this in late December), so I definitely was facing it in October… but nothing gets me excited to be back on the road like a trip to London!
Where I Traveled in October
London wasn’t the only place I visited in October. Mr. V and I actually started the month’s travels with a weekend in San Jose, in the south Bay. It was a really nice weekend of sightseeing, including at Lick Observatory – which you might remember I wrote a story about back in February.
Next we spent a week in London; Mr. V was there for work and I tagged along because I can never say no to a trip to London. We came home and immediately left again for a few days in Las Vegas – another work trip for Mr. V that I tagged along on. I wasn’t impressed by the Strip, but a few sights off-strip (like the Neon Museum) were really cool.
After being home for another overnight and then went back to Europe again… I was invited to speak at a conference in Mayo County, Ireland, so I extended it a little to see some of the west country before the month’s end.
Top Stories I Wrote in October
Honestly, each time I get to this section of the month, I’m shocked how many new posts I wrote… nevermind all the ones I updated! Here are the blog posts I published in October:
- 17 Local Central Asia Foods & Drinks to Try on Your First Trip
- 3 Days in Downtown Napa: What to Eat & Drink (Beyond Wine)
- What to Do During a Layover? 10 Ways Make the Most of Airport Layovers
- 3 Days in Sedona: A Perfect Weekend Itinerary & Guide
- The 13 Best Alaskan Souvenirs from the Last Frontier
- 10 Essentials You Need to Pack for Central Asia
- Harry Potter Bucket List: 12 Magical Things to Do in London
I also had two freelance stories published in October: one was for Canada’s Globe & Mail about the best dark sky spots in Europe and the other was for the San Francisco Chronicle about nighttime experiences in Hawaii – including (of course!) stargazing.
Other Notable Experiences in October
The memories that stand out from October are a pretty varied bunch… a mix of home and away, comfortable and new experiences.
- Oaktoberfest – The last big event we enjoyed in Oakland, and also one of my favorites each year.
- Two dessert dinner in San Jose – We still joke about our three dessert dinner in Huntington Beach a few years ago; the ladies at Visit San Jose made sure we had a fantastic two dessert dinner as part of our experience there.
- Moving onto our houseboat – While not travel related, Mr. V and I moved onto a houseboat in Sausalito. We lived in Oakland for two years and it was time to move on.
- Harry Potter Tea and the Studio Tour near London – I spent a few days in London doing all the Harry Potter things and feel zero regrets.
- Seeing Tim Burton at his own exhibit at the Las Vegas Neon Museum, followed by visiting an off-strip tiki bar – I’m not sure what else I can say to explain how awesome this was.
November: Hibernation Begins
Looking at my calendar of travels in November, I can see that I was on the road a lot – but it still feels like I was recovering from burnout and couldn’t really dive deep into any place I visited. Luckily, most of my trips were ‘for me’ and gave me the chance to start to get my mojo back.
Where I Traveled in November
My trip to Ireland in October continued into November; I tacked on two extra days in London for a work conference I ended up skipping to explore more of the City of London instead. By the end of this trip, I had been on the road for almost three weeks straight and was very glad to get back to our little houseboat.
The next weekend though, I boarded a flight to Seattle for wedding dress shopping with my mom and bridesmaid Marissa. It was a pretty relaxed weekend, proof that not all travel has to be uncomfortable. (But I also believe that travel needs to be uncomfortable for us to grow.)
Mr. V and I had one trip planned together: the Inaugural cruise aboard the Norwegian Encore to Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. This was an interesting experience – only my second big-ship cruise ever, and a bit of a logistical mess with it being the inaugural. It was super nice to get some sun and sea though!
Top Stories I Wrote in November
In between those trips, I was updating posts for 2020 and writing a few new ones too:
- 3 Days in San Jose: A South Bay Weekend Getaway
- Alaska Bucket List: 45+ Ultimate Things to Do in Alaska
- How to Do the London Wall Walk: A Self-Guided Walking Tour
- 10 Travel Essentials I Never Leave Home Without
- How to Pick the Perfect Color Tieks
I think my burnout also manifest in a lack of enthusiasm for freelance writing; I have no stories from November (or December!).
Other Notable Experiences in November
Though it wasn’t long ago, November feels like it had some real gems for the year:
- Speaking at a dark sky conference in western Ireland – It was one of my yearly goals to book a speaking gig about astrotourism. When the invite came to do this in Ireland near Mayo Dark Sky Park, I knew I had to jump at the chance.
