Blue Dolphins Apartments, Santorini, Greece
Greece, Hawaii, Mexico, Oregon, Travel, Washington

My 10 Most Memorable Travel Moments of 2017

As usual, I surprised myself with how much I traveled this year. I guess all those travel quotes are true when they say that the travel bug is with you for life.

Because no matter how many times I say “I’m going to travel less this year!” it simply never works out that way.

Not that I’m complaining. I feel incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to do so much traveling in the first place. And this year wasn’t exactly a slow one.

I took one solo trip at the start of the year and welcomed new travel buddies for the rest of them.

I flew less than recent years and took more road trips. I stayed closer to home. I revisited some places I truly love. My year in travel was nothing short of incredible.

But since I can’t recount every single story here, I narrowed it down to my top ten highlights; the little moments that made each trip particularly memorable.

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed reliving them. 

1. A Temazcal Spa in the Sierra Madres

My year in travel started off with a bang–by January 2nd, I was bound for Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico, to spend the first two months of the year there.

I’d had an opportunity to visit Oaxaca City the year before, but had chosen Tulum on the Yucatán Peninsula instead. For a variety of reasons, however, Oaxaca still called to me and thus, this trip was born.

One of the few suggestions I received was to go hiking in Los Pueblos Mancomunados while I was there. I hadn’t the slightest inclination what this meant at the time, but I put the idea in my back pocket and planned to look into it upon arrival.

In the city, I connected with several other bloggers who were spending time there and quickly formed my own little community.

The weeks flew by and before I knew it, the end of my stay was approaching. My new friend Susan informed me that she and two others were planning a trip to Los Pueblos Mancomunados, and would I like to join them?

Hiking in Los Pueblos Mancomunados, Oaxaca State

My answer was yes, of course!

We’d be hiking for two days through a commonwealth of indigenous villages in the Sierra Madre range, led by local guides. We’d spend one night in a village called Latuvi.

The whole excursion turned out to be an experience to remember, but the temazcal spa in Latuvi was most memorable for me (and I’m guessing my new friends, too).

A temazcal spa is a sweat lodge–a pre-Hispanic indigenous tradition that is intended for more than just physical rejuvenation; it is meant to cleanse the mind and spirit, as well.

Housed in an adobe oven (yes, they told us we were going to sit in an oven), hot volcanic rocks are doused in an herbal infusion, releasing a purifying steam into the air. The space is sealed and completely dark throughout.

An experienced shaman typically chants and guides you through a spiritual journey while you sweat out your physical impurities.

Or at least, this was the experience I thought we’d be having that night.

Our temazcal experience turned out to be something of a comedy of errors more than anything else.

Hiking in Los Pueblos Mancomunados, Oaxaca State

For starters, we misunderstood the instructions to bring a dry pair of underwear to put on afterward and instead walked to the spa in nothing but our underwear (and wrapped in some warm blankets we’d been provided).

Then, the spa experience itself fell sort of flat. First, we were swatted with an assortment of aromatic herbs as we entered the adobe oven one by one.

Once inside, rather than a transcendental spiritual journey with the heavy involvement of a local shaman, we were left to sweat it out for 45 minutes–you know, the kind of sweat that leaves you questioning if you’re actually submerged in water?

Given that we’d spent the entire day hiking, it certainly felt nice to our sore muscles, but I guess I’d had higher expectations.

Following the sweat sesh, we received massages (some more intimate than others), but since none of us had dry clothes to change into, we got cold very quickly, and the relaxation from the warmth of the spa wore off in an instant.

We laughed about the whole misadventure for weeks after the fact, and you can be sure it’s one I’ll never forget.

2. Mom’s First Passport Stamps

When my mom and I officially booked our tickets to Greece in the fall of 2016, I’m pretty sure I was 1000x more excited than her. In spite of the fact that she’d never been abroad before, and in spite of the fact that she single-handedly picked our destination.

“WE’RE GOING TO GREEEEEECE!” I shouted at her, repeatedly.

She clinked wine glasses with me and smiled.

“It just hasn’t sunk in yet,” she would tell me again and again in the weeks and months that followed.

It wasn’t until the actual day of our first flight from Seattle to London that I could tell it was really starting to become real for her–she was taking her FIRST EVER trip overseas!

