So far this year, I’ve had the chance to travel A LOT. Sometimes for work, sometimes for pleasure. And I’ve loved it all.
Since there are so many places I’ve been wanting to share stories and photos from, I’m just going to focus on the highlights. This isn’t all the trips, but it’s the top 10.
In February, I was in Honolulu to cover a work event and got to tack on some vacation days while I was down there. Pete met me in Honolulu once the event was over, then we flew to Maui for a few days. Highlights:
- On my flight to Honolulu, I discovered a love for chocolate covered macadamia nuts, which they offered on the plane. On Pete’s flight over, he sat next to a man who introduced himself as Shamu. We had very different experiences.
- Because Pete’s flight was delayed, I had extra down time once I wrapped up with work. I made a trip to Pearl Harbor, where I watched a video about the bombing, walked through some exhibits and took pictures of the harbor. It was windy that day, so the ferries weren’t able to take anyone out in the water. I expected the area to be bigger, but I did only see a portion of the harbor, so that’s probably why. I could see a large, rusty part of the USS Arizona still sticking up out of the water in the distance.
- The night Pete got there, we walked around a park in Honolulu and saw what I’m guessing were street performers practicing on the beach. There was a girl twirling hula hoops and a guy dancing around with fiery torches.
- The next day, we flew to Maui on a tiny plane where the stewardess’ name was Ariel. Given my love for The Little Mermaid, I almost squealed when I saw her name tag. She gave us tiny plastic juice cups, the kind with peel-off aluminum lids like I used to get in school.
- Maui isn’t that big, but there’s quite a bit to do. After picking up a rental car and eating at Denny’s (hey, we visited local places, too), we got on the Road to Hana, which is basically a jungle version of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It took about 6 hours to get to Hana and back, making several pit stops to see waterfalls, sea turtles, a black sand beach and super green cliffs plunging into the ocean. Pete enjoyed zipping around the blind curves in our rented Dodge Dart.
- Afterwards, we stopped in Paia and ate pizza. The pineapple on the pizza was the only pineapple I had in Hawaii, but it was good. The pizza place was really hot inside, though, with brick ovens not far from our table.
- The next day, we got up early to take a private kayak tour on the ocean. We paddled around the shore, watching humpback whales come out of the water just feet away, then swim under our kayak. We snorkeled for about 15 minutes on the way back. I forgot Pete gets seasick til we were a couple of hours in. Thankfully, he was fine.
- That night, we explored more of the island. We checked out Iao Valley State Park for a little while, and by the time we headed back to the car, we were the only ones there, except some roosters walking around. I’d also found a lighthouse on the map, so we drove there, but it was dinky. Pete said it looked like a traffic cone. We did see a gorgeous sunset, though, then made our way to Lahaina for ice cream. Lahaina is really touristy which isn’t our speed, but it’s also home to an ENORMOUS banyan tree that, according to my thorough Wikipedia search, was planted by a guy in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Christian missionaries. I also saw a sign advertising teacup pigs at this 2nd-floor pet shop as we were walking around, but when we got up there, it was closed. That was probably the saddest part of the trip.
- Other random things of note: watching a hula show on the beach (did you know men hula, too?), petting a parrot, getting a postcard from Guadalupe the housekeeper who left it in my hotel room, buying a strawberry parfait from an ABC store (which also sells sunscreen and souvenirs), bear hugging a mayor, getting stuck exiting a parking garage, eating at an Irish pub with a real Irish waitress, having an amazing meal at Tommy Bahama, watching a man in loincloth blow a shell while his more fully clothed comrade lit a tiki torch, eating quinoa by the ocean and seeing a cream-colored crab while eating said quinoa.
In March, I had another change of scenery when a co-worker and I went to Lake Havasu, Arizona, for work. We first flew into Vegas and had to drive to Lake Havasu, taking a detour to Hoover Dam on the border of Nevada and Arizona. Highlights:
- Driving through Vegas was an experience on its own, with billboards for places like Sexy Steakhouse. Blah, no thank you.
- The rest of the drive through the desert was like being in a different country almost, it’s so different from North Carolina. There are miles of nothing but brown-red dust and mountains. It was a bit calming, and we did have a blast hiking with some other co-workers one afternoon, but I don’t think I could live there. I need green. Our computers and jackets got really dusty during the outdoor event.
- One of the craziest things I saw on our drive to Lake Havasu was a dilapidated shack on the side of Highway 93 with graffiti that said, “This is it! Santa’s Land.” Pass.