- The Cupcake Incident at my London Airbnb – It’s a pretty long story (ask me sometime if we meet in real life), but I had a fascinating night of ‘surprise’ cupcakes in my Airbnb which prompted me to freak out then realize they had little sorting hats on them so were obviously not laced with drugs – and to document it all on my Instagram stories.
- New discoveries in London – London is full of secrets to discover, which is part of why I like visiting over and over. In October, Mr. V and I started the London Wall Walk which I finished on my second trip in November. I also finally stumbled upon Leadenhall Market (by chance!) while walking in the City of London one day.
- Meeting up with new travel writer friends – After meeting Ash on my Houston trip and meeting Jeff on my Nebraska trip, I was fortunate to see them both again – Ash and I had coffee in London and Jeff was on the Encore cruise. Unlike in years past, I feel like I made real connections in the travel writing community this year.
December: Home is Where the Heart Is
It’s odd, to sit back and reflect on December like I’m not currently still in it. After all, it’s the 31st and it’s not even noon yet! There are still 12 hours in this month and year and who knows what could happen!
Most of December – which is all I can comment on – was quite subdued. After a few travel opportunities came up, I turned them all down in favor of spending a month at home. You might remember, I haven’t had an entire month home since February – so this was pretty critical in finally getting over my burnout and ready for the new year. I’m feeling energized for 2020 and ready to be much more conscientious about how I spend my Time. But before we get there, let’s recap December!
Where I Traveled in December
I’m honestly so delighted to say that I went absolutely nowhere in December. I spent the entire month in the Bay Area, exploring my new home (Sausalito) and making the jaunt to San Francisco quite a few times. Being home has helped me see and appreciate that I live in a special place; it’s a very different attitude than I had while living in Oakland and often traveling to escape.
Top Stories I Wrote in December
Being home, you might have thought I would write more; instead I spent time thinking about my content strategy and how I want to plan for future blogging years. As such, I only wrote a handful of posts:
- 2020 Travel Inspiration: 20 Amazing Places I Visited in the 2010s
- 10 Away Luggage Alternatives for Any Budget
- 7 Days in Alaska: 2 Weeklong Alaska Itinerary Options
- One Day in Seattle: 2 Ways to Spend a Day in the Emerald City
- 5 Reasons Why to Visit Alaska in Winter
While I didn’t write any freelance stories or have any published, I did a bunch of promo for my book, including an interview on KQED and a few podcast interviews. While those are obviously important, they’re not quite the same as I earn little long-standing repute and no money for them.
Other Notable Experiences in December
Being ‘home’ in the Bay Area means that most of my memory highlights aren’t exotic or uncomfortable – but I think that’s exactly what I needed to wrap up this year!
- Seeing Star Wars at Alamo Drafthouse – After a year of bemoaning the bad behavior of moviegoers, I’ve finally found my place; Alamo Drafthouse doesn’t allow talking or texting, praise!
- Ice Skating at Snoopy’s Home Ice in Santa Rosa – During our trip to Santa Rosa in June, Mr. V and I lamented that we couldn’t go skating because of renovation work; just before the holidays we went up and spent time on the ice (including me when I fell down and hurt my knee!).
- Home for the Holidays – This was the first year Mr. V and I spent in our home for Christmas. We own our houseboat, and she really feels like a great home (for now).
Top Travel Moment of the Year
This was honestly the hardest section for me to pick – as you can tell I’ve had an amazing year of new travel experiences. But there’s one that stands out for absolutely taking my breath away: this very close encounter with a young whale in Hawaii.
This wasn’t something UnCruise could have planned… to be honest, we had spent most of the day cruising around and whale watching which was nice but not exactly stimulating. As we made one final pass, this young whale came right up to our boat. It scratched its nose and belly on our hull… and came close enough that we could look in each others eyes and I can now say I’ve been breathed on by a whale!
If you didn’t have a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring travel experience this year, I challenge you to try and have one in 2020. Those moments are the reason I keep exploring our big beautiful world (and beyond!).
Top Writing Moment of the Year
Choosing my top writing moment of the year was easy. I mean, how often will I have a book come out? Maybe a few more times in my life – but certainly not every year. To that end, it’s hands down the day that Dark Skies was officially released.
Top Life Moment of the Year
2018 ended on a high note with Mr. V and I beginning our engagement; while we knew we wouldn’t get married until 2020, so I thought 2019 would be a quiet year…
Little did I know we’d spot a cute houseboat on Craigslist and take the leap into ‘home’ ownership. We’re still working to tidy her up and make her ‘ours,’ but honestly, it feels so good to own something in the Bay Area.
Ok, deep breaths…. that was a long recap. Thanks for sticking with it! I’d love to hear your yearly highlights in the comments below!