— Top 15 Travel Experiences of 2015 —

We didn’t do much traveling for the first half of the year, as we were gearing up and saving up for our biggest adventure yet! In June, we took off on what was supposed to be a ‘Year on the Road’, but here it is 6 months later and we’re back in the States. It’s definitely not because we gave up on travel, but rather we budgeted well and could afford a trip back home to visit family for the holidays. After 2.5 wonderful weeks in Florida, we’re now in California for a few weeks before heading back out on the road. We feel so fortunate yet again to have crossed many items off of our ever-evolving Bucket List! So, as the year comes to a close, join us as we take a look back on our top 15 Travel Experience of 2015 (in no particular order).

15- Hiking in Sedona, Arizona

In early April we met up with Sam’s parents for a family vacation in Sedona, Arizona! We hiked around many of Sedona’s landmark attractions, including Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock, and went for a stroll along the beautiful West Fork Oak Creek Trail. Our vacation also included a thrilling jeep tour, a sunset hike at Doe Mountain, star gazing, a day trip to the Grand Canyon, and a day trip to a nearby ghost town (Jerome). We absolutely love exploring the Southwest and Sedona was certainly no exception!

Sedona

Hiking along the trail at Doe Mountain; the perfect place for watching the sun set

Sedona

Sam’s parents lead the way along our hike near Bell Rock

14- Exploring the Mekong Delta Region in South Vietnam

The Mekong Delta was our introduction to Vietnam and we quickly fell in love with the country and its people. Never have we felt more welcomed in a country. This region in South Vietnam is fairly undiscovered and tourism is a relatively new concept, so the locals are genuinely excited to see foreigners exploring their land. We experienced local villages, a gorgeous nature preserve, and a bustling floating market. We also stopped by local factories to see how bricks, coconut candy, and artisan crafts are made. 

Tra Su Nature Reserve

Exploring Tra Su Nature Preserve by boat

Chau Doc Floating Market

An early morning visit to the Chau Doc Floating Market

Read more about our visit to the Mekong Delta

13- Discovering the Fairy Tale Village of Cesky Krumlov (Czech Republic)

We absolutely adore small towns and Cesky Krumlov, located in the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, now ranks among one of our favorites! This medieval fairy tale village features the smooth flowing Vltava River perfect for rafting, a 13th-century castle ripe for exploring, and over 27 acres (11-hectacres) of beautiful royal gardens among other fascinating and historic attractions. It is here that Sam got to try his hand at being a blacksmith for the day! When you visit, don’t miss the view over the old town from the bell tower; it’s magnificent!

Cesky Krumlov

The view of St Vitus Church from the bell tower

Cesky Krumlov

Walking along the cobblestone streets of Cesky Krumlov

Read more about our visit to Cesky Krumlov

12- Experiencing the City of Budapest (Hungary) at Night

Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, is pretty much one of the most stunning cities we have seen at night. With its extravagant centuries-old buildings illuminated and reflecting off of the Danube, it is truly magical once the sun goes down. We actually visited Budapest twice this year – once for a week and once for just a day right before we embarked on a river cruise. Walking along the riverfront and taking a sunset river cruise were perfect activities for enjoying the city’s nighttime beauty. 

19th Century Széchenyi Chain Bridge spanning the Danube connecting Buda and Pest

Parliment Building in Budapest at Night

Parliament Building in Budapest is one of the most photographed buildings in the world

Read more about how to experience Budapest at night

11- Exploring the Ancient Temples of Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sadly the town of Siem Reap itself didn’t exactly win us over. It was unbelievably hot and we found it to be a little too touristy for our taste. However, seeing the ancient temples, some of them dating back to the 9th century, was an experience we won’t soon forget. We purchased a 3-day temple pass and explored over 10 temples. The grandeur and detail of these ancient structures were impressive to say the least! Ta Prohm and Bayon were among our favorite.

