My Favorite Travel Moments from 2018

I read an article recently that said our concept of time speeds up as we get older because our daily routines aren’t interrupted by new experiences the same way they are when we’re children, when everything, every day brings something new. The key, the authors advised, was to do more things that create memories strong enough to jolt through the quotidian litany of our existence.

I am fortunate to have a job that in so many ways lends itself to this practice. But as I’ve settled into the flight attendant life, I’ve found myself sinking once again into the habit of thinking of time as something that is rushing by me - an endless series of venti vanilla lattes bought at 5 a.m., heels clicking under too-bright fluorescent lights in yet another airport, “welcome aboards” and “thanks for flying with us.” And while it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking about life this way, it’s a narrative that ignores the many moments, both big and small, that have made my life richer.

To that end, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my favorite travel moments from 2018, the moments I pause at when I’m replaying the movie of this past year in my head. Taking some time to remember them has worked like magic, if you will, slowing down time and transforming it from a succession of takeoffs and touchdowns to a humbling reminder of how many things I got to see and do this past year that made my heart leap.

From a cold night in Brussels to the summer solstice in Spain, here are the moments in 2018 that made time stand still.

Foregoing French Fries for Pommes Frites in Belgium

I kicked off last year with a 48 hour layover in Brussels. It was absolutely freezing in that bone-chilling way Europe is after Christmas, which meant my sightseeing around Brussels and nearby medieval Bruges was punctuated every hour or so by a jaunt inside a cozy restaurant or bar to warm up. I ate until I couldn’t eat any more: Belgian waffles drizzled in Nutella, Flemish stew sopped up with warm homemade bread, delicate chocolates in the shape of swans, and mussels in big black pots. But my favorite meal, by far, was a thing of pommes frites and pommes sauce ordered on a street corner of the main platz. They were so hot that steam drifted off of them into the dark night and we devoured them with frozen fingers while we watched the lights dance off the gold that gilds the platz.

Making Layovers Great Again in Costa Rica

At my seniority, landing yourself a long layover at an all-inclusive resort is a bit like being Indiana Jones and finding the Lost Ark. But landing yourself a long layover at an all-inclusive resort and then finding out you’re going with three other flight attendants around your same seniority and age is like the real-life version of those Hallmark Christmas movies, where you find out the handsome man you’ve been dating is actually a prince and you’re going to be the new Princess of Moldovia. Maybe even better.

That’s what happened with my Liberia, Costa Rica layover, when a trip normally reserved for the most senior ended up having four baby flight attendants working it. We became fast friends and spent most of the day in the pool where we out drank even the Canadian fire fighters. We also fed some monkeys, dipped our toes in the ocean, and took a walk in our bikinis through the jungle. It was a perfect day filled with mojitos and laughter and, despite the fact that my liver wouldn’t make it, I wish all layovers were this fun!

Keeping Up with the Joneses in Gramercy Park

In April, I had the privilege of staying at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, a hotel so sexy it barely turns any lights on and has its own Le Labo Candle to capture its signature smoke and sex scent. As a guest, I got to spend the night drinking cocktails in the shadowy Rose Bar, the glitzy lounge in the hotel lobby hidden behind thick red velvet curtains. I also received a golden key to the exclusive Gramercy Park. The park is one of two private parks in the city and its impeccably manicured acres are only accessible to those who live on it (the names of which read like some of history’s and Hollywood’s finest and include everyone from Julia Roberts and Karl Lagerfield to John Steinbeck and a handful of Astors). I felt like a character in a Wharton novel the morning I strolled through it, stopping among the splashy tulips to sit on a park bench and drink up the cold spring sunshine.

Arroz con Pollo in ViÑales

The couple that ran my casa particular in Viñales spoke no English and my Spanish is conversational, at best. But we spent all day together under the sun, clip clopping on horseback through the fertile red mud and tobacco fields that make this region a UNESCO protected area. And through broken Spanish and many repeated sentences, we learned a great deal about each other: that we shared a love of yucca, that he had granddaughters he adored, that being able to open an AirBnB had changed his family’s life, that we would both rather spend a day on horseback than anywhere else in the world. Afterwards, back at his farm, we took shots of Havana Club rum with his neighbor, both of them donning machetes and looking like an ad for la revolucion, as the sun sank behind cavernous limestone cliffs and his wife clambered about in the kitchen. And as I sat at the dining room table proudly displayed in his living room, eating one of the most delicious meals of my life, I thought about how this dinner wasn’t even a possibility ten years ago. Cuba and the U.S. have lived in fear of one another for so long, and now here we were, laughing until we had tears in our eyes. Our host cracked open another bottle of rum, spilling the first few drops on the ground as per tradition. “Por los santos!” he shouted. “For the saints.”

Sailing Mallorca

Sailing Mallorca with In Adventures Travel was my very first press trip. And man, was I nervous! So nervous, in fact, that I as I boarded my flight to Barcelona I confess I stopped in the jet bridge and thought about just spinning around and heading back home. I’m an introvert at heart, so spending four days on a sailboat with a dozen or so other people I’d never met before made me anxious. And they were all such talented writers and photographers - people who had probably done dozens of press trips! - that I worried they would take one look at me and my little travel blog and Instagram and wonder what on earth I had done to get myself invited on this trip. But saying yes to this press trip turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done and one of the things I’m most proud of in 2018. Because not only did I get to sail around the stunningly clear blue waters of Mallorca, but I met and became friends with a group of amazingly talented people who inspire me every damn day.

