Wow, each travel year keeps getting better and better and as I reflect on the places that I’ve gone, I still cant believe it! In 2018 I traveled to 7 new countries including Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, UAE, and Vietnam. I also re-visited some of my favorite countries including Greece, Norway, Italy, Croatia, Spain, Denmark, England, Albania, Canada, Iceland, and Northern Ireland.
In 2018, I visited a total of 18 countries on 3 continents. It was extremely hard to pick my favorites but I’ve narrowed it down to the following 6 places (plus a few more). Hopefully it provides some new travel inspiration for 2019!
The Lofoten Islands were a dream destination for me and high up on my bucket list. Norway is one of my favorite countries in the world and the natural landscapes in Lofoten Islands were just unreal. Lofoten Islands exceeded my expectations and literally took my breathe away. It’s also a photographer’s dream!
This trip was also special because it was my first ever GROUP TRIP that I led and it was so much fun to meet new girls and share the experience with others for a change. We stayed in the coziest cabin right on the lake and were dazzled by the Northern Lights on our last night there. The icing on the cake! I plan on doing another group trip there in 2019 since I loved it so much. Lofoten Islands was probably my favorite place I visited in 2018!
Not many people I know go to Bagan…one of the reasons that it really appealed to me! I loved it and it was such a unique place that was different to any other place I had ever been. Riding E-bikes around dirt roads searching for the sunrise or sunset was magical. I was also there during the water festival (“Thingyan”) which was…interesting haha.
It took some work getting all the way over to Bagan, but I’d say it was truly worth it! If you want somewhere different or off the beaten path, Bagan is the place to go in 2019! PS: try to make it during hot air balloon season (I just missed it by like a week or 2).
The Faroe Islands (made up of 18 islands) are a self-governing region of Denmark located in the North Atlantic Ocean halfway between Iceland and Norway. It reminded me a lot of the landscape in Iceland, but with NO crowds. The Faroe Islands are the place to go if you love nature, hiking, photography, and isolation.
I spent a total of 5 days there and couldn’t recommend it more. Just beware of car rental prices because they are absurd! Book in advance. Also, if you’re interested in seeing puffins, the season runs from late May to early September! For all of the details and the 5 day itinerary I put together, check out my post about the Faroe Islands here.
I had been to Canada several times before but nothing prepared me for what I would see in Banff. The most beautiful blue and crystal clear lakes you will ever see in your life are in Banff. This was also a group trip destination and it was such a fun time. Banff had some of the most gorgeous hiking trails and the scenery is hard to beat! Banff should definitely be at the top of your 2019 travel wish list!
Banff is the perfect place to go if you love hiking in nature and breathing in the fresh mountain air. Make sure to carry bear spray and try not to hike alone because some trails actually require a minimum number of hikers (but you can always join other hikers as well).
PS: some of the trails and roads are closed throughout the year due to snow so to be safe, travel there from June to early September if you want to make it to Moraine Lake, etc.
Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Vietnam was one of those destinations that really surprised me in 2018, particularly the countryside. I took a day trip to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc and it blew my mind! You can easily take a 2 hour train ride from the crazy bustling Hanoi center to a whole different world filled with epic mountainside views and tranquility.
Make sure to take a boat ride through the valley with the Vietnamese feet rowers for a very cool experience that will take you through some caves and let you feed some goats on the way. And you cannot leave the area without hiking up to the Hang Mua Caves, pictured below.
Not only did I LOVE Vietnam, but I can now honestly say Vietnam has the best coffee in the world! (along with Italy and Colombia). The egg coffee is life changing (and i’m not even being dramatic haha). Oh, and did I mention endless Pho soup for only a few bucks? I was in complete heaven.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
It took my second trip to Iceland (and my last group trip) to finally make it to the lesser visited Snaefellsnes peninsula, and boy was it worth the wait! I had longed to visit Arrowhead Mountain from Game of Thrones and it was absolutely gorgeous.
