I typically don’t spend a lot of time looking back – I would rather be planning the next adventure than thinking about (or editing photos from) the last one. But I started this blog to provide inspiration on where to go in the world, what to do and where to stay, so by definition a lot of it is looking backward. And I’m always learning from my past travel successes and failures when planning the next adventures. So in that spirit, this is my recap of a crazy 2014 in travel – 18 countries and six continents, almost all with kids.
January – Antarctica
I started 2014 in Antarctica with my eight-year-old daughter on board the National Geographic Explorer. It was an amazing trip – penguins, icebergs, scenery, fjords, whales, seals, kayaking, sledding and snow angels, perfect for young and old alike. Antarctica deserves to be on everyone’s travel wish lists. An aside: I don’t like the term “bucket list”, since it implies checking things off before you die, rather than finding the most amazing/unique places and activities and returning to them over and over if you desire. And Antarctica is definitely somewhere that I want to return to – most likely in December 2017 when my youngest daughter will be almost eight and my oldest will be 12. My blog post on the trip is here.
January – Argentina
We had a few days in Buenos Aires in December before we headed to Antarctica. Then we had an unexpected day post-cruise when United cancelled our flight back to Houston. Since we had already hit the major attractions, this stop we wandered through parks, ate gelato and saw Frozen in Spanish.
February – Bora Bora
This was actually one of the easiest trips of the year. It was an overnight flight from LA to Tahiti and then a short flight to Bora Bora, where we were picked up by a boat and transported to the Four Seasons and our overwater bungalow. It was a splurge, but the kids (and adults) all loved it, and the the resort was very kid-friendly. The kids are already telling us that they want to go back for the kids club, pool, beach, water sports and bungalow. My blog post on the trip is here.
March – Florence
Florence is my favorite city in the world. In March there was a cheap fare on United/Swiss, so I grabbed it and headed over solo for four days. I explored new areas of the city, relaxed and met up with friends for dinners. Travel shouldn’t be all about planning major trips months in advance; it’s also fun to book impromptu trips, even to places nine time zones away.
April – Hawaii
We typically head to Hawaii for spring break, always returning to the Mauna Lani, where we got married ten years ago. This trip we went to the Seahorse Hawaii Foundation in Kona for the first time, which was fun for the kids, and we tried (unsuccessfully) to find new lunch spots that had been recommended to us. My blog post / open letter to the Mauna Lani is here.
April – Panama
Each of my kids gets to pick a destination – any destination – every year for a one-on-one trip with me. My six-year-old son this year chose Easter Island. The best flight option went through Panama, so we stopped for a day. It wasn’t a highlight of the year, but it was great to see at least a little bit of a new country, and the Panama Canal was a worthwhile stop. My blog post on our 25 hours there is here.
April – Chile
From Panama we headed to Santiago, Chile for a day and a half. We really enjoyed exploring the city. We headed to outdoor markets, playgrounds and parks, took the funicular up to the top of the city, and had a great lunch in Bellavista. Overall it was just long enough to get a taste for the city and really make us want to return.
May – Easter Island
Easter Island was very cool. It’s another place that you should definitely add to your travel wish lists, and is more accessible that you would think it is – just a five-hour flight from Santiago. In addition to the Moai (the famous statues throughout the island) the island was beautiful and relaxing. We loved walking around the town of Hanga Roa and just exploring. My blog post is here.
May – Iguazu Falls, Argentina
From Easter Island we headed over to Iguazu Falls for two days. The waterfalls are spectacular, as is the rain forest surrounding the falls. Staying inside the national park at the Sheraton allowed us access to the falls anytime, which we took advantage of our second morning by heading to the base of the falls before any other tourists arrived. Really fun to have the park to ourselves, and a very unique experience.
June – Colorado
I grew up in Colorado and as a family we return frequently, but I hadn’t yet been tempted to put the kids into a car for road trips around the state. That changed this summer, with a trip to Breckenridge and Vail, where we hiked, sledded down mountains, explored arts festivals and ate very well. In future summers I want to explore the state more – Estes Park, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Durango and Telluride are all on the list.
July – Costa Rica
We missed the Fourth of July in the states this year because a good friend was getting married in Costa Rica. It was a fun opportunity to see a new (for us) place. We stayed four nights at the Marriott Los Suenos, saw monkeys and sloths in Manuel Antonio National Park, went ziplining and attended one of the most beautiful weddings ever. Costa Rica is high on our list of places to return to soon.
July – Venice
We love Venice, but hadn’t intended on visiting in summer (peak tourist season) until we booked a Disney Cruise departing from there. It turned out to be a great three days. We stayed again at one of our favorite hotels anywhere – the Hotel al Ponte Antico, and hired a guide to get us away from the tourists, which turned out to be a great move. My blog post on how to see Venice during the summer is here.
July – Disney Mediterannean Cruise
At some point I’ll do a blog post on our Disney cruise experiences. Overall the ships are very kid-friendly, and are nicer than most ships out there. For us one of the major attractions is the ports. Three years ago we sailed from Barcelona to Italy, France and Malta and returned to Barcelona. This time we left Venice, had five stops in Greece, one in Turkey, one in Malta and disembarked in Barcelona. It’s not something we’re tempted to do every year, but the kids love the experiences so we’ll likely keep going every few years as long as the itineraries are different.