Mother-Daughter Trip of a Lifetime

The smile she wore that day is one I will cherish until the day I die. It was half nervous, half thrilled. It’s how I feel every time I travel and to finally share that experience with her was the most gratifying thing I could have imagined.

When we arrived in London for our long layover, I couldn’t wait to leave the airport so her passport could be officially christened, just a year and a half before its expiration date.

The trip itself was special and memorable for many reasons, but those little passport stamps symbolized so much more. A new chapter, a new confidence, a new eagerness to experience the world beyond what she knows.

I can’t wait for our next mother-daughter trip!

3. Stumbling Upon a Hidden Restaurant in Athens, Greece

There were so many amazing moments in Greece that it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few favorites, but one that stands out is the day we stumbled upon an amazing restaurant hidden in the narrow alleyways on the north side of the Acropolis.

We’d been exploring the Acropolis on a cool, cloudy day, and seeing as we’d already been hungry when we arrived, we were feeling ravenous by the time we left.

Thankfully, my mom’s style of travel is on par with mine–make no plans and just see what happens. Which is exactly how we discovered Klepsydra (which means ‘hourglass’ in Greek, I just learned).

Mother-Daughter trip to Athens, Greece

‘Charming’ doesn’t even begin to describe this place. Lights strung up everywhere, colorful woven seat covers, too many tiny tables spilling into the alley, potted plants surrounding it all.

I ordered a vegetarian yemista (stuffed tomatoes and peppers) and she had the special of the day, a fresh-caught fish whose name is escaping me now.

We paired these dishes with afternoon cocktails (because vacation) and enjoyed the view of the neighborhood that stretched down the hillside below us.

It was sweet, unexpected, and delightful in its simplicity.

4. A Rainy Night In On Santorini

Because we traveled to Santorini in the low season (March), there were many instances in which we were left with few options for dining.

In fact, our first day on the island, we ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant of all places because it appeared to be one of the only things open at the time. And we had to sidestep construction workers, piles of gravel, and heavy machinery just to get there.

Across the street, we noticed a gift shop, so we decided to pop in for a bottle of wine and some bread and cheese to snack on as an appetizer before dinner.

Once back at our hotel room, we bundled ourselves in warmer clothes. It was winter, after all, and that day the rain clouds descended on the island right around the time the sun went down–a double whammy of cold.

Blue Dolphins Apartments, Santorini, Greece

When we started to feel hungry for dinner, we peeked out the window and decided it wasn’t worth it to brave the cold.

So, we opened our wine, cut up some delicious brie, filled a small plate with herb-infused olive oil, and settled in on the bed for “dinner.”

With nothing good on the local cable channels, I set up my laptop instead and queued up a marathon of FRIENDS episodes.

We drank, we laughed, and we had the best time going nowhere and doing absolutely nothing.

It was such a simple, unpretentious moment on our trip and in the end, it turned into one of my favorite memories of all–sharing good food with good company, in a beautiful (albeit rainy) place halfway around the world from home.

5. The Raynaud’s Attack

I’m sure you’ve heard the idea that traveling with a significant other is a good way to see if you’re really compatible or if your relationship is going to last, and I couldn’t agree more.

Which is why I was so excited for Hans and I to take our first trip together. I couldn’t imagine us not getting along–we’re kind of the same person in a lot of ways. I mean, on our very first date, he told me “You’re a female me.”

So, I had high expectations for a fun first travel experience with the male version of me.

Since our birthdays are just one month apart, we decided to celebrate jointly at the halfway point in mid-April.

We found a cute little cabin in Cannon Beach, a town on the Oregon coast that was a 6-hour drive from our place in Central Washington. It was perfect for two people, and just a block from the beach. We booked it for a three-day stay in the middle of the week.

Airbnb in Cannon Beach, Oregon

We were fortunate to be within walking distance of the famous Haystack Rock. We knew we wanted to visit the tidepools, so we made our way to the beach one overcast and windy day while the tide was at its lowest point.

Pacific Northwest beaches are never really warm, but for whatever reason, I thought my canvas sneakers would be a good shoe option for this outing (Mistake #1). And as a long-time sufferer of Raynaud’s Disease, I really should have known better.

If you’ve never heard of this affliction before, it means that the vessels and arteries that supply blood to my fingers and toes go into spasm under stress or when exposed to cold temperatures. It affects each person differently, but for me, it’s usually extremely painful.