But stepping onto that plane turned out not to be the scariest thing about this trip! That honor is reserved for the day we rappelled down a cliff into the ocean, which is by far one of the most adventurous things I’ve done to date. I came so close to saying forget it and just walking down to the beach. But I knew if I didn’t do it that I would always wonder what it would have been like to say yes. So I suited up, took a big breath, reminded the man helping me with my harness that I would prefer not to die, and stepped over the edge. I think about that moment often, the moment that I didn’t let fear win, that I did the thing that terrified me. It’s the most powerful lesson I’ll take with me from 2018: when you have the choice to stick with what’s comfortable or do the thing that scares you, always always step over the edge.

Mornings on the Lanai in Honolulu

I tend to fall in love with every destination I visit, but there’s a handful of places, like Oahu, that make me feel like my soul is at home there; like the land and I were created from the same primordial stardust and are delighted at being together again. I spent a morning there on the famed Waikiki Beach, curled up on my lanai with coffee and a book while I watched the ocean change from a misty gray blue to a sparkling turquoise as the sun peeked over the lush mountains. And then, suddenly, there was a rainbow right in front of me, plunging its colors into the ocean. It was a simple moment but it was one of my absolute favorites and a perfect reminder that there’s magic and beauty all around us every day - you just have to look.

vino verde and pastel de nata in Lisbon

One of the hardest parts of my job is that you have no work community. With 24,000 flight attendants and 14,000 pilots, you fly with a new group of people every trip. Sometimes that can feel overwhelming, isolating, and exhausting (so much small talk!), and sometimes it’s amazing because you meet so many new friends that way. Case in point: Jules! We’d known each other less than five minutes when the rest of the crew kept asking us how long we’d known each other for and if we picked up this trip to fly together. And they must have been on to something because by the time we landed in Lisbon we were BFF. We spent the day exploring Lisbon’s pretty streets in inadvertently matching outfits, drank champagne on a sailboat excursion with the rest of the crew, wandered around pink street until the wee hours of the morning, and spent basically 24 hours straight talking about everything under the sun.

Swimming with Manta Rays in Kona

One of the things I am most afraid of in the world is the ocean, especially the ocean at night. Sometimes, I peer down at it on transoceanic flights and imagine being swallowed up by that cold blackness. Or, you know, being eaten alive by sharks and other creatures of the deep. So when I saw that swimming with manta rays at night was rated not only one of the best experiences in Kona, but in the world, my first thought was that there was no way in hell I’d be checking that one off my list. But I was still high off the adrenaline from pushing past my fears and rappelling down cliffs in Mallorca (see above!) so I went ahead and signed myself up. I had a moment of total panic right before I slid off the side of the boat into the pitch black water, imagining some sort of JAWS remake starring yours truly, but in the end I was neither abandoned at sea or eaten alive by sharks. Getting up close and personal with those graceful manta rays (one came so close it almost swallowed my GoPro) was truly the experience of a lifetime and I’m so glad I didn’t let my fears get in the way of checking it off my list!

prost to Oktoberfest

I might be biased because my family is of German descent, but I don’t think there’s anything better than a national holiday where everyone gets together to drink beer and eat pretzels while dressed in costumes that make you feel like a Bavarian princess. Except for maybe a work trip that pays you to drink beer, eat pretzels, and dress up like a Bavarian princess with your friend. And that’s exactly what happened when Jules (of the Lisbon story above) and I picked up a Munich during Oktoberfest! Working with friends makes even an international service go by in a flash and we had so much fun in our dirndls and braids, joining our entire crew to celebrate this festival of fall.

sunrise at the Taj Mahal

When I went on my first press trip, I secretly hoped I’d make some new friends that I might be able to travel with in the future. So when Laura and I rendezvoused in India a few months later, it felt like we had manifested not just a friendship but something bigger. And nowhere was that feeling more present than our sunrise at the Taj Mahal. We walked there in the blue black dark just before dawn, as bats the size of eagles soared overhead, and I still remember the audible gasp we both let out as we turned a corner and saw this monument to love for the first time. We slipped our shoes off and shared the quiet peacefulness of a mosque with some monkeys and only a handful of other travelers while we watched the tomb turn from pink to gold to a dazzling white with the sunrise. We leaned against each other and just took it in, overcome by the singular emotion of seeing a place that you’ve always wanted to see, of realizing that from this point on you’re forever a part of its story and its forever a part of yours.

Charleston with momma

Years ago, before travel blogging was even really a thing, my momma told me I should start one as a creative outlet. She’s believed in my writing since I scribbled my first story and she would laugh about how maybe it would land me a free hotel stay or two and we could use it to go on a few trips together. So when I was invited for a weekend stay at a posh hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, I immediately invited her along for a girl’s trip. Our schedules are both usually so busy that we rarely get the chance to travel together, so we had a blast exploring the quaint cobblestone streets, taking in some architecture tours, and eating too many platters of shrimp and grits. But the best moment, by far, was when the hotel surprised us by sending up some champagne and as we sat out on our balcony drinking our bubbly she looked over at me and said, “You really did it baby girl!”

Cheers to an amazing 2018 and to all the great that awaits in 2019!
What were your favorite travel moments of 2018?