2013 will go down in my life’s history as a year of travel and dream-fulfilling. This 2013 recap of my year is a bit late, but better now than never, right? (And seriously, how is it already half-way through January?!)
The start of 2013 found me ringing in the New Year in Queenstown, New Zealand. If you haven’t been to “middle earth” yet, I suggest you go ASAP. It’s a land of mystical green-mossed trees, soaring glacial skylines and teal waters that lap against forests and rugged beaches.
The biggest defining moment of 2013 for me came a couple weeks later when I walked into my boss’ office and put in my two weeks notice. I was ready for the challenges and freedom of entrepreneurship and my burgeoning freelance career for travel writing and marketing, which I had been building up over the previous year and a half, was going to let me achieve it.
My last day at my job was on January 25. The benefits of having a flexible work environment were immediately put into effect. I flew to Boston at the beginning of February to visit my sister, Jacole, before she moved to Cambodia, and I got to Boston just in time for the big snowstorm of 2013.
After I left Boston, Jacole decided to do a last minute trip to Montana to see our relatives before she moved overseas and I joined her, working on client projects from my grandparents kitchen table
February gave me an opportunity to have some more snow fun in Park City, Utah, when Tom and I went on a ski trip to the area with some of Tom’s friends from college. I hadn’t been to Utah before and loved it!
In March, I had another guidebook published. I partnered up with David’s Been Here at the end of 2012 to turn my online one day itineraries into more extensive guidebooks published on Amazon Kindle. The guidebooks are ideal for cruisers, city jumpers, business travelers who want to squeeze in some touring, or anyone who finds themselves short on time in a destination and wants to get as much culture and sightseeing out of it as possible. One Day in Rome was the first book published and is still one of my top sellers.
I decided to spend the summer of 2013 researching cities for new guidebooks and the spring of 2013 was spent planning out a 7-week Europe itinerary and pitching hotels and restaurants. My longtime dream of an extended Europe trip was coming to fruition.
Before Europe occurred, though, I had a couple other trips to take care of. The beginning of 2013 was an exciting time for Tom’s and my relationship because it was the beginning of his last semester of business school. Though the end was near, three years of balancing seemingly never ending school work with a full time and demanding engineering job was taking its toll and Tom was in desperate need to unwind for a few days. So we decided to make his last ever Spring Break count and booked a trip to our favorite resort chain, Zoetry. We had been to Zoetry Punta Cana for our honeymoon in 2012 and loved it so this time we decided to check out Zoetry’s Riviera Maya property, Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita. It was five days of utter relaxation with a small bit of adventure scuba diving in a cenote.
After Mexico, my next trip was to Nantucket with my mom to visit my Uncle Dean who was a chef on Nantucket and his fiance (now wife!) Kate. First though, my mom and I explored Providence, Rhode Island, before taking the boat over to Nantucket. Mom and I were in Nantucket shortly before the tourists arrived and it was a peaceful, fun time to be there. Shops and restaurants were just starting to open again for the high season, yet the island was still completely devoid of crowds.
Next up for my travels was Toronto in June for the TBEX North America conference. This was my second TBEX and after singing the praises of the Keystone TBEX in 2012, my sister Angela decided to join as she had just launched her blog, Living the Big Sky. We had an absolute blast touring the city, meeting new people, and learning tips and tricks for travel blogging at the TBEX sessions.
After TBEX the countdown to leaving home for 8 weeks was on (I was spending a week in the Midwest visiting family and friends before flying out from Minneapolis to Europe). But life threw an exciting curveball first in the form of home ownership. The right house came up in the right neighborhood at the right time…and suddenly we had made the big decision to buy a house!
We moved in five days before I left for two months. It was a stressful time to say the least, but an exhilarating time — and involved more than one all-nighters to move, paint, and get everything unpacked and situated for our house sitters (Tom was spending the week in the Midwest with me) and when the paint was barely dry on our new house, Tom and I boarded a plane for Michigan.
After a few days visiting his family, we were off to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, to watch one of my college roomies — and a study abroad buddy — tie the knot amidst the serene setting that is Minnesota lake life.
Soon, I was in Minneapolis at my mom’s house saying goodbye to Tom, which was much harder than I thought it was going to be. I had the excitement of my Europe trip, but it was going to be the longest Tom and I had ever been apart and I was beginning to wonder what I was going to do without him as he’s my rock, a calming force for my sometimes chaotic brain. I knew how was lucky I was, though, to have a supportive husband who gave me his blessing to leave him behind for nearly two months and chase my dreams.
Since Tom had to work, I invited another one of the rocks in my life, my mom, to be my travel partner for the summer. She is a a teacher who had the summer off and was totally amped for some new travel adventures. My mom proved to be an excellent travel partner as she would take photos while I spent time taking notes and talking to hotel managers and restaurant owners, or she would notice something about a museum or monument that I had missed, and she would always do my laundry so I could work on client projects, plus she always shared her food with me.
Mom was awesome to have along and definitely helped me balance working while on the road, which was much more challenging than I thought it was going to be.