So, we’re exploring the beach on a cold and windy day, wandering near the tide pools of Haystack Rock. There are a number of other people around so we decide to ask someone to take a photo for us.

We turn our backs to the rising tide (Mistake #2) and pose for the picture, and the guy taking the photo proceeds to snap away as the approaching wave sneaks up behind us and overtakes us.

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon

A laughable moment at the time, but not even ten minutes later, my wet canvas sneakers paired with the cold air resulted in the most severe Raynaud’s spasm I’ve EVER experienced.

Suddenly, walking became painful and difficult–so much so that the idea of hoofing it back to our cabin roughly one mile away seemed out of the question…and yet imperative at the same time.

Thankfully, my sweet beau came to my rescue, hoisting me onto his back for nearly the entire walk back.

It took about ten minutes of soaking my frozen feet (which had turned stark white by then) under a hot shower for them to come back to life, but as I sat there on the bathroom floor with my feet in the water, I looked up at my kind, selfless, and loving man with the sneaking suspicion that he’d be around for a long time to come.

6. The Inaugural (And Only) Trip With Ginger

Some of you may remember Ginger, the beautifully renovated camper that we bought on a whim in June of this year (or was it May? I don’t even remember, it all happened so fast).

She was beautiful, and we loved her. She was a Ford F-250 with a cabover camper, fully equipped with a queen-sized bed, full kitchen, tons of storage space, and a stained glass mule on the back window (the icing on the cake, amirite?).

But truth be told, the decision was made pretty hastily and we definitely didn’t think it through.

All we knew was that we’d been thinking about taking our life on the road, and this camper just seemed to fall into our laps–it was being sold by Hans’ friend and he needed to get rid of it quickly since he was moving, so he offered us a good deal.

As far as we could tell, it was fate!

Our camper, Ginger, in Wenatchee, Washington

And before we knew it, we were camper owners.

Fast forward a few months, and we still hadn’t made time to take Ginger on her inaugural trip. Weekends were often busy (you know how the summer goes) and we couldn’t seem to settle on the perfect destination.

Finally, we decided to just do the damn thing, and Winthrop (a small mountain town in the North Cascades) seemed to fit the bill. It was beautiful, not too far away (in the event that something went wrong), and there were plenty of campsites in the area.

The weekend got off to a slow and hilarious start that would prove to be indicative of the whole trip.

It was already 11 am by the time we hit the gas station to fuel up for the drive. Around the same time, we noticed an unusual amount of smoke coming off the engine, so we stopped in at an auto shop just to make sure nothing was going to explode in our old truck’s engine.

We finally got out of town around noon–not exactly the early start we’d hoped for, and somewhat nerve-wracking since we’d recently learned that Winthrop was hosting a music festival that weekend and campsites would be harder to come by than usual.

So there existed a small chance that we’d get there and have to turn right back around to come home. But really, isn’t that how every good adventure starts?

We rolled into Winthrop and made a beeline for Klipchuck Campground where we thankfully had no trouble securing a spot. Then, we hit the town.

Even though we spent almost no time at all in our actual campsite (or the camper for that matter), we had a great time exploring Winthrop, making new friends (with whom we would travel to Joshua Tree National Park later in the year), and learning that the camper life isn’t really for us.

Camping in Winthrop, Washington

Ginger turned out to be something of a gas hog, getting a pretty abysmal 10 miles to the gallon; but we’d also had grand visions of living the van life, and a camper just didn’t live up to those visions.

Above all, it was a learning experience. We learned not to make big purchases on a whim for starters, and we also learned that the van life will be there when we’re ready for it, so there’s no need to rush.

7. The Hawaiian Engagement

This year was pretty fantastic all around, but it hit a high note when we were in Maui.

We were on day three of the trip, cruising along the Honoapiilani Highway in the Volkswagen Westfalia we’d rented. The sun was setting, and I wanted to get some snaps on the beach before we returned the van the next day.

But the rapidly fading daylight transformed the photographer in me from easy breezy to frantic and terse and what should have been a nice moment deteriorated into a lover’s quarrel instead.

Not my best moment, I’ll admit. And as we finally pulled onto the beach after our lengthy search for the perfect spot, I was reminded of just how powerful and untrustworthy my mind can be in times of stress.