Bayon Temple

Bayon, built in the late 12th or early 13th century, is a Khmer temple in Angkor

Banteay Kdei Temple

Banteay Kdei, meaning “A Citadel of Chambers”, is a Buddhist temple in Angkor

10- Wandering through Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

You know how you go to some destinations and you can’t stop saying, WOW!? Well, Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia was one of those places for us! A sturdy wooden pathway led us past turquoise lakes and soothing waterfalls. It was like walking through a dreamland! Every time we turned a corner and encountered a new scene, we would gasp in disbelief at how beautiful it was. It was extra magical because we arrived right when the park opened and were among the first few people in the park feeling like we had the place practically to ourselves!  

Plitvice National Park

Endless waterfalls converge into one of many lakes at Plitvice National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Cannot recommend this place enough! Be sure to visit on your next trip to Croatia!

9- Hiking in the High Tatras (Slovakia)

Following a visit to Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, it was time for us to explore some of the country’s natural highlights! A 4-hour train ride brought us from the capital city to the town of Poprad at the foot of the High Tatras. During our 5 days in this region, we rode a series of trains, cable cars, and ski lifts to get us up and into the mountains! Some of our favorite memories in the High Tatras include gazing into the valley of Malá Studená and hiking down from Skalnaté Pleso to Hrebienok.

High Tatras in Slovakia

A red cable car takes a limited number of passengers to the second highest peak (8,642 ft) in the High Tatras

High Tatras

The valley of Malá Studená as seen from Lomnické Sedlo (7,185 ft) in the High Tatras

8- Embarking on a Viking River Cruise (Europe)

Though it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, we LOVE cruising! Click HERE to see why! Prior to our Viking cruise, we’d visited the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Alaska via ocean-liner cruise ships, but it was a bucket list item for us to experience a river cruise. In September we embarked on a 2-week cruise with Viking River Cruises and visited adorable small towns and a few larger bustling cities in the countries of Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands. We were in a new city every day for 15 days in a row, but it was an incredible experience we’d do again in a heartbeat. And we now have a few cities in mind we want to go back to visit!

Viking River Cruise

A Viking Longship cruises along the Danube in Austria

Cologne Cathedral

Looking up at the majestic Cologne Cathedral

Read more about our Grand European Tour with Viking River Cruises

7- Relaxing on the Island of Koh Chang (Thailand)

In sticking with our theme of visiting lesser-known destinations, rather than going to Phuket or Phi Phi, we visited Koh Chang for our much needed island time in Thailand. Koh Chang is reachable by affordable shuttle van and ferry from Bangkok. We spent 10 luxurious days on this beautiful island exploring its beaches, kayaking, and chowing down on some delicious Thai food. Including our transportation from and back to Bangkok, 10 nights of lodging, all meals, activities, and a few souvenirs, we spent less than $500 for 10 days in paradise! Thanks to our friends at Tieland to Thailand for the recommendation!

Koh Chang, Thailand

Sam enjoying the sun at Lonely Beach on the island of Koh Chang

Koh Chang, Thailand

Kayaking around the island of Ko Man Nai near Koh Chang in Thailand

6- Exploring the Beautiful Country of Slovenia

If you’ve been following our blog for the past few months, it should come as no surprise that our entire visit to Slovenia makes the list of top travel experiences this year. We fell completely in love with the country during our 2-week August visit. With so much to offer like a charming capital city, small towns, wine regions, beautiful lakes, gorgeous gorges, majestic mountains, whitewater rafting, and a sliver of coastline, there’s certainly no shortage of places to explore and adventures to be had, and we can’t wait to go back!

Sunrise at Lake Bled

It’s worth the early morning wake-up call to enjoy the sunrise at Lake Bled

Vintgar Gorge

Slovenia is covered in natural beauty, including Vintgar Gorge

Read more about our adventures in Slovenia

5- Trekking/Staying with a Local H’mong Family in Sapa, Vietnam

Nothing gets you feeling more connected to a culture than staying overnight in the home of locals. Following 8 miles of gradient trekking through the rice terraces near Sapa in northwestern Vietnam, we arrived at our homestay. The journey to get there was just a little strenuous, but nothing we couldn’t handle! The views along the way were worth every step and we were welcomed to our homestay with warm hospitality, hot tea, an herbal footbath, and a delicious home-cooked meal.

