I’ve been more than fortunate to enjoy an unforgettable year of travel in 2015! My hope was to inspire you to get out there and explore places near and far. I also wanted to show how you could travel for much less than you thought possible by using miles and points like I do!
I’ve put together 11 priceless travel reflections of 2015 to share with you.
Biggest Travel Accomplishment
For the first time ever(!), I took two incredible solo trips. I ventured off to Patagonia in Chile and Argentina at the beginning of April. In June and July, I traveled through Thailand and Cambodia. It was beyond liberating to decide when and where to go, what to see, and how long to stay. You live in the moment and can decide something…anything, on a whim. I met so many fun and interesting people while I was traveling on my own. Traveling solo builds confidence and it was no different for me. But, I most appreciate how solo travel helped me refine my ability to clearly discern between the fear and self-doubt that can get the best of any of us and an actual gut response alerting you to something real. Solo travel has taken my self-trust to an entirely new level.
Best Travel Hack
I’ve been using miles and points for award travel for several years. Award travel has let me do things like have high tea in London and ski in the Swiss Alps. Up in the Canadian Rockies, I’ve come face to face with a herd of bighorn sheep in Banff and was surrounded by elk in Jasper. I’ve flown like Superman through the Costa Rican rainforest and taken in the sweeping Atlantic Ocean views from the top of Mont Saint-Michel, just to name a few.
In 2015, my best travel hack was my discounted 1-way to Bangkok. I added the first half of my SE Asia trip to my Patagonia award ticket by taking advantage of United’s stopover on award flights. I flew roundtrip between New York and Santiago, Chile AND added a 1-way to Bangkok on the same award ticket. I saved 20k United miles and only paid $78.60 in taxes and fees for travel between Patagonia, New York, and Bangkok! I’m working on topping this for 2016!
Impressive Local Sight
As you know, I’m lucky enough to live in one of the greatest cities in the world, New York City. I love being able to walk through Central Park or across the Brooklyn Bridge. I can decide to see a Broadway show last minute or visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the week. By far, though, the most impressive local place I visited this year was the World Trade Center Memorial. Indeed, a very sad and difficult place to visit, yet I was so impressed by the Memorial and how well done it was. It was a place full of real accounts of that horrible day, photos, videos, and artifacts that both honors the victims and teaches future generations about 9/11. It should be a must on every New York City visitors’ list.
Best Weekend Getaway
Washington, D.C. is under 4 hours by car from New York City and is full of historical sights and museums. Pete and I had been meaning to plan this weekend trip for a long time and finally made time to visit. Washington, D.C. is a budget traveler’s delight because nearly every place is free to visit! I loved seeing the monuments along the National Mall. The Holocaust Memorial Museum was thoughtfully done and especially moving. After window-shopping and having a bite to eat in Georgetown, I loved going past the White House. It sparkled all lit up at night.
Most Significant Miles and Points Score
I earn miles and points for travel every day by paying my bills with travel rewards credit cards, using shopping portals for purchases, and dining programs when eating out. Credit card sign-up bonuses also factor into my travel hacking strategy. I have a specific plan for how I earn miles and points and don’t typically veer off-track. Back at the end of August, though, I was alerted to a 100k American Express Platinum offer by Scott over at MileValue. I had no intention of applying for a credit card at that time, let alone the Platinum American Express. But, 100k American Express Membership Rewards Points was too much to pass up. I was approved and met the minimum spend. Woo hoo! 100k points to transfer to American Express’ travel partners like Singapore Airlines! Maybe I’ll be flying Singapore’s legendary Suites Class after all!
Worst Travel Mistake
Mistakes happen to everyone! You book a return flight on the wrong date. You pack liquid toiletries in your carry-on and have to throw them all away. My worst travel mistake in 2015 was forgetting to get my Argentina Visa! Picture it. I arrive at the airport in Santiago, Chile, ready to fly to El Calafate, Argentina, only to be denied a boarding pass. The blood drained from my face and I knew I’d have to figure this out or part of my Patagonia itinerary would be ruined. Luckily, a kind stranger and airline employee graciously stepped in by helping me secure the visa online and continue along without any problems. I am forever grateful for this man’s act of kindness and for showing (yet again) that most people are inherently good.
Most Eye-Opening Experience
My visit this fall to Haiti was by far the most eye-opening and difficult place to see and visit. I traveled there with a few teachers from the school where I teach to work with teachers and students there. The children begging outside the temples at Angkor Wat certainly illustrated the poverty in Cambodia. However, it was nothing compared to the scenes of dire poverty I walked through in Haiti. Basic needs like food and shelter are not a guarantee. Clean drinking water, sanitation systems, and electricity are noticeably absent in many areas. The children I met compelled me to be in the moment with them by appearing completely unaware of their impoverished surroundings. Instead, they focused on getting to know and playing with me and I happily followed their lead. This lesson will be with me always.
Most Thrilling Wildlife Experience
It was an unbelievable experience to walk among the herds of elephants at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand and learn each of their stories. I am a total animal lover and it was absolutely thrilling to feed, bathe, and just be with these incredible animals. I admired their resilience after having survived horrible abuses. I smiled at the unbridled joy they displayed while they played in the river and rolled in the mud at the sanctuary. To anyone who thinks riding an elephant is the ultimate experience, I challenge you to spend time with these animals and truly see how much more wonderful it is to observe them and understand why you should NOT ride them.
When my alarm clock went off at 4 a.m., I thought surely this must be some cruel joke played on tourists who venture to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I stumbled through getting ready and only began to come out of my haze as the warm wind hit my face from the back of the tuk-tuk as I sped toward Angkor Wat to see the sunrise. Everyone swarms to this spot to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat and it’s hard not to wonder whether or not jockeying for proper position among a sea of cameras and selfie-sticks at this ungodly hour is worth it. The sun’s first light over the stupas reflecting on the sky above and the pond below quickly silences any doubts.
“Pinch Me” Moment of the Year
This was such a difficult choice! I’ve been so fortunate to have seen and done so much this year. My thoughts, though, continue to come back to one day. I couldn’t believe where I was and what I was doing. I’m not much for bucket lists, but this experience helped me understand how it must feel to cross something off the list. Traveling by bus to Los Glaciares National Park outside of El Calafate, Argentina, I didn’t fully grasp what I was about to see. On the boat approaching Perito Moreno Glacier and then later when I had trekked onto the glacier to a point where I was totally surrounded by ice, I had to stop and pinch myself as I tried to take the whole experience in.
Most Breathtaking Landscape
I bet you’re thinking what could possibly top Perito Moreno Glacier, in terms of beauty. I thought the exact same as I left the glacier. The hiking in El Chalten, Argentina was absolutely stunning with the fall colors putting on a brilliant show. The Angkor Temples in Cambodia set in and among the jungle were incredible.
But, Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park is breathtaking and without compare. In 2015, it was the most beautiful landscape my eyes set upon. The world certainly has so many gorgeous places, but I’m not quite sure what could take its place. The mountains, glacier-fed lakes, and arid landscape set against blue skies is dramatic and unrivaled. If I am able, I will return. It’s that breathtaking.
Thank you 2015 for an absolutely priceless year! Here’s to fabulous travel in 2016!
What are your priceless travel reflections of 2015?
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