One of my favorite memories was actually on the way up there stopping at a cute little hot spring in the middle of nowhere. What made it so magical was that we were the only ones there and it felt like a little gnome house or something.
My other favorite destinations from 2018 included Sicily (Italy), Rhodes (Greece), Northern Ireland Game of Thrones trip, Sri Lanka, The Cotswolds (England, and an epic Norway road trip.
The Cotswolds, England
Sicily Road Trip
Mirissa, Sri Lanka
GOT tour, Northern Ireland
What’s On My 2019 Travel List
There are SO many places I can’t decide! But i do know I am going back to Asia for a few weeks and also going to try to visit the few countries left in Europe that I haven’t been. And my ultimate destination will be Patagonia (which I have been trying to go to for the last 3 years). I’m hoping 2019 will finally be that year!
I also have a few destination weddings I am going to in North Carolina and Mexico so it’s going to be a busy year!
More Group Trips
I had a BLAST doing group trips last year and I want to continue them in the new year! I will probably host 3-4 trips in 2019, the first being Lofoten islands, Jordan, and Beirut! Check the details here.
Other group trip options for the second half of the year are Azores islands, Peru, GOT Northern Ireland tour, Scotland road trip, Oman, Lapland, and Patagonia!
With only 3 days to explore the entire country of Iceland, I had to pack as much into each day as humanly possible to try to see it all. When I decided a tour was the best option for me, I chose a small company called Solstice Tours, featuring a smaller group size. Because, who wants to be herded around in a grey hound bus with 100 other tourists? That sounds God awful. I chose the Golden Aurora Circle Tour, a combo of the Golden Circle Tour and Northern Lights Tour.
The Golden Circle covers approximately 300km and is the most popular day tour in Iceland. So what exactly do you see on the Golden Circle Tour? Here goes (it’s a lot!):
Golden Circle Tour
On Power Power Plant
The first stop was to the On Power power plant. Not too excited about it at first, but then I learned some very interesting facts about Iceland. Some extremely freaking cool things I learned:
the power plant is near an active volcano
magma under the ground is heating up the water (2km underground)
power plant adds sulfur to water to protect the pipes (hence the bad smell)
power plant extracts the geothermal liquid and it is separated into water and steam
steam is used for electricity (resulting in extremely low electricity bills in Iceland)
pipes run 27km to the city of Reykjavik
16,000 tons per hour can be pumped to Rekjavik at highest capacity (woah)
Reykjavik uses underground hot water to heat the streets (I was wondering why there was no snow on the streets!)
I had no idea this was part of the tour but Jon, the tour guide and owner of Soltice tours, pulled over on the side of the road near a green pasture. He hopped out and told us it was time to feed the horses. What? How exciting! He gave us some bread, and I was extremely hesitant to feed them, thinking I might lose a finger or two. But he calmly informed us that the Icelandic horses are some of the tamest horses in the world. Why? Because they have never had any known predators. I thought that was cool.
What else is really cool about Icelandic horses? They have 5 different gaits, as opposed to the average horse with 3 gaits, making them extremely unique. The more you know…
How cool is Kerid Crater?
I had never heard of this place, but this turned out to be one of the most unexpectedly awesome stops of the whole tour. I felt like I was on Mars walking around the periphery of this huge volcanic crater. I cant deny that it took me 30 minutes to walk around as I kept stopping for selfies. No shame.
Random Cherry Tomato Plant
Random stop at cherry tomato farm (aka the best cherry tomatoes I’ve ever tasted)
On this random stop, we quickly visited a cherry tomato plant where Jon brought us endless cups of local cherry tomatoes. I’m so not a tomato person at all, but these were the best cherry tomatoes I had ever tasted! Hands-down. So sweet and juicy! Who would have thought, in Iceland?
Geyser Geothermal Area
Strokkur Geysir erupts every 5-10 minutes
Just like it sounds, it’s an area filled with geysers everywhere you turn. The most famous Strokkur Geysir is very active and erupts every 5-10 minutes, making it a popular spectacle. The famous geyser sprouts up to 30 meters! But don’t stand too close or you will most definitely get sprayed!
