The Best Travel Experiences of 2021

I think we all had high expectations for 2021. I think a lot of us are feeling disappointed. I definitely had some goals for this year that didn’t quite get realized, but that’s just the way of it sometimes, isn’t it? So instead of dwelling on what was supposed to happen but didn’t, I thought I’d put some positivity out there instead! Here are some of the GREAT unexpected things that happened this year. What amazing things happened for you in 2021?

Surprising My Parents for New Year’s Day

This was epic! My parents have been having the same group of friends over for New Year’s Day festivities for the last 30 years. On New Year’s Eve 2020, my dad was bummed because he thought no one would be able to come to my parents’ house to eat and watch football that year. So, Steve looked at me after I got off the phone with my dad and said, “Do you want to fly to Nashville tomorrow to surprise your parents?”

YES! Of course I did! So that was how we started our year. My parents–and all our friends who did end up coming like they do every year–were very surprised and extremely excited! I will never forget the look on my parents faces when we walked in to surprise them. I didn’t get a picture of their faces, but that’s living in the moment for you!

First flight of 2021 was a surprise for everyone!
More here: The Best Things to See and Do in Carthage, TN

Visiting Key West in January

Winters in D.C. seem to get harder and harder for me every year. So I was incredibly thankful when United started non-stop service to Key West from my home airport of IAD. Steve and I made the most of our “summer in winter” getaway, and we had a wonderful time! Feeling the sun on my skin in January and taste testing all the key lime pie were good for my soul and my general morale.

Winter should always include sunshine, a fuschia romper, and frozen key lime pie!
All in the name of research: The Best Key Lime Pie in Key West

Flying in a Seaplane for the First Time

This was so amazing! Steve and I have flown a lot of miles to a lot of places, so there aren’t many “firsts” in our travels these days. This, however, was a first to us both! The sensation of landing on the water and then taking off from it again was super cool, and the views we were able to get between Key West and the Dry Tortugas were absolutely epic. I recommend taking a seaplane when the opportunity arises!

Have you even flown in a seaplane?
Decisions, decisions: How to Choose Between the Seaplane and the Ferry to Dry Tortugas

Staying at Casa Morada

WOW! Steve and I were so impressed with our anniversary stay at Casa Morada, an adults-only resort on Islamorada, we’re still talking about it and trying to figure out when to go back. We stayed two nights at Casa Morada back in May, and we were blown away with the massive, hand-delivered breakfasts, the pool, the included kayaks and paddleboards and bikes, the manatees, the cats, and more! We can’t say enough good things about it, and as an added bonus, my post about our stay has become one of my most viewed new posts of the year!

Manatee encounter! Photo Credit: @ajwildthang
Read the post: Staying at Casa Morada, Islamorada

Taking my Dad to Dry Tortugas

Okay, so we went to the Florida Keys a lot this year! We were supposed to take my parents to Mackinac Island for their 40th anniversary in 2020, but of course that didn’t happen. So, we changed plans and took them to Key West in June this year! My mom got to read a book by the pool, sit on the beach, and visit the Butterfly Conservatory, but my dad got the thrill of his life when I took him to Dry Tortugas National Park so he could snorkel. He SCUBA dived in college and throughout his 20s, so this was reminiscent for him in his 60s. Also, he got to fly in the cockpit next to the pilot of the seaplane!

As an added bonus, Dry Tortugas includes a Civil War-era fort. Why is that cool? My dad also did Civil War re-enacting for about 15 years, long ago. He got to see both in the same trip. Also, the day this post went live was my dad’s birthday! Happy birthday, Daddy-o!

Snorkeling next to a Civil War fort? Dreams do come true!
Start planning your trip: The 10 Best Tips for Visiting Dry Tortugas National Park

Returning to Kaua’i

If you didn’t already know (since I’ve been telling everyone who would listen), 2020 took away one of the most special things Steve and I do every year: We had to miss our anniversary trip to Hawaii. But in 2021, we decided not just to go back to Hawaii, we decided to go back to my favorite island in the world: Kaua’i. It’s the most beautiful place on Earth, and even during COVID, it did not disappoint.

One of the best things about this trip? We had the Kalalau Trail practically to ourselves for hours!

This is the same picture we took five years before!
Read on: The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Kaua’i

Monk Seal Watching on Ni’ihau

Speaking of Hawaii, there’s one island I never thought we’d visit: Ni’ihau. Why? It’s the Forbidden Isle! You can only visit by invitation or via very hit-or-miss helicopter tour. We didn’t know if we would really go until the day of our tour, so we were extra appreciative of our time there. It’s stunning, but the most exciting part was admiring the endangered Hawaiian monk seals! We saw several, but this one came particularly close!

She was so sweet!

Returning to International Travel

I told Steve that another year without international travel was a life I didn’t want to live. That sounds dramatic, but it’s how I felt. We tried to make an international trip happen in the summer, but it didn’t work out. So we planned a trip to Belgium for December, and then omicron reared its ugly head just two weeks before we were supposed to go.

We didn’t care. We can’t live life in fear because that is not life. We took the correct precautions, we took the tests, the rules changed while we were in the air to Belgium, and we made it happen! It was stressful, it was a challenge, it was a relief. I’m so glad we went, even if the Christmas markets were not great (thanks, COVID), even though we had to test to come home, and even though the people with the loudest voices want us to live in fear and stay home. We did it!

Our triumphant return to Europe!
And we ate amazing food: The Most Belgian Food You Have to Try in Belgium

Want more? Check out my Travel Tips Page for more posts to inspire your next travels!

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2 responses to “The Best Travel Experiences of 2021”

  1. Hey Whitney!! What all inclusive resorts have you been to and would you recommend?

    1. Hey there! Steve and I don’t usually do inclusive resorts, but my friend Hayley can help you out!

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