July – Athens, Greece
Our first stop after leaving Venice was Athens. We had been to Athens before and weren’t tempted by the standard tourist circuit. So instead we booked a foodie walk, which took us to eight or so restaurants and markets for tastings, and we ended the day at the Acropolis since the kids hadn’t been there before. The food was all good and we arrived at the Parthenon after the other day-tripping tourists had left, which was a great way to time it. Overall it was a really good day.
July – Ephesus, Turkey
One of our favorite stops was Ephesus. I booked a private tour through Best of Ephesus Tours, and even through we encountered a lot of tourists as the main stops, our amazing guide was able to get us away from the crowds as much as possible. When our kids were starting to get tired from the walking and the heat, she took us to a carpet weaving center to relax, and it turned out to be a highlight. The kids loved running around while we were being shown carpets, and we had a great lunch in a courtyard next door. We ended the day with gelato and Turkish coffee. Yet another place that we want to return to and explore more.
July – Rhodes, Greece
We loved Rhodes. On our one day there we just stayed in the old town, but there was plenty to do and explore. Our kids played around medieval fortresses and we had a great lunch under huge ficus trees in a square that we stumbled upon. One warning: don’t get a henna tattoo in Rhodes.
July – Crete, Greece
Crete was another cruise stop where we didn’t have an agenda. We met up with an old friend of mine, walked around Heraklion, and took a taxi to the Ta Kalitera restaurant down the coast where we had an amazing lunch and played at the beach for hours. We didn’t see another tourist.
July – Mykonos, Greece
Mykonos was an ok cruise stop. It’s a relatively charming island with the zig-zaging walkways of the main town and some easily accessible beaches, but also fairly touristy. We simply relaxed, explored, followed a pelican through the streets, had another long Greek lunch and had gelato before letting the kids play at the beach.
July – Santorini, Greece
We were on a mission in Santorini – see my blog post on our highlights in Europe. After a donkey ride in Fira we spent the day in Oia looking going back to some of our favorite spots before getting a late lunch at one of our favorite restaurants anywhere, Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna. We’re going to be back in Greece next summer and will do at least one day trip over to Santorini to have lunch there.
July – Malta
The first time we went to Malta we just walked around Valletta. This time we arranged a tour of the island including a boat ride through the Blue Grotto, a visit to Marsaxlokk fishing village and lunch at Mdina. Mdina was a highlight – a very cool old city.
July-August – Paris
After the cruise dropped us in Barcelona, we flew to Paris where we rented a house for two weeks. Following on a longer stay two years ago, we explored some new areas of the city and returned to favorite spots. This trip we booked tours for the first time (through the Marais, Notre Dame, the Louvre and Montmartre) with excellent results and did a great cooking class as well. My blog post on our Paris stay, and advice for other travelers, is here.
August – Salzburg, Austria
From Paris we headed to Salzburg for a week. The plan was to explore the city, enjoy the culture and the Salzburg Festival and do some day trips. The reality was that it rained constantly, leading to a less-than-perfect stay. We did enjoy attending a couple of kid-friendly operas, and we gave the kids a good introduction to Austrian/German cuisine. A day trip to Hallstatt would have been great if not for all the rain. A day trip to the salt mines in Berchtesgaden, Germany was enjoyable for the kids, and at least it wasn’t raining in the mines!
August – Bled, Slovenia
Trying to escape the Austrian rains, we headed to Bled for two days. We got a little less rain at least and had a great time walking around the lake, rowing out to the island, sledding down the mountain and trying Slovenian cuisine. The Mayer Penzion was a great, very family-friendly place to stay, and our dinner at their attached restaurant was a highlight of our trip.
August – Florence
Florence has become an annual destination for us, following our Conde Nast Traveler prize trip to the city. We built on the last trip with some additional museums and tours with our favorite guide Elvira Politi and really just enjoyed being back in the city and out of the rain that had been following us. We went back to favorite restaurants, even being treated like locals at some, and discovered some new favorites. We’ve already booked a return week there next summer.
September – Ethiopia
Ethiopia had been near the top of my travel list for years, so when National Geographic announced a photo expedition there I jumped on it. We started in Addis Ababa, then went south to the Omo Valley and finished up north in Lalibela for the Meskel festival. It was a difficult place to photograph as most people wanted money to pose, but was a fascinating place to see with some tribes living largely as they have for generations with no access to technology. It is also a stunningly beautiful country that deserves more tourists but is still stigmatized by the isolated famines of the 1980s.
October – Mexico City
In October I headed to Mexico City with AFAR magazine. The magazine put together a very impressive agenda for four days that highlighted the culture and cuisine of Mexico, including museums, cooking classes, market visits, bicycle rides, boat rides and amazing meals in palaces and fields. I didn’t have Mexico City on my radar previously, but now I’m excited to return with my family. My blog post on the trip is here.
November – California
November was my first travel-free month! I took advantage by working on my night photography. This was shot overlooking the Ojai Valley.
December – Colorado
We closed out the year in Crested Butte, our favorite ski town. Our kids don’t get to see much snow in California, so it’s always fun to return to Crested Butte and several feet of snow. It’s snowing outside as I write this!
Travel in 2015
With 2014 in the books, I’ve already planned most of 2015. I’m looking forward to more adventure! Right now my schedule includes (in order) Belize, India, Mexico, Indonesia, Australia, South Carolina, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Croatia, Colorado, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Thailand and Hawaii. And in the next few weeks I’ll have a new website that highlights more of my travel photography. Stay tuned!
What were your highlights from 2014? What are you looking forward to next year?