a year in review: travel

Best Destinations of 2017

blonde atlas best destinations 2017

As each year closes, I can’t help but feel that this one came more quickly than the last, and man- that’s certainly true of 2017. That can be discouraging though, can’t it? Every year, we set audacious goals for everything that we want to accomplish in the months ahead. But before we know it, it’s over (often far before we’ve accomplished all we set out to do). 


Last year at this time I was convinced by the end of 2017 I’d be living in London. Though I’ve put forth great effort, I’m technically no closer to that goal now than I was 365 days ago. Life is funny like that, isn’t it? If I had to guess, I’m sure you have some sort of “London” of your own. 


If you’re circumstances aren’t as different as you hoped they’d be right now, you’re not alone. And while that can drive you mad at times, this year I’ve learned that life is a lot more about enjoying the journey than simply arriving at a destination (and yes, I realize how terribly cliche that sounds… I’m rolling my eyes even as I type it). 


No, 2017 didn’t deliver me to my goal of living in London. It did however, write some incredible chapters in my story of life that I can’t imagine living without now. It took me to new corners of the world and connected me with wonderful people I already love dearly. It humbled me to do things I said I’d never do and taught me valuable lessons I’ll keep forever. It knocked me down and made me cry, but taught me the resilience to get back up. It made me realize no time is wasted if you keep your eyes open to appreciate the gifts along the way. 


This time of year, we see lots of “year in review” posts on social media. While we must remember these are highlight reels (usually only showing the good things, not the struggles), I still think it’s a beautiful way we can celebrate how far we’ve all come together. But I also think when we can share what we’ve learned with each other, it provides an opportunity for all of us to gain wisdom and insight heading into a new year. 

I visited over 12 countries and 50 cities in 2017, so trying to recap all of that would take me an entire year in itself! But since I shared some of my top trips from 2016, along with a valuable lesson I learned in each place, I thought I’d at least share my highlights again from the past year. I hope it not only inspires you to see some of these places for yourself, but that you gain encouragement from some of my greatest takeaways from the year. 



valensole lavendar fields
etretat france
mont st michel

I couldn’t pick one single destination from my road trip through France, because each place I visited was unforgettable. For two weeks this spring, I drove all across this country with various friends. I started in Toulouse and drove to Montpellier, Saint Remy de Provence, Aix en Provence, Valensole, Gordes, Menerbes, Lyon, Dijon, Etretat, Mont Saint Michel, Loire Valley and made a few stops in Paris along the way. Between seeing the lavender fields like I’ve always dreamed of, connecting with new friends and chatting for hours into the night under the Eiffel Tower, and discovering tiny villages I didn’t even know existed, my two weeks in France were easily some of my favorite this entire year. There were nights I stayed in 5 star hotels and was treated like royalty, and also nights that I shared an Airbnb with strangers (with no AC in the heat of the summer too). There were times I was anxious and had no idea where I was sleeping the next night, but also times when I was so relaxed I’d fall asleep in sun while reading my book. I got a police escort off a pedestrian bridge. I attended a French press event where I had no clue what was going on because it was all in French. I tasted wine from (arguably) the most prestigious region in the world. I spent time with so many different people and time wandering through various bits of the country by myself. Much like life in general, France provided a variety of experiences and emotions, highs and lows, but all weaving together an incredible chapter and some of my favorite memories of the year. 

france road trip




I’m a 7 on the Enneagram (a personality test I’m fascinated by). 7’s are labeled “The Enthusiast” because well, we’re pretty excited about everything. At our best, we view the world in child-like wonder, dream up crazy big ideas and have more fun than most people are capable of having. But the pitfall of a 7 is that we can be so preoccupied by the future or “riding our next high” that we miss out on the present. 


I start with that explanation because I'm very much guilty of always romanticizing the grand adventure of Europe. Don’t get me wrong- a lot of it is for good reason. Europe easily holds the large majority of my favorite places in the world and I feel like it “fits me” in more ways than I can count. But because it’s harder to get to it can feel like a larger or “more special” experience than a domestic trip. So as a 7 who always wants more, More, MORE!!! this is very seductive. So seductive in fact, you could accidentally neglect the amazing places around you. This is exactly what I’d done with Canada- up until last month (travel guides coming next month!)