The Magnificent Gulfoss Waterfall
Gulfoss waterfall is one of the most magnificent waterfalls in all of Europe. Formed by 2 waterfalls smoothly cascading into the next, this is certainly the highlight of the Golden Circle. We were however, greeted by an intense hail storm upon arrival. The hail was so powerful I couldn’t even open my eyes, so I had to run like a bat out of hell back to the van for shelter. Very characteristic of Iceland’s weather, 5 minutes later the sky opened up magically with a bright blue tint, making you forget what had just happened. It was just enough time gawk at this beauty of nature, snap some pics, and be on our way!
Here I am 5 minutes earlier trying to snap a photo. Not exactly what I was expecting.
Not too thrilled about that Icelandic weather
Stop at a Glacial Spring
With a quick stop at the glacial springs, we were able to actually taste the glacier water straight from the source. It was some of the purest, freshest water I have ever tasted! I can now officially say I’ve literally tasted natural glacier spring water.
Þingvellir National Park
Fissure outlining the separation of the tectonic plates
Þingvellir National Park was one of my personal favorite stops on the tour! It is home to the Silfra fissure, where you can snorkel and dive in between the Mid-Atlantic ridge separating the 2 continents, North America and Eurasia! Where else in the world can you do that? It was January, so I decided to pass on this. I know, lame. We still were able to spot many areas where you could visibly see the fissure between the 2 continents.
GOT Season 6 was filmed steps away from here 🙂
Another huge highlight for me was getting to see some of the filming sites for the upcoming Game of Thrones season! Yes, they were filmed in Þingvellir National Park!! I felt like a giddy school girl knowing that I could be walking on the same grounds as Jon Snow. I’m a dork, I am fully aware of this fact.
Is Iceland really real? 🙂
Observatory between North America and Eurasia Tectonic Plates
This was really cool as we could visibly see the cracks in the ground separating the 2 continents. Jon took us to the North American side so we could feel “at home”.
Overlooking the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between N. America and Eurasia
Interesting fact: The plates in this Mid-Atlantic Ridge shift apart 2cm each year!
Northern Lights Tour
Ok, this is why I really decided to come to Iceland in the dead of winter. The Northern Lights are high on my bucket list, as they should be. The great thing about this tour is that Jon allows you to go along on the Northern Lights chase up to 3 TIMES, on the day of the tour, and also on the day before and day after, increasing your chances of a sighting.
Jon had a plethora of knowledge about photography and shared some of his helpful tips as we sat in the van waiting for the perfect timing. It was a windy and frigid evening and it seemed like we would go home empty handed, but Jon pepped us up to go out..
He informed us that sometimes you cant see the lights with your naked eye, yet they are still visible through the camera lens. And he was right! We were able to see a slight glimpse of the lights through the viewfinder. If only faintly, we were able to see the Northern Lights. However, I can still say that I have not seen the lights with my naked eye. So it still remains on my bucket list! I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for me; although I did enjoy the chase!
Photo courtesy of Jon, owner of Solstice Tours
What I really liked about Solstice Tours?
small group size (about 8 people) allowed for getting to know other travellers
wifi on bus (huge bonus!)
knowledgable and kind tour guide (I’m talking about you Jon!)
pick up outside of the city (at my Airbnb apt)
extra stops along the tour
good lunch options
so many sites visited (bang for your buck)
What I didn’t like?
My only complaint is that I wish we could have spent more time at certain sites such as Þingvellir National Park. But with the short daylight time in winter, this wasn’t possible.
Disclaimer: special thanks to Solstice Tours for hosting me. As always, my opinions are my own. If I don’t like something, I will definitely speak my mind! No bullsh*t.
Have you done the Golden Circle Tour or Northern Lights Tour? Would you rather go on a tour or go solo? I want to hear your thoughts!