What a year it has been! Although things have been relatively quiet on The Kay Days for most of 2016, my travels have been more vibrant than ever. In 2016, I met my New Years goal of traveling to more countries than last year – a total of 9 countries on 4 continents. I also traveled more domestically as well, visiting 6 new states too. To accomplish this, I flew over 80,000 miles and stayed over 100 nights away from home, all while working full-time in my first post-grad job. Throughout the year, I also learned how to be an outdoorsy person (something I thought I’d never call myself), revisited one of my favorite places, and reminded myself just how much I love traveling solo.
As with every year of travel, I had my favorites…and my not-so-favorites. I traveled to over 12 new places this year, ranging from the historic halls of Boston to the rainforests of Costa Rica. Today I’ll share my superlatives from this year’s new destinations: favorites, least favorites, surprises, and all.
Home away from home: the Canadian Rockies
In May, I decided to take an impromptu trip to Banff National Park, where I found a new love of being outdoors and hiking through the mountains. Later in the year, I was lucky enough to be stationed in Calgary, Canada for a work project throughout the summer into early fall, giving me access once again to the magnificence of the Canadian Rockies.
I took advantage of this interesting situation by spending most weekends exploring the mountains, from the dark skies of Jasper all the way to the stunning valleys of Waterton Lakes. I slept in a tent more nights this year than all of the rest of the years of my life – combined. By the end of my almost 5 months there, I truly felt like I could call Calgary (and the nearby mountains) my home away from home.
Favorite cities: Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, Chile
Although I only spent half a day wandering around the city’s winding alleys, I instantly fell in love with Valparaiso’s artsy charm. Filled with creaky teleféricos and brightly-colored street art, this place is full of surprises around every corner. After exploring the streets of Valparaiso, I visited Pablo Neruda’s La Sebastiana house, full of his muses and knick-knacks, with a stunning sea view to boot.
Viña del Mar, the neighboring city, was also a beautiful and lively area. Although touristy, the rocky seaside views couldn’t have been more spectacular. The seafood, too, was incredibly fresh and flavorful. I could definitely see myself spending a week here getting lost in these neighboring seaside cities, coffee in one hand and a camera in the other.
Least favorite destination: Mount Fuji, Japan
As much as I liked actually climbing Mount Fuji, the summit and surrounding tourist areas left much to be desired. Because Mount Fuji is only open for climbing a few months out of the year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to its steep, narrow paths to reach the summit for some sunrise views. However, this also drives food and drink at the 5th station and in the mountain huts to sky-high prices, and there were several points on the path where I hit a standstill traffic jam of people due to the sheer congestion on the mountain.
I still do recommend climbing Mount Fuji for anyone who wants to give it a shot, but it’s worth it to consider that it is highly touristed and crowded during the hiking months. This is not a place to go if you want peaceful nature and silence. You won’t get by on a tight budget here, but if you’re looking to summit a mountain solo, this is a good one to tackle. Despite the congestion and the bad weather during my climb, I’m really glad I did it.
Most surprising: Detroit, Michigan
Detroit was a really interesting place for me. Prior to my visit there, I’d heard nothing but terrible things and warnings from friends. “It’s a dump,” some would say, shaking their heads, “why on Earth would you go there willingly?”
Quite frankly, what brought me to Detroit was not the city itself, but rather a concert of my favorite band in the world, Sigur Rós. Instead of ignoring the city altogether, though, I decided to try and see if there was anything interesting or exciting about this city that everyone has seemed to have already rejected.
I was pleasantly surprised. Hiding underneath areas of construction and abandonment is a budding art scene, a strange but fascinating history, and a growing population of transplants and young professionals. During my short day there, I visited the Eastern Market, wandering around the stalls and tasting samples from local artisans. I also tried a flight of liquors from the Detroit City Distillery and afterward, took my tipsy self to check out and buy a few handmade candles. The concert venue, the Fox Theatre, was also gorgeous. Painted various colors and lined with gold trim, it was a work of art in itself.
Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Detroit. I didn’t feel like I had enough time to see everything I wanted to. Would I go back just for fun? Maybe not right away, but I’d definitely be interested in seeing how the city is looking in a few years’ time.
Somewhere I’d like to revisit: Glacier National Park, Montana
I’d heard great things about this place, and after seeing photos online, I decided to make the 3-hour drive from Calgary to Montana for a weekend. Glacier National Park was absolutely beautiful, boasting striking mountains and rock formations coupled by deep drops into the valleys and rivers below. We were lucky enough to visit in the fall, when the leaves were yellow, orange and red. However, the fall weather didn’t quite agree with us, and we were forced to cut our hike short due to high winds and thunderstorms.
My trip wasn’t entirely in vain, though. We drove around the park a ton and managed to snap a few photographs before getting batted by gusts of wind. We also spent one night in a tipi in Browning, a town close to the park in part of the Blackfoot reservation, which was a pretty interesting and unique experience.
Somewhere I’d like to move: Portland, Oregon
One blissful weekend in Portland, and I was ready to call it home. I knew within an hour of entering the city that it was a match made in heaven for me. While there, I spent an afternoon painting in the streets of downtown, trying on secondhand floral print dresses in Hawthorne, and searching for vegan mac and cheese (and finding it quite quickly!). The next day, I rented a Car2Go and drove out to the Columbia Gorge, a natural area just 30 minutes outside of the city. With its proximity to the mountains and the sea, its free-spirited population, and its emphasis on creative careers, Portland feels like a place I can call home for a long time. I had an amazing weekend there and am already trying to figure out how I can one day move there for good. Just you wait!
All-time favorite of 2016: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Patagonia – so many things come to mind at the mention of this place. For me, it had always rested in my head as a place that was incredibly beautiful, but very inaccessible. One night, at 2 AM, I was sitting in my bed in Calgary looking at flight options during the week of Thanksgiving, and Santiago popped up as a potential destination. After doing more research, I realized that I could make it over to Patagonia and hike for five days if I went during that entire week.
That’s exactly what I did. Two plane rides and two bus rides later, I wound up in Torres del Paine National Park, where I disconnected from the outside world for five days and went hiking on the W trail (more on this in a later post!). It was a difficult trek for me both mentally and physically, but in the end I found myself wanting to stay longer, living out of a tent and cooking my own meals.
Never in my life have I felt the way I did in Patagonia. This was my final trip abroad this year and certainly the best of 2016. It was a wild and beautiful adventure that I hope will stay with me forever, and I feel incredibly lucky that I got to experience this breathtaking place with my own five senses.
2016 – that’s a wrap, folks. I’m hoping 2017 will be even more exciting. Wishing you all a wonderful New Year, and a year of travel to come!
Cheers to a year full of adventure,
What was your favorite place you visited in 2016? Share your adventures in the comments!