2016 has been a huge year for me. Looking back on it, I think 2016 is always going to be the year that I prioritized travel, got married, and moved to England. Big life events! It was monumental and huge in the scheme of my life for so many reasons. Looking back on the year, I’ve done and seen so many things that it seems insane.
I really like doing recaps and thought it would be fitting to do a big one on 2016. But because I had a big trip still over Christmas, and didn’t want that trip to miss out on a chance to make it on the list, I thought I’d deviate from a lot of other travel bloggers who publish all these yearly recap posts before the actual end of the year.
I specifically wanted to focus on experiences for this list—I’m still working on my recap of the best places I visited in 2016! So to round up my whole year, here are my top experiences of 2016:
1. Getting married in Gibraltar
I feel like it’s a little cliché to put this at the top…but how could it not be my number one experience of the year?! Adam and I eloped to Gibraltar (or Gib, as we refer to it) in March and spent four amazing days doing paperwork, getting married, drinking champagne and eating cakes on the beach, and exploring this tiny little British territory. The sunny Spanish weather was superb, and Gibraltar is always going to be such a special place to me. Not sure if anything next year can top this one.
2. Moving to England (at long last)
Nothing else will ever really compare: finally moving to England (permanently) this year will be one of the top experiences of whole life. Getting to live in the country that I love, with the person I love, is just the best thing that has happened to me. York is an amazing city, and I love living here. And having my heart and mind and body and soul be in the same place at the same time is so beautiful and wonderful. I have no words.
3. Visiting the Top of the Rock in New York City at sunset
My quick 3-day solo trip to NYC in October, right before I moved to England, was a dream come true in so many ways. Nothing was more magical than seeing the sunset from the Top of the Rock—watching the sky fade from orange and pink to dark, seeing the city lights turn on at night, fighting for a good spot along with hordes of other tourists… it was one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced. New York City was a dream destination until one day I said “screw this, I’m going” and booked a ticket. Making my own dreams happen is one of my personal traits I’m proudest of, and making this moment happen and living it out was incredible.
Read more: Visiting the Top of the Rock at Sunset
4. Microlight over Victoria Falls
When I first started seriously considering a trip to Zambia, I said that the number one thing I wanted to do was a microlight flight over Victoria Falls. This was what I was saving for, as I worked long days at multiple jobs. This was my goal. It was scary as hell, thrilling, rewarding, and something out of a dream that I won’t be forgetting for years to come. This was my first view of Victoria Falls, and honestly I don’t think you could do it better than that! It was amazing and worth every single penny. My pilot even let me steer the microlight for a bit! This was one of the best experiences of my life, one of the top highlights from my trip to Zambia, and something that made 2016 one of the best years.
5. Hanging out with my best friend in Zambia
I have to say, I did a lot of cool stuff in Zambia. But nothing meant more than getting to just hang out with my best friend. I got to share her country with her, see things from her perspective, and be welcomed by her kind and wonderful family. I never would have gone to Zambia (or anywhere in Africa) on my own on a trip—I wouldn’t have been ready. But I’m so glad I got to go. Whether we were drinking on a sunset booze cruise down the Zambezi River (#noregrets), nearly getting attacked by baboons, or just hanging out and sitting by the hostel pool reading, I loved getting to spend time with my best friend. Thanks for an amazing trip, Kula!! #smang
Read more: What To Do in the Zambian Capital, Lusaka
6. Going on safari and seeing wildlife in their habitat
Another highlight from my Zambia trip in spring was going on safari. We went on game drives in both Mosi-oa-tunya National Park and Kafue National Park, and seeing animals in their natural habitats was amazing. My favorites were giraffes, zebras, elephants, African wild dogs, and even a leopard! Of course, the only lion I saw was one casually crossing the road, when we were on the bus out of Kafue National Park, and (of course) I didn’t have my camera ready. Seeing animals in nature is a beautiful thing.
7. Road tripping in the USA
I don’t know if any country has as much allure and temptation for a road trip as the United States of America. This summer I took two brief road trips and remembered why exactly this country is so special to drive in (it’s huge and incredibly diverse in a million ways)—for both Americans and foreigners alike. I had an amazing two days driving in my own backyard, Minnesota’s North Shore, and four days roadtripping to South Dakota (and eastern Wyoming) and back. Both were so much fun! I really do think the American road trip is one thing everyone should experience once in their lifetime.
8. Returning to Croatia
Croatia is one of my favorite countries in the world. I visited in May 2014 for five short days and fell truly, madly, deeply in love with this place. The scenery, the beaches, the weather, the history, the color of the water… I felt like I was in a dream. Dubrovnik jumped to the top of my favorites list, despite the cruise ship crowds and throngs of tourists. So getting to return to Croatia this spring, and share one of my favorite places with my favorite person, was such a magical experience. And since Plitvice Lakes National Park managed to elude me on this trip as well, I know for sure that I’ll be back again soon.
9. The scenery in Montenegro
My trip through the Balkans this spring was amazing. So many amazing countries. So many incredible experiences. But I think driving around and seeing the scenery in Montenegro was one of the top ones. Mountains, beaches, steep winding roads that abruptly stop as they’ve fallen off the cliff: Montenegro has it all. Seeing the island Sveti Stefan was probably one of my favorite moments. Montenegro is seriously so beautiful!