In my mind, I was CERTAIN that Hans was reconsidering our relationship at that point–that I’d demanded too much of him and pushed him to his breaking point.

So as I set up the van for a photo opp in the final minutes of daylight, Hans took a short walk to “think about some stuff” and I basically expected to be single by the end of the evening.

As we sat on the back of the van, I did my best to stop panicking and enjoy the moment. I was in Hawaii with my best friend, after all.

Traveling in a campervan in Maui

Hans sat to my left, the setting sun to my right. I looked over my right shoulder for a brief moment, and upon turning back toward Hans, he produced a small glittery box. THE box.

As he held it out toward me, he slowly pried it open. My eyes must have been the size of saucers, glancing at the ring, then at him, then back at the ring, and so forth.

The best I could do was set down the glass that had been in my hand and stammer “Are you sure??”

The words every guy wants to hear, no doubt.

He laughed and reassured me that yes, he was sure, and in one effortless motion, hopped off the van and onto one knee in the sand.

I think, in my state of shock, I actually forgot to say the word “Yes” and instead shook my head vigorously, called him a son of a bitch, and began to cry.

I’d never been so surprised by anything, ever. In one of my ugliest moments, he showed me he loved me, and that he would love me forever–no matter how demanding and unreasonable I can be at times.

After we’d both had a good cry, we ran to the water to catch the last of the fiery sunset sky. We asked a kind stranger to snap a photo for us as we grinned from ear to ear like kids who just got their first puppy.

Newly engaged in Maui

That night, October 19th, we celebrated over a lovely, low-key dinner in Lahaina.

8. UFO Sightings Over Area 51

We’ve seen a lot of interesting things in the sky this year, but none really compare to our experience driving through the vast deserts of Nevada near Area 51.

It’s mid-November, and we’re on our way to Joshua Tree National Park for a yoga and rock climbing retreat. We’re planning to spend the night prior to our arrival in Las Vegas. We’ve been on the road all day, having spent the last night in Boise, Idaho.

If you’ve never driven this isolated stretch of highway in eastern Nevada, let me tell you, it’s something spectacular. Otherworldly in its remoteness; unsettling in its barrenness.

It’s just two lanes. There are dramatic mountains in every direction, stretching as far as the eye can see. The speed limit is 80 mph, which somehow doesn’t even feel fast.

The resources are few and far between; you wouldn’t want your car to break down when the nearest town is 100 miles away.

Driving through the Nevada desert

So, we’re driving down this secluded highway and it’s getting dark. By 7 pm, it’s pitch black. Street lights aren’t really a thing in this area, so unless we’re passing other cars, there’s no ambient light to be had.

The stars come out in full force, and we train our eyes on the sky.

It doesn’t take long before shit starts to get weird.

First, it was just small stuff. Lights that don’t look like airplanes, don’t move like airplanes, and are too numerous to be airplanes.

Then, floating golden orbs that appeared from nowhere above the horizon, lighting up sequentially before disappearing just as quickly into the black night.

It’s almost overload at times–too many anomalies in too short a time.

Then, as we’re approaching Las Vegas and can begin to see the glow of city lights, a green fireball flies through the sky to our left, making a short arc before crashing and casting an explosion of light that rises above the mountain, along with a BOOM that seemed to shake everything in the vicinity, us included.

Now, we have no explanation for any of this. And we’ll likely never really know what it was we saw in the Nevada desert that night.

But we’re believers. Believers in extraterrestrial life, believers in secret government projects, believers in the existence of technology beyond our wildest imaginations.

And we believe, too, that this is only the beginning.

9. Conquering Fears in Joshua Tree National Park

Let’s be honest–nobody likes facing their fears. It’s uncomfortable, and, excuse me for stating the obvious here, but it’s scary as hell. But if we’re even more honest still, it’s imperative for us to face our fears. It’s how we grow and move forward in life.

So when we decided to go rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, I knew I was in for one hell of a ride.

I’d only been rock climbing in the great outdoors one time before, in my early 20s. Aside from that, I’d made a few visits to rock climbing gyms with Hans (who’s something of a rock climbing enthusiast himself) only to realize that OH WAIT HEIGHTS ARE REALLY TERRIFYING.

My palms get sweaty just thinking about it.

Rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

And little did I know, but our guide had no intentions of babying us on this trip. The routes may have been easy enough for Hans, but for me, it was akin to being thrown into the deep end of the pool in order to learn how to swim.

It’s the scariest way you can possibly go about it, but it’s arguably the fastest way to conquer your fear, too. Some call this ‘exposure therapy’ and to its credit, it does work.

So, our very first day of climbing involved some seriously steep pitches, windy conditions, and more nervous sweating than I care to admit.

It was a serious test of my physical stamina in addition to the mental battle that was raging inside my head: “Don’t look down. Don’t look down. DON’T DO IT.”

We climbed three different features that day, ending on a route named Cyclops. Ironically, even though I’d already completed two routes, it was this third climb that proved to be the most challenging by far.

I was tired. My knees were shaking and my hands were torn up from the jagged granite. I wanted to give up.

But with some gentle encouragement from Hans and our guide Mark, I summoned the resolve to finish that damn climb, and proceeded to burst into tears immediately afterward.

Rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

Was I proud of myself? I mean, yeah, of course. But it was also seriously emotional, and in that moment, all I could think about was getting off that stupid rock.

So, maybe I don’t have a future in rock climbing. And that’s okay. But, I’m glad I was able to face my fear–at times more gracefully than others–and come out the other side an even stronger person than before.

Now I KNOW what I’m capable of accomplishing, and there’s no excuse to underestimate myself.

10. Hans’ America’s Got Talent Audition in Las Vegas

Among the many, many reasons I know Hans is the person for me, his humility stands out.

If you were to meet my sweet fiancé, you might never know that he’s an incredibly talented musician. He can sing like nobody’s business–he’s even performed at Carnegie Hall! He can play at least seven different instruments, and he has perfect pitch.

But he’ll be the last to tell you any of this. And it’s not because he doesn’t believe in himself, but because he’s just that humble.

In the very same breath, he’s passionate about following his heart (which just happens to be filled with music at any given moment).  So imagine how proud I was when I found out he’d decided to travel to Las Vegas in December to audition for America’s Got Talent.

Hans' America's Got Talent Audition in Las Vegas

But this story is about more than just following his own dreams. The audition was actually just a ploy to get his mom back into the dating world after his parents’ divorce 15 years ago.

You see, they had an agreement:

If he went on a singing reality show, she’d go on a date.

So, flying to Las Vegas wasn’t just an attempt to land his moment of fame–that was actually the last thing on his mind. His mom had already started dating again (yeah Johnette!!) so really, the trip was just icing on the cake.

The five of us (myself, Hans, his mom, and his two sisters) spent three days at the Rio where the auditions were being held. When the day of the audition rolled around, we kept Hans company in the holding room where hundreds of people awaited their turn to show off their talents.

Some were more talented than others. Some were eclectic, and others were straight up weird. It was some of the best people watching I’ve done all year.

But the best part of the whole experience was seeing the smile on Hans’ face afterward, a sure sign that he’d absolutely nailed his audition.

Not to mention I’ve been a solo traveler for so long that it was nice to travel for someone else for a change. I had no agenda on this trip other than to support Hans in any way necessary, and that in itself was hugely fulfilling.

Regardless of what happens from here, I’m proud of the selfless, modest person that he is. I’m proud to be his person, and I’m proud of him for having the courage to relentlessly pursue a dream.

What were your favorite travel moments of 2017?

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3 Comments

  • Reply Sophia Grace December 27, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    Hi Leah,

    Thanks for sharing these great & memorable moments with your audience. These are really appreciable moments.

    Hope to see more amazing & unforgettable moments of yours in 2018 !

  • Reply Lisa December 29, 2017 at 6:17 am

    Hi Leah,

    Those are some amazing moments indeed! I especially loved reading the stories of your engagement and the America’s Got Talent Audition. He sounds like a keeper 🙂

    My favorite travel moment of 2017 was when my brother and I flew to Italy to celebrate my dad’s 50th birthday. It was very low-key, but I really enjoyed spending time with family at Lake Garda. Especially because we always used to go there on holidays when my brother and I were little, so it was kinda nostalgic.
    Lisa recently posted…The timeless charm of RigaMy Profile

  • Reply Bella WW January 3, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    What an amazing year you had, especially the proposal! OMG, so beautiful!
    Bella WW recently posted…My 2017 travelsMy Profile

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