I couldn’t have been more impressed with the natural beauty I witnessed in Emerald Lake, Lake Louise, Banff and Whistler. They were the kind of place that take your breath away and leaves you simply standing in wonder, trying not to drool. It was the most I’ve ever been still while traveling. Not running around to see sights or hustling to make all the museums or stuffing my face at every restaurant possible. Instead, we spent slow cozy morning by the fire and taking in the views. Cell service was spotty, which forced us to unplug and be in the moment. It was unlike most other trips I’ve ever taken, but in a wonderful sort of way that I really needed. 


This trip reminded me that some of the most beautiful gifts in life are closer than we think. This is true both in the literal sense of neighboring destinations that aren’t oceans away, but also in a figurative sense. Slow cozy mornings or unplugging from distractions or pausing to appreciate the beauty of nature around us— these are all rich gifts we can tap into from anywhere in the world. So why don’t we more often?





I loved visiting Lisbon, Porto and Madeira, but the stories I want to share for this particular blog were from Lisbon and Madeira.



lisbon portugal
lisbon portugal

Last August on a boat in Croatia, I met a woman named Paula, with whom I became fast friends. She was exotic and gorgeous and quintessentially Portuguese. She shared my love of travel and fascinated me with her stories from adventures around the world. At the end of the day, we exchanged emails and she told me to contact her if I ever came to Lisbon. Fast forward to this spring, and I was booking at ticket to Portugal to meet up with some friends. Naturally, I wrote Paula to see if she’d want to meet for lunch before the rest of the group got in. 


It would have been great if Paula simply said yes. I would have been keen to reconnect and possibly pick her brain for some recommendations. But instead, Paula picked me up from the airport and took me into her house for a homemade Portuguese meal on her balcony, overlooking Lisbon. We caught up on life from the last few months- she told me about her trip to Japan while I told her about my coast to coast road trip. She even wrapped up a Lisbon travel book as a gift for me and wrote out a detailed itinerary with her best recommendations for my allotted amount of time in her city. We had the loveliest afternoon and I didn’t want it to end. 

lisbon portugal


Lucky for me, she ended up joining my friend Caitlin (another fast friend I met from traveling) and I for dinner that night. She took us to a trendy, bustling restaurant full of locals that we definitely wouldn’t have found on our own. She ordered our food and drink in her native Portuguese tongue. We sat there for hours swapping travel stories, eating course after course of amazing local cuisine I felt so much gratitude well up from my bones I could have cried. Sure, I was in an incredible city I’d wanted to visit for a while. But I was there with two fascinating women whose friendship I’d acquired from getting out in the world and connecting with the people in it. And it all sparked from striking up a conversation with a stranger on a boat. 


How many amazing connections like this do we miss on a daily basis? Sure, we don’t have time to be best friends with everyone and I can certainly respect being thoughtful about who and what you give your time to. With that said, I’d also argue most of us operate day in and day out like robots- speaking only to the people we know or addressing strangers when communication is required to meet a need of ours. But this friendship I made with Paula makes me think about random passerby’s a bit differently though. What story does my Uber driver have? Or the man sitting next to me at our gate at the airport? We all come into contact with countless strangers day in and day out, and they all have a story. And if we aren’t willing to strike up friendly conversation, we’re going to miss a lot of fascinating ones. 



madeira portugal
belmond reids palace

This place was incredible simply for its beauty (read more about what to do here).

But what I loved so much about this trip was the company. I traveled here with other travel bloggers- friends I’d met from different corners of the world. Like Paula, they were the kind of friendships that happen instantaneously because you just click so well. So when I had booked my flight to London this spring, knowing I’d make it to some new places too, they were the first ones I reached out to. One of them suggested Madeira, and to be honest I had never even heard of it. That didn’t deter me of course (one of my goals every year is to go somewhere I didn’t even know existed) but it did make for a particularly memorable moment.  


