To say that my favorite travels of 2017 have been anything but incredible, eye-opening, and educational would be an understatement. 2017 was the first year that I traveled full-time; it took me to Europe with three friends for my 44th, 45th, 46th, and 47th countries, the Midwest, Mexico on an epic trip with three girlfriends, and a family holiday cruise on the Disney Magic.
From riding my first Segway, getting a behind the scenes tour at Disney, riding a Nascar track in a pace car, walking through the Bridges of Madison County, falling in love with E-bikes, becoming a regular at state and national parks, witnessing an annual Vera Bradley sale from the frontline, seeing several Broadway shows and concerts, and visiting four new states, it has been a pivotal year for my career and travel life. 2017 will be a hard year to top! Here are my ten favorite travel moments of 2017, in no apparent order.
Wichita tops my list this year for the biggest surprise and my most recommended US city to visit. When I stepped off of the plane, I had no idea what a cultural windfall I was in for. Wichita has stellar museums (such as the Mid-Atlantic All-Indian Center where I witnessed my first Pow-Wow), a fabulous local theater (Mosley Street Melodrama, also offering dinner), noteworthy living history (at Old Cowtown Museum), beautiful gardens (Botanica), and tasty eats. In fact, I ate the best breakfast of my life at Wichita’s kitschy Doo-Dah Diner. I love the free public transportation in downtown Wichita and that my age group is well represented in the city’s nightlife.
The best part of Wichita is the art; more than just murals. Keeper of the Plains, a huge steel sculpture of an Indian with his arms raised to the sun that burns nightly for 15 minutes, is something that you have to see to believe. It is mesmerizing!
Raystown Lake/Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
Another big surprise was what I found in the 250-year-old city of Huntingdon: adorable streets marked with historical homes, buildings, and beautiful architecture, dotted with really good restaurants and interesting shops. Nearby Raystown Lake has gorgeous waterfalls, hiking trails, and Pennsylvania’s only houseboat rentals, which I hope to enjoy in 2018. Any outdoor activity you could wish for is available at Raystown Lake and in Huntingdon, as well as the popular Allegrippis Bike Trails System. I contemplated learning how to ride fat tire bikes just so I could go on the course, but time didn’t allow for that.
You will fall in love with nature and history in this quaint, central Pennsylvania area just as I did. I’ll bet you schedule a trip after reading the post from my travels solely based on the incredible mountain house that I stayed in.
Danube River Cruise with Viking River Cruises
I’ve traveled to many fascinating places with three special girlfriends, but the Viking Danube cruise was our best trip yet! With stops in Slovakia, Austria, Germany, and Hungary, this was my favorite European itinerary thus far. We loved the cruise itself and being pampered, day in and day out, by Viking River’s exceptional staff. The food was the best that I’ve experienced on more than 30 cruises and we tried foods, wines, and beers from every specific region that we sailed to. Bonus, I binge watched Downton Abbey at night to get my real European fix and my excursions were included in the price of my cruise.
Afterwards, one friend and I added on two nights in Budapest that Viking offered for an additional $399. We stayed at the five-star Hotel Corinthia, which easily goes for $600 or more per night. A gourmet breakfast buffet, fit for a King, was included in the fare, far superior to the typical breakfasts I’ve had throughout Europe. If you are interested in river cruising, this is definitely a great option to add on to your trip.
Pittsburgh is an important city for me because it is where my favorite sports teams reside. Having been a Steelers fan since 1977, I have always loved visiting Pittsburgh and going to games at Heinz Field. I visited Pittsburgh in 2017 to sightsee for the first time. I had not realized what fascinating historical buildings were in the Steel City. From riding the Duquesne Incline for the best photo ops of the city to touring the National Aviary and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, I loved every single thing about The Burgh. Best of all, the food was exceptional in every way. I am hoping to visit Pittsburgh again in 2018.