- I also saw lots of Ross Dress for Less stores.
- Lake Havasu itself was beautiful. We were there during Spring Break, though, when hundreds of spring breakers descend on the lake, specifically the canal, wearing next to nothing, drinking too much and hooking up. There’s a family friendly side of the canal and a spring breaker side, but it doesn’t really matter because you can easily see one side of the canal from the other. On the plus side, the scene provided a great ministry opportunity.
3. Oklahoma & Kansas
At the end of April, I was in Oklahoma and Kansas for another work trip. The drive from Oklahoma City to Topeka was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken, minus the toll roads. Highlights:
- There were a LOT of cows. Black ones, white ones, tan ones, brown ones, all in bright green pastures as far as you can see against pink and purple skies. And tons of white windmills. I wish I had stopped more to take pictures.
- I learned that you can get $5 showers at the Cowboy Travel Plaza or stop in at Boots Barbecue for the “best pork butt in Pain County.” Quite a claim, Boots.
- Oklahoma and Kansas love them some Subway. I can’t even tell you how many I passed.
- I also passed an Oldsmobile with a bumper sticker that said “Honk if parts fall off.”
4. Amelia Island, Florida
For Mother’s Day, I took Mom to Amelia Island in Florida. We rented a condo in Amelia Plantation, where I decided I’m going to retire. Highlights:
- The first night, we walked to Fisherman’s Pier. I climbed a sand dune and Mom took selfies with me.
- We got plenty of beach time. We read, collected seashells, dozed off and took more selfies.
- One night we got ice cream at DeNucci’s, even though we were already full. I mean, you can’t go to the beach and not get ice cream. Mine was good, but they forgot the Nutella inside the cone. Tragic.
- Amelia Island Plantation was a great place to bike. We rented bikes and took off for a few hours, stopping at a couple of parks along the way. It was shady and wonderful. We stopped at a smoothie place that’s part of Omni Hotel on the plantation and drank our smoothies by the fancy pool.
- On Mother’s Day morning, we headed to Peters Point to go horseback riding on the beach. Mom rode Jen; I rode Jesse. They stuck together the whole time, to the point where my legs were up against Mom’s horse.
- Mother’s Day night, we ate at Ciao in Fernandina Beach. We got to sit on the patio right by the sidewalk and people watch, which was mostly fun until a guy on a bike came by selling pineapples and playing a harmonica. He didn’t leave until a lady at the table nearby gave him money.
- After Mother’s Day dinner, we went looking for a lighthouse on the map (yes, another lighthouse fail), but couldn’t find it to save our lives. Instead, we found a swing set!
- Other fun things: Being the only ones at the pool right behind our condo, watching a documentary on Gabby Douglas and going for runs in the morning while Mom got ready. I’d love to go back soon. We also stopped in Savannah, Georgia, on our way out of town, had lunch and iced chais.
In mid-May, I was in the Missouri capital for work. It was a short trip, but I try to find something fun or unique to do on each trip. Highlights:
- I had the best peach smoothie of my life at Arris’ Bistro in Jefferson City. … That was about it for this trip, minus the cute downtown. It poured down rain for the work event, but it was encouraging to see so many people participate anyway.
In mid-June, I went to Minnesota with our summer intern, Maddie. It was a work trip, but we got to tack on some vacation afterwards and stay with my in-laws. Highlights:
- Seeing my extended family! Maddie loved meeting our nephews, and we both enjoyed dinner out with my brother- and sister-in-law.
- Of course I had to take Maddie to the Mall of America. We definitely got our walking in.
- We also discovered the best chicken wings of our lives at Doolittles near my in-laws.
- The best part was a day trip to Duluth, with a brief hop over the Wisconsin state line so Maddie could say she’s been there.
- On our way up to Duluth, we actually went past it a bit and spend some time at Gooseberry Falls in Two Harbors. We saw an awkward engagement and almost walked into a picture of the couple. We stopped at Betty’s Pies afterwards (pre-lunch).
- While in Two Harbors, we visited a different lighthouse, too. (Shush, I like this kind of thing.) It overlooks Lake Superior.
- Another highlight was Duluth Grille, where we had an amazing dinner. Grandma’s Marathon was happening that day, so there were a bunch of sunburnt runners limping around the restaurant.
- We did some artsy stuff, too. We went to an art show one day, and then to a performance at my mother-in-law’s university another day.
7. Asheville, North Carolina
For the past several years, my best friends since middle school have tried to do a girls’ weekend. This year, we ended up in Asheville in early June. Highlights:
- We toured the Biltmore, which Sara had never seen. (!) We also got exciting news from Alex!