We had spent the first day catching up since we lived in different cities around the world (they’re in Berlin, London and Austin). So on the second day, we decided to go explore. We had a rental car and drove up to Pico Do Arieiro, the highest point on the island. It was a pretty tumultuous drive up: lots of hairpin turns and drop off cliffs and literally required driving through the clouds to reach the summit (which meant very low visibility at times). We all pulled together to safely arrive at the top for easily one of the most impressive views we’d ever seen. 

madeira portugal
madeira portugal


There were so many things about that moment I would have never seen coming. I didn’t know I’d be back in Europe on another open ended trip. I didn’t know I’d make friends over here I connect with on a deeper level and love traveling with so much. I didn’t even know this entire island existed, much less this incredible outlook. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it reminded me that while some things won’t look different a year from now (and that can be frustrating) some things will lead you down a wild path of beautiful twists and turns that lead you to asking (in the best kind of sense) “How did I wind up here?"



Considering I moved to Chicago in September, this destination wasn’t exactly a “trip."  Even still, this last season has been one of the top highlights of my year and I couldn’t not include it. I explained here that I decided to come to Chicago when I couldn’t get a visa to London, but I still really wanted to try out life in a new city. My hope was honestly to find something to replace the desire for London, (which seemed like an easier solution than finding a visa) but that’s not what happened. Instead, I found a new kind of appreciation for another city I also love dearly - just in a different way. And while I could rave on and on about why Chicago is so fascinating and all there is to do there, I’ll save that for my travel guides (one is here but I’m working on a 2.0 now that I’ve lived here!)



What I want to focus on about Chicago here is all that it taught me. It was here I realized even if my year may not have gone exactly as I would have planned it to, that didn’t mean it wasn’t still a great year. Chicago enriched my life in more ways than I can count. 


I was able to fall in love with another great city and get to know so many intricate details  that you just can’t appreciate as a visitor: knowing your way around, having your “regular spots”, mastering the public transit… it all feels incredibly gratifying.


I was able to go from seeing some family I love once every year or two, to living in their guest room and doing day to day life together. We shared countless meals. I got to see my little cousins at swimming or gymnastics and hear about their day at school. I got to know all of them even better and love them even more now because of it. 


I was able to experience being “the new girl”. I went to countless dinners with people I barely knew (or didn’t know at all!) and slowly, over time, got to experience how good it feels when groups of friends welcome you with open arms and include you in their plans for brunch or dinner parties or Halloween. 


And man, I was able to learn so much just from dating (I’ve never been on more dates in a condensed period of time in my entire life!) I actually stayed put in one place long enough to date the same person for a while (not just be a perpetual casual dater like I’d been the last few years). I was able to see first hand that sometimes the really hot guy you’re so excited to go out with ends up being really dull and not that interesting, while the guy who's "cute enough" at first glance actually can end up blowing you away. I learned honest feedback and communication is how we learn and grow from dating, even when ghosting seems easier (I experienced both being ghosted and being the one tempted to ghost myself). I went on a couple terrible dates that make hilarious stories now, but also some amazing ones with great guys I'll definitely keep in touch with.

Chicago let me “start from scratch” and ask myself things like “What are you looking for in a church? In a partner? In a friend group?” Because when you start over somewhere new, you get to choose the foundation for how you build on all of those things. So whether or not I build future seasons in Chicago or in London or in another corner of the world, I’m infinitely grateful for all the things Chicago has taught me about who I am and what I want out of my life that will make future seasons even sweeter. 




The thing about reflecting on the good stuff in life is that it usually leads you to remember even more good stuff. Typing all of this brings back dozens of other stories I want to tell: meet cutes about new friends in Prague, singing “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway in Boston, my entire coast to coast road trip from the spring, Jackson Hole with my best friends, Greece with another best friend… so much has happened this year! But in effort to keep this succinct (and so I can go get ready to ring in the New Year in London tonight!) I’ll simply end on this note: you may not be exactly where you want to be in life right now, and 2018 may not take you anywhere close to where you think you’re going either.  But there is so much life to be lived and stories to be told as each day goes by. So whatever happens, let's be sure to look closely at all the goodness that’s around us and enjoy the journey along the way.

2017 in review


Wishing you an amazing New Year's Eve tonight! I'm in London and will be sharing our celebration (several hours ahead of the US time zones!) so follow along in real time on Insta-stories.