2015 has been an amazing year. From our drive across the Australian Outback to trekking to Machu Picchu to eating sushi in Tokyo to seeing the northern lights in Lapland. Here are the best moments of travel in 2015:
It’s true. I flew one-way to Osloo, Norway for $136. Sound unreal? Norwegian Airlines has unbeatable prices and it’s worth checking them out for 2016, too. Here are the details: Fly to Europe for Cheap. From Oslo, I continued on to Bergen and then began my Eurail Trip around Europe.
I’ve been on some scenic rail journey around the world, but the Flam Railway is one of the most spectacular. Short and sweet at only 20km in length, this train brings passengers from sea level in Flaam, all the way up to Myrdal at 886 meters. As the train snakes its way up the Flaam Valley, you’ll pass waterfalls, villages, and picturesque country houses, in addition to getting a peek at the tracks further up the valley. The trip only takes about an hour and passes through 20 tunnels along the way. See more photos from the Flam Scenic Railway.
Helsingnoer, Denmark is an attractive little old town north of Copenhagen, across the channel from Sweden. I took the ferry boat there and walked around the old town before visiting Kronborg Castle, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I only spent a few hours there, but it was a lovely, but cold and moody afternoon. See more photos from Helsingnoer, Denmark.
This is my second year in a row traveling around Europe on a Eurail pass. Both times I was writing articles for the Eurail Blog. I love Europe and love rail travel. Talk a about a win-win situation! My route this year was a combination of seeing new cities, riding scenic routes, and visiting old friends. Here’s my 2015 Eurail Route.
I’ve been to Switzerland before and I’ll go again. It’s such a great place to travel, especially with a rail pass. I love the well-preserved old towns. They are in great condition because many remained intact during the war. Visiting in the off-season mean very few tourists. This time around I visited picture-perfect Stein-am-Rhein and Schaffhausen.
A little travel blunder in Berlin led to some nice discoveries during my morning rail layover in the German capital. I got off at the wrong station and did a lot of walking which eventually led me to a fragment of the Berlin Wall and this delicious bakery. Read: Berlin by Mistake this Morgen for the full story.
There are a couple rail routes through Germany’s Black Forest region, and I rode both. Here are the photos out my window: Black Forest Railway Scenic Line
Poland is one of my favorite countries in Europe. And it’s a great place to travel. So great, in fact, that I’m planning to take a small group of travelers there in 2016. Poland has some wonderful cities with a fascinating history, beautiful architecture, and delicious food. Poznan is just one. Best of all, the country is well-suited to the budget traveler. Here are 9 Reasons to Visit Poland.
How about Amsterdam in miniature? Try Delft. It’s a small Dutch city with a storied history and some beautiful architecture and canals. I was very impressed after spending the day walking around Delft. Put this one on your BeNeLux itinerary. Read more: A Walk around Delft, Netherlands
In March, Juno and I were married in Seoul, her hometown. It was a beautiful traditional Korean wedding ceremony. My family and even some friends flew over for the event. During he week leading up to the wedding we took everyone around to our favorite sites in Seoul.
You won’t realize just how big Australia is until you drive across the Outback. Juno and I were invited to join the Outback Trailblazers for a rally across Outback Queensland. The landscape is vast and the people of the Outback overcome a lot to live in such remote and sometimes harsh conditions. We teamed up with Outback Queensland tourism to help bring exposure to the region. Here are some of my favorite photos from our more than 2,000 km overland journey: The Australian Outback via Instagram
I love sand dunes. Watching the evening sun glow on dunes makes a good thing even better. Big Red, Queensland are some of the most beautiful sand dunes in Australia. Located out beyond the famous town of Birdsville, Big Red is a gorgeous place to watch the sunset. See more photos of Big Red.
I don’t think there is a more scenic country mile for mile than New Zealand. No matter where you drive, it seems more beautiful than the place you came from. There are so many places to go walking and so many miles of coastline. This photo is from a trip to the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula. If you like green, visit New Zealand.
Before trekking Colca Canyon, which was also a highlight of 2015, we stopped along the rim of the canyon to see the majestic condor soar. These huge birds can have a 3 meter (10 foot) wingspan! At the viewing platform at Cruz del Condor, you can get really close to the condors. It’s very impressive.
Inca Stonework is incredibly precise. And after hundreds of years, much of it is as good as new. When earthquakes ravaged the city of Cuzco and its feeble colonial architecture crumbled, Inca stonework stayed intact. And it’s not just in Cuzco. You’ll see outstanding Inca stonework in Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Machu Pichu, and other sites. Just don’t tell the Quechua people (descendants of the Inca) that aliens did this building!
Most visitors spend a day touring the Sacred Valley. I spent about a week exploring the ruins of Ollantatambo and Pisac and other sites in the Sacred Valley. I based myself in Ollantaytambo for a few of the days with no particular agenda except to soak in the vibe. It is a real, living Quechua village with old stone houses, canals, and soaring mountains all around.