- Alex found a house for us to rent in the mountains, which was a lot of fun.
- We had plenty of time to walk around downtown, grab some chips from The Gourmet Chip Company and hit up a cute coffee shop.
In July, I flew to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit Sarah for a long weekend. Highlights:
- The first day I was there, we had dinner with her husband at The Old Fashioned. It poured down rain while we were there and we got soaked running back to the car. Driving back to their apartment, we had to drive through a flooded intersection, but thankfully we weren’t washed away. It was crazy. Sarah handled it well and we all sopped up the water that got into her car afterwards.
- One of my favorite parts was exploring the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We stopped at some food trucks on campus one day and ate on the Memorial Union Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. I got to sit in a big yellow chair.
- We also checked out the farmer’s market by the State Capitol, then went in the Capitol to cool off. We walked up to the Capitol roof and got a 360 view.
- Sarah and her husband took me to the botanical gardens one afternoon. Things like that make me wish I could grow stuff.
- Another favorite part was celebrating Sarah’s new job with a trip to the local coffee shop and walking on some trails afterwards. I got pretty sweaty and gross, but it was worth it. We don’t get much one-on-one time.
9. Montana, Idaho & Wyoming
In early August, I visited three states in a row to cover events for work. I spent 18 hours on the road and stayed in 5 hotels in 5 days. Highlights:
- The first stop was Montana. The day our team was supposed to fly out was the same day Delta had the power outage, so it was a scramble that morning to rearrange our plans. I was originally supposed to fly into Helena, but flew to Great Falls instead. It ended up being a good thing for me because I had time to pull over and take pictures on the hour-and-a-half drive from Great Falls to Helena. I was in Montana for a mission trip in 2005, and it was just as beautiful as I remember. So open.
- I like how outdoorsy everything is in Montana. When I landed in Great Falls, I went to pick up a rental car at the airport. I asked the attendant where the restroom was and she pointed toward a baggage claim conveyor belt behind me with a bright yellow kayak displayed on top. “It’s back there, right behind the kayak,” she said. That’s the first time someone has referenced a boat when giving me directions to the bathroom.
- Just like the drive from Oklahoma to Kansas, I passed lots of cows (and a steakhouse) on my way to Helena. Someone asked me when I got back if I’d had a burger while out west, but I couldn’t say I had. I did have Chinese food in Helena.
- I called Mom on my drive from Great Falls and told her a little bit about the scenery. When she heard there weren’t many people around and I was driving by myself, she gave me some advice: “It’s always good to have some moves in case you have to punch somebody. Or have a little can of hairspray handy to squirt in their eyes.” Fortunately, I didn’t have to get scrappy in Montana.
- After Helena, I rode the team bus to Boise, Idaho. I didn’t get to do much non-work stuff there, except eat sushi at Dharma Sushi and Thai. It was amazing.
- Next stop: Wyoming, where one of the hotels I stayed at in Rock Springs had a Cowboy Room. I wish I’d peeked in now just to see what it was.
- The absolute highlight from Wyoming was seeing a meteor shower with some co-workers in the middle of the night outside of Cheyenne.
- Since several from our team flew out of Denver, Colorado, to go back home, I got to spend time with my friend, Maddie, who as I mentioned before, interned with us this summer. We grabbed dinner, walked around the city, then stood in line at Little Man Ice Cream. The guy gave me a HUGE scoop of salted Oreo ice cream, and I wasn’t complaining.
10. Vermont to New York
A co-worker and I covered events in Montplier, Vermont, and Albany, New York, at the end of August. Highlights:
- Exploring Burlington, Vermont, which is a really cute town on Lake Champlain.
- Visiting the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters and splitting a pint of ice cream on the patio.
- Picking up white cheddar popcorn and Dove dark chocolate for our late-night, 3-hour drive from Montpelier to Albany after a long day of work.
- Passing cute inns, general stores, a life-sized superman statue, signs for moose (which I never thought of being in Vermont), along with advertisements for maple syrup, guns, tubing adventures and a battlefield.
- The New York State Capitol was impressive on its own. Absolutely gorgeous. It reminded me of the Biltmore. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go inside since we were working during the open hours.
I’ve been so blessed to get to visit all these places and never would have guessed this time last year that I’d be buzzing around the country, from one end to the other.
So after all this travel, what’s next on the agenda?
IRELAND!!!!! And maybe a couple of other places. 😉 Lots and lots of pictures to come.