2017: My Year in Travel

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Happy New Year travelers! 2017 came and went in the blink of an eye. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a full year since I was ringing in the new year in London. This past year has been a whirlwind for me: I finished my second-to-last semester of college, I worked a job as well as had an internship in my school’s study abroad office (SO MUCH FUN!), and I managed to pack in a few trips to several new destinations.

Let me just start by saying that my travel year in review is not nearly as impressive as some of those seasoned bloggers out there. When you’re a full-time student, working a job and an internship, and living off of your scholarship refunds and tiny part-time job paychecks, it’s hard to travel as much as I’d like. However, by prioritizing travel, finding some awesome deals, and racking up airline miles to keep flight costs down, it’s possible to sneak in a few awesome trips! Without further ado, here’s my travel year in review for 2017:

JANUARY: RINGING IN 2017 IN LONDON

Foggy winter mornings in London

I began 2017 by ringing in the new year in London, England. This was my first time in the city, and I absolutely fell in love! My best friend and I got great deals on flights, booked a stay in a hostel for the first time, and met some awesome people from around the world to celebrate with. After pre-gaming in the hostel bar, we headed out to SoHo to find a place to dance the night away. We ended up at a restaurant/bar called The Duck and Rice that had cheap tickets available to their New Year’s Eve Celebration and had a complementary champagne toast at midnight. We danced the night away to the DJ, had lots and lots of champagne, and said “Happy New Year!” to pretty much every person we came in contact with. New Year’s Eve in London was definitely one to remember, and I hope to go back in the next couple of years to check out their world-famous fireworks show.

New friends and old on New Year’s Eve!

After the celebrations, we spent the next week or so frolicking around London, taking a day trip out to Bath, and knocked Stonehenge off our bucket lists. I’ve been dreaming of London since, and I’m already planning a return trip!

Stonehenge…major bucket list item checked off!

APRIL: LAS VEGAS

Hanging out in the Venetian!

Back in April, I booked a spontaneous trip to Las Vegas to meet up with a friend I made while in London. This was my first time in Vegas, and even though I didn’t get the full experience (I was only 20, which meant no gambling and only drinking when I didn’t get ID’d), I had a great time. Even though I loved getting to see all the sights of the Strip and Fremont Street, one of the highlights of my trip was my friend’s (a native Londoner) first trip to Walmart. He was amazed at seeing so many products all in one store! Another highlight was our day trip to the Hoover Dam.

Right now, I’m actually planning 2 trips back to Vegas this year, and another one in 2019 after Lady Gaga kicks off her residency there. I look forward to getting the full Vegas experience, and eating at more local restaurants since a lot of the meals with my friend were at traditional American chains (which was understandable, as this was his first time in the US and he wanted the full experience).

MAY/JUNE: ECUADOR

Hanging out in Quito!

Early in the summer, I studied abroad in Ecuador. This program was a service-abroad program called Shoulder to Shoulder Global Brigades, ran through a wonderful organization at my school that offers these programs four times each year. Most of these brigades involve working at a clinic in Santo Domingo, Ecuador; however, my program was a bit different. This one was a public health-focused brigade which involved providing water filtration systems & training to indigenous communities near Tena, as well as health education to primary school students in Santo Domingo.

The sprawling city of Quito

The brigade lasted for about 9 days, but some friends and I stayed for a few extra days to explore Quito. Not gonna lie, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of Ecuador. I had heard from some other people who went on similar trips that the country was dangerous, the food was horrible, and that I could go somewhere way better for the same amount of money. Even though I nearly got robbed on the first day in Quito and was really sick of eating rice by the end of the trip, I’m so glad I went. I gained great experience in my field, met so many amazing people, tried a ton of new foods (including guinea pig!), zip-lined for the first time, and was able to experience the beauty that is Ecuador. Stay tuned for a full post about my experiences!

SEPTEMBER: SAN FRANCISCO

The world-famous Painted Ladies

A little over a year ago, one of my best high school friends moved to San Francisco, and I was finally able to visit him in September. This was my first time in the City by the Bay, and I absolutely fell in loveThis trip was done on a mega-budget: I flew using Delta SkyMiles for $12 (only paying taxes) and stayed in my friend’s apartment for free. Knowing a local in the city you’re exploring is so helpful: you’re able to have someone show you the best sights, eat at the best restaurants, and be your own personal chauffeur. Since we spent practically nothing on our flight & lodging, we decided to go all-out on food: I ate like a QUEEN this weekend! If you want some inspiration on the top eats for your trip to San Francisco, you can check out my post here! An honorable mention that I forgot to include on the list: Hot Cookie in the Castro. Their snickerdoodles are SO. DANG. GOOD.

In addition to all the sightseeing, I was able to experience my first Folsom Street Fair. This was an insane experience, and I have a post in the works with all the details.

SEPTEMBER: LABOR DAY WEEKEND IN NASHVILLE

For labor day weekend, my boyfriend and I decided to hop on down to Nashville. I had just turned 21, so I was so excited to finally get to hit up the bars and honky-tonks that line Broadway. We also checked out a couple of local art museums, which made for a perfect weekend getaway.

NOVEMBER: CHICAGO AND GATLINBURG CABIN WEEKEND

November came with two mini weekend trips! First, my boyfriend and I headed up to Chicago so that I could audition for College Jeopardy (no…I didn’t make it, which means I’ll just have to audition again!). This was a super short trip, so we ended up not really doing any touristy things. We did, however, eat really well. Lots of pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef were had during our two day getaway. I had my first Portillo’s experience, where I proceeded to fall in love with their chocolate cake shake…they blend a whole piece of cake into the milkshake! I don’t even want to think about the calories I consumed over that two day period.

The second weekend getaway of November was a cabin weekend in Gatlinburg with a big group of friends. We played lots of party games, ate some good food, and drank lots of moonshine (tip: the local moonshine tastings are super cheap and are a great way to get a good buzz!). We’re planning on making this a yearly tradition, and are trying to decide if we want to stick to Gatlinburg or head somewhere new for 2018.

WHAT’S NEXT?

For spring break, me, my boyfriend, and my two best friends are heading to Amsterdam! I originally had a flight booked to go in November to visit the same friend I visited in Las Vegas, but plans changed and I lucked out with a cancelled flight about two months before departure, which meant a full refund! I’m so excited to explore this city with my favorite people, and we’re thinking we might hop over to Rotterdam for a day trip as well. Have you been to Amsterdam? Let me know your tips for the city!

One of my best friends just moved to Indianapolis, and another recently moved to Florida, so I’m expecting several weekend trips there. I’m hoping to get back to San Francisco sometime too, and let my boyfriend tag along since he’s never been! One of his best friends is moving to Washington state this summer, so that could be in my 2018 plans as well. Who knows what this year will bring! Ideally, I’d like to get at least one more international trip too. I have saved a ton of airline miles, so that’ll be super helpful in keeping costs down. Also, I’ll be graduating college in May, and hopefully finding a full-time job soon after, so I’ll have to keep that into consideration while booking my trips for the year. It’s going to be hard adjusting to a life with strict vacation time, but hopefully the bigger paychecks will be worth it!

What were your travel highlights in 2017, and what are your plans for the upcoming year? Make sure to let me know in the comments! Also, stay tuned for posts detailing all the above trips, plus more!

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