My daughter, Taylor, and I visited Gainesville together and I have been the city’s biggest cheerleader ever since. This was my first time traveling to a college town as a blogger and I discovered that Gainesville has much more than just what the University of Florida has to offer. It has the best butterfly exhibit that I’ve been to in the country, with an exquisite art gallery showcasing Frida Kahlo work across the parking lot. At the Hippodrome State Theatre, we saw a fabulous regional production and spent an evening aboard the Florida Fun Bikes enjoying food and drinks across town. Gainesville has sensational food, something that I verified at least six establishments. Then, there is the La Chua trail that gets you up close and personal with hundreds of Florida gators and other wildlife, most notably bison. Prepare to be amazed by this Florida town!
Indianapolis is a city full of cultural opportunities! I was overwhelmed by the cool factor of Indianapolis and all of the urban green space (being utilized) downtown. This is a walkable city, with museums and shopping areas flanking nearly every block. The food scene is incredible, bursting with trendy eateries, classic restaurants, and well-known chefs. Indy is second (only to Washington, DC) for veteran monuments and memorials. I had no idea that this was such a patriotic city! I enjoyed visiting the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (the best in the nation) and the Eiteljorg Museum for American Indians and Western art, but the Indianapolis Zoo was my favorite offering.
Keep in mind that Indianapolis is also home to professional sporting events and Nascar racing.
El Paso, Texas
It is no secret that Texas is my favorite state. I’m blown away each time that I visit, insisting that I am eventually going to have a house in the Lone Star State. El Paso really took me by surprise. It is amazing! There is a plethora beauty and who knew that there were so many mountains? I loved the scenery and the fact that El Paso enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year. The food is sensational, with Texas, Mexico, and New Mexico influences. Seeing Phantom of the Opera at the Plaza Theatre was one for the memory bank.
Aside from the beauty, my favorite thing about El Paso was seeing two separate cultures blend together and cohesively exist. And can we talk about those hatch chile peppers? Wow!
The Outer Banks, North Carolina
I have oodles of friends who love visiting The Outer Banks, but I never made it there until this year. Like the saying, “good things come to those who wait”, boy, did they ever! The Outer Banks had more outdoor activities to do than I could ever have imagined. Besides the typical offerings of a beach destination, the OBX has incredible sand dunes and wildlife refuges. If you are a fan of lighthouses, the mother of all US lighthouses is here in Cape Hatteras. I climbed all 210 steps in the scorching heat just to say I had been to the top of the tallest lighthouse in the world! The Outer Banks quenched my thirst for knowledge with visits to the Wright Brothers Memorial, historic Manteo, Lost Colony, and the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station.
Best of all, I ate (like a queen) the best seafood of my life! The Outer Banks is definitely a place you will want to explore for yourself.
Until 2017, my typical trip through Tallahassee consisted of getting off the exit on my way to visit my daughter in Mississippi for a glimpse of the state capitol (its a thing with me!) and a stop at Krispy Kreme. Thank goodness I’ve officially had a real dose of Tallahassee. Brilliant museums (the Tallahassee Museum is epic, more of an outdoor attraction than a museum), upscale cuisine, noteworthy art venues, and a Segway tour were some of the things that dazzled me in Tallahassee. The city is actually quite huge, though most things were centralized in one location. Florida State University, home of the ACC Seminoles, is easily the most gorgeous campus in the state.
If I could pick one small town in America that really won my heart, it would have to be Thomasville, Georgia. I accidentally discovered it years ago while looking for a restaurant off of the interstate, but purposely sought it out in 2017 to learn more about it. Historic buildings and proud businesses make up the center of town, where friendly residents welcome you to explore their Thomasville. Taking an established food tour with Taste of Thomasville and riding E-bikes from Joyride were my favorite activities. You must visit the Pebble Hill Plantation, the most visited Thomasville attraction, and the beautiful Thomasville Rose Gardens. Eating local is a must in Thomasville; I enjoyed some fantastic foods from Jonah’s Fish and Grits and the Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop. Stay at a historic bed and breakfast or inn rather than a hotel in this quaint destination.
An Epic Year Indeed
I am blessed to have visited so many cool places this year. I hope you enjoyed reading about my favorite travel moments of 2017, a privilege to write. It is a dream to travel this wonderful world with my husband, daughters, and friends, especially my travel blogger friends have become an integral part of my life. I wonder where 2018 will take me?
Where did you travel to this year that was everything and more? I would love to hear about it!
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Many of these trips were hosted by the local tourism boards. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.