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Best Travel Experiences of 2018

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Machu Picchu with my G Adventures guide

In 2017, I skipped writing about my best travel experiences of the year for the first time since I began the annual tradition in December 2010.

I’m still bummed about not taking the time to pause and reflect, even though the only international travel I did was to Mexico City (but hey, at least I went three times). 

My biggest news from last year was the decision to sell Travel Blog Success, the online courses and community for travel bloggers I’d been working on since 2009.

Matt of Nomadic Matt acquired my business and quickly incorporated it into his own (Superstar Blogging).

I decided to sell for a lot of reasons, one of them being that I felt myself drifting further and further away from the kind of work I enjoy most – traveling, writing, and helping others explore our world. 

I started 2018 brainstorming what I wanted to do next and kept coming back to how much I’ve enjoyed my lifestyle and work the last 11 years. 

I decided to recommit myself to Go Backpacking, while at the same time starting a new passion project in the form of a food blog (Feastio). 

Ironically, with all the free time that came from selling my e-commerce business, I took so many trips that I didn’t give myself enough time to write about them in between!

It reminded me how much more time and energy goes into producing stories today versus when I first started blogging in 2007. 

Cuzco, Peru
Cuzco, Peru

Top Travel Experiences

Peru

My first trip of the year was to Peru in late January.

I’d won the 8-day Explore Machu Picchu tour from National Geographic a few months earlier while attending an event to promote study abroad and global citizenship.

The tour itself was run by G Adventures, a company I’d gone to Patagonia and Mexico with previously.

I invited my friend Freddy, and we flew down to Lima to meet up with the group, before flying to Cuzco.

Initially, we spent several days visiting archaeological sites in the Sacred Valley, some of which I’d seen before. 

Then, unlike my first visit to Machu Picchu when I did the four-day Salkantay trek, we took the train to Aguas Calientes.

Machu Picchu was just as beautiful and mystical the second time around.

The most significant difference in my experience that I noticed between 2011 and 2018 is that tourists are now held to a stricter path through the site.

We weren’t allowed to backtrack. Keep this in mind while taking pictures.

However, such changes are understandable given the negative impact over tourism can have on ancient archaeological sites. 

Once the tour was over, I moved into an Airbnb apartment in the heart of Miraflores.

I spent the rest of February in Lima eating delicious Peruvian food and checking out new bars. 

Machu Picchu Tour: Head to Lima for fantastic food, before catching a flight to Cuzco to explore the Sacred Valley and iconic Machu Picchu. This is one of the cheapest group trips available in South America from Nat Geo and G Adventures. Click here to learn more.

Read More About Peru

Watching the San Antonio Spurs at my first NBA game
Watching the San Antonio Spurs at my first NBA game

San Antonio, Texas

In March, my friend Lee Abbamonte was visiting Austin. 

In addition to being the most-traveled person I know, he’s also one of the biggest sports fans I’ve ever met.

He was going down to San Antonio for a Spurs game and invited me to join him. 

I used to follow the NBA and NCAA tournament as a teen, but I’d never been to an NBA game. A casual bucket list for me is to attend at least one event for every professional sport in the US. 

We rented a car and drove the hour and a half south to San Antonio.

Once there, we took a quick photo of the Alamo and checked out the San Antonio River Walk.

The river walk is a park that runs along the San Antonio River, which weaves its way through the city’s historic downtown. 

It’s lined with bars and restaurants. Small boats are available to give visitors a ride. 

The NBA game was a lot of fun. I liked the fast pace of play and that the Spurs blast (mostly hip-hop) music during the game. 

Dynamite Circle at Xochimilco
Dynamite Circle at Xochimilco

Mexico City

I visited Mexico City for the fourth time in a year to watch Murphy, my friend Freddy’s dog, and attend a Dynamite Circle mini-conference. 

The Dynamite Circle is a membership-based community for location-independent digital nomads and entrepreneurs. 

I also used my time there to check out restaurants and bars for Feastio and do some sightseeing. 

I first visited Mexico City on a G Adventures tour and count myself as a fan now. 

I even considered starting a new blog specific to the city last year. However, I’m holding off on that project for now. 

Mexico Adventure Tour: From Mexico City to Playa del Carmen, with all the cool spots in between, including Puebla, Oaxaca, Palenque, Merida, and Chichen Itza. Click here to learn more.