The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu was one of the best treks of my life. Four days of hiking and the final day finishing with the ascent of Machu Picchu was simply spectacular. The trail led along Inca canals, past hillsides of wildflowers, and through the Salkantay Pass at 4,650 m (15,256 feet). The alpine scenery was gorgeous. We joined Valencia Travel Cuzco for the trek and they did an outstanding job organizing everything.
You can see as many pictures as you want, but nothing compares to sitting above Machu Picchu for the morning’s sunrise. We climbed up the steep hour and a half ascent from Aguas Calientes out-of-breath and fatigued, and took in this view.
Situated at 12,500 feet above sea level, Lake Titicaca is an essential stop on any travel through Peru. Our boat on the lake stopped on two islands: Uros and Taquile. Uros are islands completely made of reeds and Taquile has its own fascinating culture as well.
There is a lifetime worth of geologic features to see in the American Southwest and Delicate Arch, in Utah, is one of the most popular. An hour’s hike uphill will take you to Delicate Arch, in Arches National Park. You won’t be alone there for the sunset, but that’s not all bad since you’ll be hiking back down in the dark.
I could live in New Mexico. And I don’t say that about too many places. New Mexico is packed with interesting Native American cultures, a fascinating frontier history, a wide variety of geographic terrain, different climates, and a tradition of fine art. New Mexico, I will be back.
Part of our road trip we hooked up with historic Route 66. Oddly enough this piece of Americana is more popular with Europeans. One of the highlights was stopping at Roy’s Motel, now defunct and the scene of movies and TV shows. It’s located in Amboy, CA , population 4. Traveler tip: stop at the post office and have a chat with the attendant there. She’s full of interesting stories.
West Timor is one of the most off-the-beaten-track places I’ve been. We only saw a couple tourists the whole time we were there. One of the highlights was traveling up to Fatumenasi village, up in the hills. There we stayed with a local man in a grass-thatched hut. That wasn’t our only interesting accommodation. The next night we stayed with a tribe which shuns modern technology. Their name is the Boti.
Taiwan is another place I could return to again and again. It’s got an interesting culture, delicious food, spectacular scenery, and friendly people. This year I returned to join our small group tour to Taiwan. Cycling around rice paddies, eating in Taipei, and soaking in hot springs are things I can never get tired of.
Old Dhaka is a bustling mix of pedestrians, cycle rickshaws, CNGs (auto rickshaws) making their way through the winding crowded streets. If you like Kolkata, you’ll like Dhaka, too. I spent about three days getting lost in the old part of the capital of Bangladesh and loved every minute of it. People were so friendly, constantly calling out to me to say hi and ask for a photo. Some of my favorite moments can be seen here: Bangladesh via Instagram.
The Sundarbans are a special place on planet earth. They are the largest mangrove forest. A land of intense jungle where salt water mixes with fresh water rivers. This territory, is in part, a preserved area, and also part that is inhabited by humans trying to make a living from this lush place. I took a three day boat journey into the quiet heart of the Sundarbans. We didn’t see any tigers, but that didn’t matter.
I wanted to see the tea pickers in the northeast of Bangladesh, and I got to do that in Srimongol. This is a lush area dominated by tea plantation. But interestingly, the tea pickers are not Bangladeshis, but rather Hindus from India. There were brought here back in the 19th century by the British.
Bangladesh is a fascinating place and I learned so much about myself and about humanity here. It is a life and culture so different from my own, and that’s what makes it so interesting. The people were extraordinarily friendly and I remember with fondness my time there. But it is not an easy place to travel. Transportation is difficult. It’s hot, dusty, and uncomfortable. I recorded my impressions of Bangladesh here.
Sushi, donburi, tempura, ramen; the list goes on and on. It was my first time in Tokyo and we raced around for three days seeing as much as we could. We also ate as much as we could. I know I’ll be back in Tokyo again. Here are some of our favorite Japanese foods.
Dog mushing is so much fun. But it’s even more fun for these dogs, who are born to run. We went for this dog sled tour right across the border from northern Lapland, in Tana, Norway.
It’s one thing to go to the Arctic in summer, but you experience the real soul of the place in winter. Unlike most of the world, people in Lapland come alive at this time of year. It may be dark and cold, but this is the time to come to Finnish Lapland.
This is another thing you want to experience first hand. Seeing the photographs simply isn’t good enough. Sure you have to brave the cold temperatures, but it’s worth it. We based ourselves in Utsjoki, in Finnish Lapland for a week, seeing the northern lights, going dog mushing, and learning about Sami culture.
Stockholm is a fantastic city. So many great museums, beautiful buildings, fine restaurants. We spent three days exploring this city, and I wouldn’t mind going back, or even moving there some day. They call themselves the “Capital of Scandinavia” which is fitting.
It was a last minute trip. We were invited to Martinique to kick off a tourism campaign starting with new direct flights aboard Norwegian from three US East coast cities. I know nothing about Martinique and learned quite a lot in my short 3 day visit there. The people of Martinique are proud, friendly, and beautiful, and the island itself isn’t bad looking either.