“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
– T. S. Eliot
I didn’t travel quite as far as I sometimes do in 2016, but I what I lacked in distance I made up for in depth. I did get to Canada and to a U.S. Territory this year, but the majority of my vacation days were spent close to home, looking at my home state of Minnesota and my adopted state of North Dakota with new eyes.
Lots of you tell me that you’d love to travel, but you just don’t have the time or the money to go far. That’s okay. There’s plenty to explore in your own backyard. My 2016 certainly proves that.
Esperanza, Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
I had an amazing time connecting with some of the best travel writers and photographers in the world at my first ever TBEX conference at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. It was kind of odd to attend a travel conference at place I used to work, but re-examining familiar places kind of what I do, so it seemed appropriate.
I danced at First Avenue for the first time in years (and still scored free drinks — my streak continues into another decade), connected with kindred souls at workshops and checked out Red Wing, Minnesota, with a handful of fabulous women.
The Mississippi River at sunset, from Harriet Island on the Saint Paul side
When I toured Summit Brewing Company with a cadre of fellow writers and photographers in May, it never occured to me that I’d be on the phone with the founder a few months later. But the opportunity to write a North Dakota beer book landed in my lap this fall, so I ran with it. My research trip to Bismarck just happened to be on the same days that Lisa and Tim from thewalkingtourists.com were in town, so of course I had to meet them at a former speakeasy for dinner.
It was fascinating to dive into North Dakota history and to realize that today’s quiet streets and prairies were the party hotspots of yesteryear. (Seriously, the early North Dakotans were wild. The fact that writing about parties in the 1800s was as interesting as covering today’s modern craft breweries was an unexpectedly great surprise.)
Hats, shades and iced coffee at Winnipeg Folk Fest
Contacts made at TBEX landed me in Winnipeg, Manitoba with my best friend Liz. We were weirdly delighted to receive our first-ever Canadian passport stamps after a dozen or visits, even as the customs agent gently reminded us that being questioned wasn’t exactly something to be excited about.
We hit up our first ever Winnipeg Folk Festival,where we met the talented Jenn Smith Nelson, of travelandhappiness.com. Later we blissed out in the spa, saw polar bears swimming in the zoo, tried a bunch of Canadian beer (of course), wandered around a few of our favorite neighborhoods and ate a completely ridiculous amount of food.
We also grabbed breakfast with Natalie, of Pegcitylovely.com fame, who is just as fun and funny in person as she is online. Writing this paragraph has reminded me that I owe you a ton of stories about Winnipeg (I don’t even want to tell you how many are sitting here in draft form!) so stay tuned!
A gig as a featured writer for AmericInn took me around the upper Midwest during one of the prettiest summers I can remember. These stories put me in rose-scented gardens in St. Cloud and on the Mississippi River with my husband and son, who rocked his very first canoe trip.
Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Just a few days later I was hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park with my friend Naomi. It was her first time in western North Dakota and Montana and it was interesting to see this beautiful, wild place through her eyes. In addition to keeping pace with me on hikes, it turns out she’s also fluent in prairie dog jibberish (Those suckers are chatty!) and can drink and heckle well enough to keep with my extended family, which is not an easy task. You never know what travel will teach you!
Hiking and paddling became unofficial themes of my summer. In Minneapolis, I kayaked the Chain of Lakes with my friend Joe (who you might know from Without a Path). In White Bear Lake I went on the water with my dad, who enjoyed it even more than I did.
Chain of Lakes paddling
But the hands down, on the water highlight of the year was kayaking the luminescent Bio Bay on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico. It was pitch black except for the stars and the tiny, glowing creatures swirling underneath our paddles. It truly is one of the natural wonders of the world. You should go immediately. (Try Taino Aqua Adventures. They’re fabulous.)
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Puerto Rico. We booked it based on price alone, which was a stretch for my Type A personality (I called that story That Time I Let Fate Decide Our Vacation, but an appropriate subtitle would have been “Auuuuuugh!”). It was an incredible trip, full of street food, city beaches, cold beer and playing dominos. It totally exceeded my expectations. (You can read about it here).
Surfers at Balneario Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico
So what’s going to happen in 2017? If 2016 has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t really have a clue. It sounds like I’ll be on a North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Saskatchewan book tour this summer and I’m always looking for new stops and new places to explore.
I’d like to go abroad again. Nicaragua might happen and Cuba, if my friend Simon is still up for it. My friend Sara (the woman who basically taught me how to travel when we were teenagers) will be flying in from Spain for a few shenanigans and I’ll be off to Colorado for a few days too.
But again, who really knows? All I know is, I want to read more fiction, write more effectively, take longer naps, try new beer, practice speaking Spanish (and maybe take a Norwegian language class!) and visit places I haven’t seen before.
How about you?
What are your New Year’s Resolutions?
What do you hope to cross off your travel bucket list in 2017?
What was your favorite destination or discovery of 2016?
What would you like me to write about this year?
Happy New Year, everybody! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with me. It’s a privilege to chat with you and exchange ideas with you. You make doing my job fun, every single day. Have a wonderful last day of 2016 and a great start to 2017.
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