Read More About Mexico City

Tobacco tour guide and group - Vinales, Cuba
Sundowner with my tobacco tour guide and group in Vinales, Cuba

Cuba

Cuba has been on my travel bucket list ever since I arrived in Colombia in 2009 and fell in love with salsa music. 

But, the U.S. policies about Americans traveling there independently confused and concerned me, so I put it off until President Obama began to enact changes. 

Then Trump became President and wanted to reverse everything. 

I was concerned I’d missed my window, and it’d be significantly harder to visit Cuba as an independent American traveler. 

As it turns out, it was a piece of cake in 2018! It just required a little extra planning. 

During my 10-day trip, I caught up with my friend Ayngelina in Havana, learned how to roll a cigar in Vinales, partied in a cave in Trinidad, and soaked up the sun on the beautiful beaches of Varadero. 

Writing about my solo trip to Cuba is high on my to-do list as 2019 gets underway. 

Read More About Cuba

Costeño Beach, Santa Marta, Colombia
Costeño Beach, Santa Marta, Colombia

Colombia

Speaking of Colombia, I returned to the Latin country I know best for the first time in over three years. 

I began with a week in Bogota getting to know restaurants for Feastio, flew to Medellin to visit friends, and then Santa Marta to hang out on Costeno Beach. 

The trip was so fun; I returned to Medellin at the end of December to ring in the new year. 

Classic Colombia Tour: I’ve been traveling independently in Colombia for 10 years, however for those more comfortable with visiting in a group, I recommend this 16-day trip from Bogota to Santa Marta. Click here to learn more.

Read More About Colombia

F-14 Tomcat at USS Midway
F-14 Tomcat on the flight deck of the USS Midway

Southern California

For years, my friend Bob had been encouraging me to visit him in sunny San Diego. 

I was living in Colombia for much of that time, so it didn’t happen. Now that I was based in Austin, TX I made the long-overdue trip to southern California. 

Spoiler, I loved it! I already shared much of how I spent that week in my article about the top things to do in San Diego. 

I could see myself living in San Diego one day. It felt like Austin by the ocean. 

I also took the opportunity to visit another friend and go wine tasting in Temecula, a city and region an hour north of downtown San Diego. 

Ferrari 488 Spider
Ferrari 488 Spider in Maranello

Italy

In early 2018, I joined the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), an organization that promotes adventure travel. 

The organization’s membership is mostly made up of tour operators, plus destination representatives, as well as a handful of freelance journalists and bloggers. 

Their annual Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) was held in Tuscany in 2018, and I made it a point to go. 

I flew into Milan for the Duomo and re-visited Florence for the first time in 20 years. 

Before the summit began, I went on a six-day walking tour in Tuscany along the 1,000-year old Via Francigena pilgrimage route. 

Between the tour and the summit, I also squeezed in a wine tour in Chianti. 

After the summit, I climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa, visited my friends Mike and Stephanie (Bologna Living), drove a Ferrari 488, saw the Ferrari Museum in Maranello, and discovered the delicious foods of Emilia-Romagna.

Ultimate Italy Tour: This tour hits all four places I went on my first backpacking trip in Italy (Venice, Lake Como, Florence, Rome), plus Cinque Terre and Tuscany. Click here to learn more.

Read more about Italy

Barcelona, Spain
On top of the world in Barcelona, Spain

Spain

Italy was amazing, but I wanted to visit at least one other country before heading back to the U.S.

I picked Spain, so I could visit my friend Shannon (A Little Adrift) in Barcelona and check out some bars and tapas places for Feastio. 

I also took the a high-speed train one hour northeast to Girona, capital of Costa Brava, which I first visited in 2012. 

Once there, I geeked out on a self-guided walking tour of scenes shot for Game of Thrones. 

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Fall colors in NYC
Fall colors in NYC

New York City

My last stop of the European trip was New York City to visit my brother and friends, plus check out some more bars and restaurants for Feastio. 

I once again had a positive experience flying a Norwegian Air Dreamliner, this time from Barcelona to NYC. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, 2018 was a blast! I revisited a lot of my favorite countries, including Peru, Colombia, and Italy, plus I finally got my butt to Cuba and San Diego. 

In 2019, you can expect more of the same from me, plus guest posts from fellow travel bloggers and writers.

Have a story to contribute?

Check out our updated writer guidelines to learn more. 

Prior Annual Reviews

Thank you as always for reading Go Backpacking!

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