My Best (and Worst) Travel Moments of 2016
It’s that time year again. There’s just one more day left in 2016 and I thought I’d take a bit of time to look back on where I’ve been this year. The year was fairly light on international travel but I still managed to visit Nicaragua, Nashville, New York, London, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Not too bad for not being a full-time traveller. In every year, there are ups and downs so I thought I’d share a few of my memorable ones with you.
Finding My Dream Leather Jacket in NYC
I was on the hunt for a black leather moto jacket in New York, as there is maybe a single store in St. John’s that might carry such a fashion staple. I wanted real leather and good quality but my budget was limited. After visiting a couple shops and finding jackets that were close, but not quite right I was about to give up. Then came Topshop.
I saw a great looking jacket at the right price but a quick flip through the rack had me walking away since they had a size 8 and a 12 but no 10. So close. I looked around some more at all the pretty, pretty clothes and then came back to the jackets. I couldn’t leave without at least trying the 8 on. Bingo! It actually fit like a dream, including the sleeves. Long sleeves are always a battle for this tall, long-armed girl. I still sometime hug my jacket and breath in the amazing leather smell.
I love clothes, I love shopping, and I love New York so this fashion score ranks on my travel memories of this year.
Discovering New Views in Twillingate
I was invited to Twillingate, NL for the Unscripted Twillingate Digital Arts Festival back in September. It was a four-day festival featuring workshops about podcasting, digital filmmaking, photography, publishing, and more. I had been to this part of the island once before, but at least 20 years ago and all I could remember was that we’d gone to a dinner theatre.
One thing I didn’t expect was how beautiful Twillingate and the surrounding area was. It’s a 6-hour drive from St. John’s so it’s not somewhere that I could go on a day or weekend trip. The town sits on a small island, surrounded by a cluster of other islands. I took advantage of the few breaks between sessions to go explore new parts of town. At every turn it seems like another gorgeous vista opened up.
During one exploratory jaunt, I turned the corner and the sun was setting, light bouncing off a boat bobbing in the water, sea birds circling overhead. I actually exclaimed out loud to the empty car, “Are you kidding me?”
Now I can’t wait to find a way back there. I may have even come home and looked up real estate in Twillingate. ;)
PBRs and Honky Tonk in Nashville
Thanks to getting bumped off a flight in 2015, I had some airline credit to use in 2016. While I was in Toronto this spring, I thought it would be the perfect time to cash it in on a few days in Nashville, since United no longer flies out of Newfoundland.
Each night there I would cruise up and down Broadway looking for a cool bar to hang out in, but each night I returned to Robert’s Western World. I wasn’t in the mood for new country and that seemed to be what every other place had going on. I just liked the classic vibe at Robert’s.
The fried bologna sandwich, chips, and PBR combo for $5 amused me (and made a good late night snack). Since I was pinching pennies on this trip I decided to stick with drinking $2.50 PBRs after that, plus it somehow seemed to fit the dive bar/give no fucks attitude and the classic Western music. I have a memory of sitting on a bar stool at a table with strangers turned friends for the evening, listening to the Tennessee High Top All Stars do their thing and being overcome with one of those solo travel contentment moments.
Yep, PBRs and Honky Tonk in Nashville are the way to go.
Beer Tasting in Brussels
There’s something about a shared activity in a strange town that can make friends out of strangers. I always like to find a tour or activity when I’m travelling solo – not only can I learn something new but it makes it easier to strike up conversation and maybe make a new travel friend. Though I wasn’t travelling solo in Belgium, my friend and I decided to sign ourselves up for a beer tasting event in Brussels.
As the beer flowed, we found ourselves making friends with the folks in our group. So much so, that a half dozen of us stuck around after the official tour ended and continued to sample beers on our own at Delirium Cafe. There was a woman from England, a young American guy in the military stationed in Germany, and a Korean/Hong Kong couple from Melbourne on their honeymoon. We exchanged contacts, promised to follow each other on Facebook, and poured out our life stories over hops, yeast, and barley.
One of the things I love about travel is those spontaneous travel friends. J and I even ran into D&J, the newlyweds, at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam days later. What are the odds?
Between my new appreciation of Belgian beer and getting to make those connections with other humans, it was one of my top travel moments from 2016.
Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua
The coolest thing I’ve done in the past year was to toboggan down the side of the youngest active volcano in Central America. Yes, I’m talking about volcano boarding at Cerro Negro, outside Leon, Nicaragua.
Despite my swollen, blistered, sunburned legs (see below), I still managed (with some help from a guide) to get myself and my gear to the top of the trail, suit up, and race to the bottom of the 45 degree pitch…all without injuring myself! W00t!
Beyond the temporary thrill of wooshing down a pile of pebble, I got the ongoing thrill of knowing that I did something that a younger me would never have dreamed of. I was able to overcome some overthinking and travel fears and check off a bucket list item.
As much as we like to complain about 2016, when I tried to think of bad things that had happened while I was travelling, I really couldn’t come up with more than a few. I’m thankful that no major catastrophes befell me.
I could complain about feeling the need to pinch my pennies so much this summer that I brought bags of groceries to a 5-night press trip and cooked ramen and breakfast sandwiches with a hotel room clothes iron. Or I could complain about having a flight cancelled three times in the space of 12 hours threatening my one Blue Jays game of the year and having to shell out $400 for the last seat on an alternative airline. Or I could complain about having some much looked forward to plans with a dear friend cancelled last minute once I was already in town, leaving me alone and feeling lonely and dejected. But, in hindsight, those things are all quite minor. The hotel cooking led to a funny story. I made the game and the plans were made up for.
There is just one incident though that still leaves me shuddering at the mere thought of it.
Worst Sunburn Ever in Nicaragua
I know, I know, I got a sunburn in a tropical place. Boo hoo. I made the incredible rookie mistake of having a slight breeze and cloud cover, plus the body temperature cooling effect of floating in an inner tube on Laguna d’Apoyo, lull me into forgetting to reapply my sunscreen. For about two hours…
How bad could it be? Well… when I got out of the water I started to think that maybe I was a bit burnt. By the time the shuttle picked me up to head back into Granada I knew I was burnt and my skin was feeling warm, dry, and tight. The next morning my legs and arms were red and white and my ankles a bit swollen. Two days later the blisters arrived.
I did a bit of Googling and yep… I was looking at a second degree sunburn. Thankfully, it wasn’t accompanied by a fever or nausea…except when I’d go back to Google. Sometimes Dr. Google sucks.
For the rest of my trip, I wore long pants or maxi skirts and kept my legs and arms covered in sunscreen and aloe vera gel. I also had to cut back on the number of Tonas that I was drinking since I could tell that alcohol was making the leg swelling that already forced me into mid-afternoon hotel legs-up-the-wall yoga time, even worse.
Despite that I still managed to go surfing, zip lining, horseback riding, Sunday Funday-ing, and volcano boarding. The sunburn had the power to really make me feel miserable and drag me down into the doldrums but I’m proud of the way I handled it. I had one woe-is-me day in San Juan del Sur where I did little but read books and watch Netflix in a rooftop hammock, but otherwise I sucked it up and got on with it.
I love how travel has given me the tools to deal with situations like this, at home or abroad. Younger me would’ve just cried.
So while we’re all cursing 2016 and can’t wait for it to be over, when I look back, I had more positive travel memories than negative, and that’s all I can ask for.