Rice Terraces in Sapa

Rice terraces cover the hillsides near Sapa in Northern Vietnam

Home cooking in H'mong homestay in Sapa

A local H’mong family prepares a home-cooked meal at our homestay

Read more about our Sapa homestay experience with Buffalo Tours

4- Discovering the Enchanting City of Prague, Czech Republic

When we started our 6-month trip in June, Prague was our very first stop! We experienced unusually cold weather seeing that it was summer, so we drank lots of hot chocolate and still had a delightful time exploring the capital city of the Czech Republic. The hilly city boasts several great vantage spots for stellar views and offers countless festivals throughout the year. And because the Czech Republic consumes more beer per captia than any other country, there is no shortage of places to enjoy a brew!

Prague

View from the bell tower at Old Town Hall

Old Town Prague

St Charles Bridge and other attractions in Old Town Prague

Read more about a personalized food tour we enjoyed while in Prague

3- Seeing and Photographing the Milky Way (Slovenia & Slovakia)

Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland was one of our 2014 favorite travel experiences! We’ve always enjoyed gazing up into the night sky and often dreamt of having dark enough skies to see and photograph the Milky Way. During recent visits to Slovenia and Slovakia, our dream came true… TWICE. Escaping city lights was easy to do in the more rural parts of these countries. In Slovenia we stayed near Lake Bohinj, the less crowded alternative to popular Lake Bled. With no major cities nearby, the sky was pitch black! And while in Slovakia, we stayed in the rural town of Betlanovce, right near Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise), which also provided perfect conditions for night-time photography.

Milky Way as seen in Slovenia

The Milky Way near Lake Bohinj in Slovenia

Milky Way as seen in Slovakia

The Milky Way near Slovensky Raj in Slovakia

2- Island Hopping in Croatia

Another dream of ours was to sail along the Croatian coastline, but when it became obvious that this dream would be a little out of our price range, we took matters into our own hands and planned our own affordable island-hopping itinerary. Using local ferry companies to get between the islands of Vis, Hvar, and Korcula we saved a ton of money and had a lot of time to explore and enjoy each island. Since it was the tail-end of the summer season, the crowds were minimal and the weather was perfect!

Kayaking in Croatia

Exploring the archipelago near Korcula by kayak (Pictured: Planjak Island)

Hvar, Croatia

The harbor of Hvar as seen from Fortress Fortica Spanjola

Read more about where we visited in Croatia, including the islands and town of Dubrovnik

1- Experiencing Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

We’re honestly not big on crowds and large festivals, but when we realized that we wouldn’t be far from Munich when Oktoberfest (the world’s largest festival) was going on, we figured it was something we should probably experience once in our lifetime. Last year, we met a couple living in Munich during their visit to San Diego; we quickly became friends and made plans to attend Oktoberfest together. Decked out in a traditional drindl (Toccara), drinking out of litersteins, and dancing on the table benches, it was an experience we won’t soon forget!

Oktoberfest in the Lowenbrau Tent

Drinking and dancing the night away in the Lowenbrau tent

Oktoberfest in Munich

With traditionally braided hair and a drindl, Toccara is ready for the festivities at Oktoberfest

With this being our biggest travel year to date, spending more than 50% of the year on the road, we can’t wait to see what 2016 brings! As always, our hope is that we inspire you to make time for the things you’re passionate about! Whether it’s traveling the world, or something else… do what you can to make it happen. Cheers to a new year!

2 Comments:

  1. What a fantastic year you guys had! And I must admit, I have been to some of those places but they all look so new here! Pictures are gorgeous and very tempting.

    I look forward to your travels in 2016 as well.
    Thanks for sharing.

    I have also did a rewind for 2015. Do have a look.

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