2019 was more than a year of travel – it was a year largely defined by travel. I estimate I spent somewhere around 120 nights travelling this year. I visited 11 different states and 5 different countries. I flew well over 100,000 miles, and can now get from my bed to my departure gate in 30-45 minutes, including time to change and put on make-up. My suitcase is always half-packed and I have two sets of toiletries. It has been a truly wonderful, insane, exhausting, and exhilarating experience, which is pretty much 2019 in a nutshell. A year of change, a year of never being in the same place for too long.
You can check out my 2 part reflection on 2018 here and here! And you can read how I approach loneliness and travel here: How to beat loneliness as a solo traveler and how I focus on health here: How I stay healthy while traveling.
I started my year of travelling with a trip that warmed my soul because I went with three of my closest friends from undergrad. It was especially a time when I was feeling lost and frustrated by life and work, and having that weekend reminded me of who I was. I ate a tremendous amount of food and I laughed tremendous big laughs. There’s something so special about spending time with people who know who you are, even the ugly parts, and appreciate you anyways. My heart felt very full.
Highlights: All the food and gorgeous murals! I have two weekend guides, one for food and one for exploring: A Guide to 48 Hours of Food in Austin and A Guide to 48 Hours of Exploring in Austin
Los Angeles, California
February and March saw me staying somewhat grounded in California and doing a not too intense Monday through Thursday commute from cold and drizzly NorCal to what turned out to be cold and drizzly SoCal. I was expecting beaches and sunny weather but it rained nearly every single day I was there for 2 months.
Highlights: My hands down favorite part of LA was a truly magical trip to Disneyland, which I have been dreaming of ever since I came to college on the west coast. I collected all my planning tips here: A Guide to Planning a Magic Trip to Disneyland
Las Vegas, Nevada
I swear I go to Las Vegas every year, and every year I say “never again!” Somehow I ended up back in Las Vegas in 2019. It was a riot, per usual.
Highlights: Trying to get a group of 20 into clubs for free. My guide is here if you find yourself with the same struggle: How to Not Pay Cover in Vegas
I found Portland to be perfectly delightful in every way. Delicious food, cute coffee shops, a massive bookstore, amazing donuts – as far as I was concerned, Portland has it all. I also went right at the end of spring, so the weather was purely gorgeous and thoroughly inviting. I only wish I had more time to explore more of Portland’s beautiful nature!
Highlights: Powell’s City of Books is a bookstore that takes up a whole city block and an absolute must-visit for book lovers. Also just thoroughly amazing food which I have documented here: A Guide to 72 Hours of Food in Portland, OR
Shanghai is a city that feels like second home to me because my grandparents and the majority of my extended family live there. Every time I go, I am incredibly grateful for the time I get to spend with my family, especially as I grow older and I feel like I have less and less time. I was only in Shanghai for a weekend, but it was a very special weekend indeed.
Highlights: nostalgic food such as sheng jian bao and xiao long bao along with seasonal fruits such as lychee and waxberry. I write a bit about them here: Travel Diaries: Favorite Shanghai Breakfast Foods
I love Tokyo for its futuristic feel, its seamless public transportation, its orderly neatness in a world full of chaos. I love the wonderful attention to detail and respect for others that is reflected in every aspect of the city, from food to bathrooms. I spent only about a day and a half in Tokyo, but I enjoyed catching up with old friends and my host family from an exchange program I did two years ago.
Highlights: I visited teamLab’s gorgeous digital museum and it is truly an unparalleled and unique experience: Travel Diaries: Art meets technology in Tokyo
If Tokyo is the city that is speeding towards the future in a bullet train, then Kyoto is its calmer, more tranquil older sibling. I loved Kyoto for many reasons, including how peaceful it felt after the hustle and bustle of Shanghai and Tokyo. I loved it for everything from its beautiful shrines to $1 nigiri fresher than most anything you could get in the United States.
Highlights: I would say one of the most memorable experiences was an early morning hike up Fushimi Inari shrine: Hike of Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto, Japan
And if Kyoto is the city that marries history and the present with grace and beauty, Osaka is the rowdy, boisterous cousin. As soon as I got off the train, I felt a different atmosphere and energy. Things here were a little less orderly and a little less perfect. There were large statues of food loudly advertising said food outside of restaurants. There were many shopping plazas and the famous running man ad. It was all very quirky and quite a lot of fun.
Highlights: A series of bars set up in an old apartment building, where each apartment was converted into its own themed bar. I also quite enjoyed the Kit Kat chocolatory, where Japan’s famous (or infamous) love of Kit Kats is put on full display: Kit Kat Chocolatory, Osaka, Japan
Deer, deer, and more deer. Nara is the city of deer and I was so thoroughly charmed by my day trip here. The deer bow, and you give them a rice cracker. You might get nipped in the process but it’s so wonderful it’s completely worth it.
Highlights: the deer. If you want more details: A Day with Deer in Nara, Japan
I think of all the cities I visited in 2019, Moscow was the most unexpected and the one that left the deepest impression. After jumping through nearly $400 worth of visa hoops, I had doubts that I would enjoy my stay in Russia. It ended up being one of my most memorable trips to date. My days in Moscow were marked by a sense of wonder as I discovered a city full of beauty and history. It was a humbling experience as I learned to look beyond stereotypes and my own preconceptions.
Highlights: I loved lively Gorky Park in the midst of a spring bloom, and I was enraptured by the golden onion domes of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior: Why I was wrong about Moscow
By the time June rolled around, I had quite literally flown around the world, starting in San Francisco, stopping in China, Japan, and Russia, and coming back home. But still I was excited by the nomadic life and eager to see where else I would wander. Stay tuned for the remainder of my 2019 travels, coming in part 2!