Read more: Highlights of Montenegro
10. Gondola ride in Venice
Going on a gondola ride in Venice is a huge (and very expensive) cliché. But I don’t care—sitting back and experiencing Venice by gondola, on the last night of a month-long trip/honeymoon with the person I love was so great. It was meaningful and magical and just barely worth the 80€ (40€ each) price tag. I won’t be forgetting it for a long time (and neither will my wallet!).
Read more: 5 Things You Must Do in Venice
11. Traveling solo again in Lisbon
I love traveling solo. I am a huge advocate that everyone should travel solo at least once in their life, and went solo for a majority of my trips during my year-long study abroad. But since June 2014, I hadn’t really traveled solo. When I decided to go to Lisbon for a quick 3-day trip at the end of May, I was so nervous. Could I still do it? Would I still have fun? The answer was a resounding YES! Lisbon was a blast. I stayed at a great hostel, made great friends, and all in all had a great time exploring Lisbon for the first time. It reminded me just how much I love solo travel, and (even though I do love traveling with others!) just how wonderfully freeing it can be. Also, visiting Cabo da Roca (the westernmost tip of mainland Europe) in real life after having a photo of it on my wall for years was really, really cool.
12. Spending a summer falling in love with Minneapolis
I spent most of my summer at home in Minneapolis. And I fell head over heels in love with my favorite city all over again during this time. I spent months being a tourist in my own city, photographing my favorite places, viewing everything from a travel blogger perspective. Minneapolis is such a hidden gem, so unique and with so much to offer. I am truly so lucky to have lived here my whole life and to always be able to call the 612 home. Seeing my city this way made it even harder to leave.
Read more: Top 25 Things to Do in Minneapolis
13. Britney Spears in Las Vegas
I’m a huge Britney fan—I have been since the late ‘90s and I was old enough to be a fan of something. So planning out a Vegas trip this summer, I said my one condition was that I wanted to go when we could see Britney! The show was fabulous, fun dancing, amazing costume and set changes, and the music that makes me love Britney. The tickets were expensive but they were absolutely worth it!
14. Falling in love with London all over again
I visited London for the first weekend in December, my first trip back as a permanent UK resident. I love London. It is forever my favorite city in the world. There is no place that means as much to me as London does. The city has watched me grow and change and become the person I am today. Spending two wonderful (sunny!) days seeing the city lit up for Christmas, exploring both old and new places, and strolling around not necessarily for the destination but the journey, was wonderful. I love London so much, and I already can’t wait for my next trip back.
15. Drinking in Kryjivka, an army-themed underground speakeasy in Lviv
Probably one of the coolest things I’ve done and definitely one of the coolest bars I’ve visited: Kryjivka in Lviv. You have to find a door down a random hallway off the main square, where I was greeted by a guard in uniform (with a gun!), and gave him the password—Slava Ukrainii / Слава Украïнi (Glory to Ukraine). He gave us a half-shot of Ukrainian honey liqueur, sent us behind a bookcase and down a staircase to an underground bar, based on the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and it’s leader Stepan Bandera. The whole place is decorated with army props and drawing plans, you can take pictures with machine guns, and there’s a shooting range where you can shoot BB guns at pictures of Putin. It was the weirdest, strangest, and coolest bar from the year and definitely one of my favorite parts of my trip to Lviv!
16. Night out in Belgrade
Arriving in Serbia’s capital on the night train from Budapest, we had made some Russian friends in our compartment and had a lot of fun staying up drinking with them. So when they invited us out to spend a night out with their Serbian friends, of course we said yes! Belgrade is a huge party city, with some of the best nightlife I’ve experienced in Europe—and with dirt cheap prices. Going to a Serbian rock club and hearing a cover of one of my favorite songs will be one of those moments that sticks with me for a while. It was a great night out with great people—and I can’t recommend partying in Serbia enough!
17. Bureks in the Balkans
If there is one thing I miss from my spring travels, it’s bureks: a coiled, flaky pastry that encases cheese or a sausage meat or something else. I ate bureks all day every day for a few weeks, and man oh man do I miss them! One of my finest discoveries of 2016 right here.
Read more: 15 Signs You’ve Traveled in the Balkans
18. Finally seeing Whitby Abbey
Moving to York (and Yorkshire), my number one thing to see was Whitby Abbey. When I was in York almost 3 years ago, I tried to figure out a way to make it happen—but bus schedules and a lack of time (due to group travel) meant that I had to miss it. Visiting Whitby within two weeks of moving, and finally seeing the abbey, was an incredible moment. I’m still so happy to live here in England.
Read more: A Perfect Day in Whitby
19. Hiking in the Peak District
England has so much to offer outside of London. I’ve visited the Peak District National Park before, but haven’t been able to go out walking due to both time constraints and my lack of appropriate gear. This November, I had a whole weekend and new hiking boots to break in—so off I set! Hiking solo was so incredibly freeing and I had the absolute best weather I could dream of—blue skies and plenty of sun. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the park!
20. Revisting Poland
Poland was one of my favorite countries from my year abroad in 2013-2014. I spent a week in Warsaw, Wrocław, and Krakow and absolutely loved it. Beautiful, cheap, fascinating, amazing food, and packed with things to do and see. And of course, Poland was where Adam and I first got together, so I have lots of special memories from the country because of that! Over Christmas this year, I went back to Poland, to Warsaw and Krakow for several days each. It was so much fun going back to some of my favorite places, exploring more of the city (both of them!), and in general enjoying the cheap prices, good beer, and sharing all of it with Adam again!
Thank you so much to everyone who has followed along with me this year on my adventures! I wouldn’t be here without you all!
What were your top experiences of 2016? What are you most looking forward to in 2017?!