We traveled to Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Spain. Stories of these travels have been appearing on this blog and will continue to do so. I got a lot of great information for my guidebooks, a few of which were published at the end of the year. Several more are coming out at the end of next month.
The highlight of my Europe trip came toward the end of the trip when I was in Croatia. My great-grandma was born in Bacina Lakes, Croatia, and lived there before emigrating to the United States when she was 14. My two sisters flew out for the Croatia portion of my Europe travels and the two of them, my mom, and I climbed up into the hills one hot afternoon while in Bacina Lakes to visit the remains of the homestead my great-grandma, “Baba”, lived in with her mother before boarding the ship to America. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.
While in Europe, I was also in the middle of the application/interview process for a dream writing assignment of mine: being the About.com Expert for San Diego. The last week of my Europe trip I found out I got the gig! You can read my articles and tips on living in San Diego at sandiego.about.com.
Also, at the very end of my Europe trip, I got word that I was invited to speak at TBEX’s Europe conference in Dublin, Ireland, in October. I was thrilled and once I was back home (at my lovely new house I’d barely lived in yet) at the end of August I began planning out my speaker presentation and my trip to Ireland.
I was speaking on media buying in the travel industry and offering tips on best ad types to purchase, negotiation tactics, and email marketing dos and don’ts. Though my presentation was geared more toward the industry professionals who attend TBEX based off my experience as a marketing director for an online travel agency, I was pleased that there were many bloggers who came in order to take the info I was providing and basically do it backwards in order to successfully sell ads on their blogs. I was also quite excited that the room was nearly full as prior to leaving for Dublin I kept saying to Tom “what if no one comes to my session?!” He told me to relax and stop worrying and that people would come, and — as usual — he was right.
After the conference was over, I rented a car and drove to the west side of Ireland. It was my first time driving on the left side of the road (besides the 10 minutes I drove in New Zealand before Tom shouted at me to pull over because he was convinced I was going to kill us). Luckily, no car accidents occurred in Ireland despite having to drive on lots of narrow, one-way roads through the Ring of Kerry and city driving through Kilkenny. Ireland was also the first time in many years that I did solo traveling. It was surprisingly enjoyable and felt almost meditative. A post will be coming this year that delves into that more. Prior to the conference, I also went on a press trip to Limerick that proved just how fun group travel can be (post coming on that as well).
As cheesy as it sounds, Ireland completely stole my heart and I was sad to leave it. Though I was excited to get back home to see Tom who had been very busy while I was gone…planning our Machu Picchu trip!
Yup, we were finally headed to South America to see Machu Picchu in Peru, which had been at the top of my bucket list for a decade…but kept getting pushed back. It was finally happening! And we were getting to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail, something I was quite nervous about (it’s a strenuous 4-day, 3-night hike through the Andes Mountains). However, the Inca Trail ended up being a top highlight of all my travels and I am so glad we did it instead of just taking a bus to Machu Picchu.
As much as I enjoyed Peru, something happened upon arriving home that I could barely believe and almost feels like blasphemy as a travel writer, but…I felt all traveled out. I was excited that for the first time in a long time I didn’t have a trip booked and I could just relax and enjoy San Diego. It was a really weird feeling.
That feeling only lasted a month, though, and by the beginning of December I was itching to get some travel planned. So I was excited to be invited to an event in San Diego hosted by the Maui Tourism Board and learn more about the island and how One Day in a City could work together with Maui. I was even MORE excited when, at the end of the night, my business card was selected out of the drawing for a free trip to Maui, airfare included — for two! Tom was equally excited about this one. So yup, in 2014 one trip that will be happening for Tom, me, and One Day in a City is Hawaii!
A few days later Tom surprised me with a weekend getaway for my birthday to one of my favorite places on earth, the Santa Ynez Valley in California’s Central Coast. We had a leisurely two days of decadent meals and delightful wine tasting. It seems every time we go to Santa Ynez we find a new favorite winery. This time we discovered Qupé — I especially loved their Syrahs.
Our last trip of the year was to Michigan for Christmas. Our past two Christmases were spent in Thailand and New Zealand so it was nice to be with family again for the holidays and we enjoyed just simply hanging out with loved ones next to the Christmas tree. I was also quite thankful the Polar Vortex decided not to hit until AFTER we flew back home to San Diego.
December also saw the beginning of a network marketing venture for me, Rodan + Fields, a skincare line from the creators of Proactiv. I love the products as they’ve helped improve my skin texture and clarity and as a result I don’t need to wear so much concealer and foundation (which I especially hate doing when traveling) and so I decided to start selling them to make some extra funds for traveling. I’ll admit I was a bit weary of joining a direct selling company, but it’s been quite a fun company to be a part of so far and I enjoy seeing people’s surprise after discovering the products actually work!
My 2013 ended perfectly in my beloved home of San Diego at a local favorite bar of mine with my hubby and some of our best friends. Despite being a travelholic, there was nowhere I would have rather been to ring in 2014. I’m excited for what this year is going to bring. A big New Year’s Resolution for me is to spend more time on this blog, so dear readers, you can expect much more regular posting — several times per week instead of per month — about my travels and balancing my marriage and freelance career with the allure of far-off places.