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What a year! I feel like a broken record but every year seems better than the last! I’d say that 2018 was easily the best year for my blog, the best year career-wise, and my best year personally with the Prince. Additionally, I finally feel settled in Hamburg – I’ve joined a few different organizations and have a solid friend group here. I always feel like my travels will never live up to the previous year. Yet, it seems to get even crazier! I might not have visited many new countries, but I felt like I was able to return to a lot of my favorite places as well as explore Germany more deeply.
Table of Contents
Quick Stats for 2018
- 14 countries (2 new countries – Moldova and Transnistria)
- 45 major cities and dozens of smaller towns
- 49 flights
- 47 long-distance train rides and dozens of more local trains
- 128 travel days
Guys, how did I manage 128 travel days in 2018?! That means I literally traveled almost 1/3 of the entire year – with a full-time job! I need to write a more in-depth post on this but here’s the major breakdown of how this is possible.
- Vacation days – Germany is a lot more generous than the USA and I currently get 28 vacation days. Additionally, the 24th and 31st of December are half days at work, so it ends up being 29 days total.
- Public holidays – I can’t believe I’m actually going to complain about this but Hamburg “only” gets 9 public holidays. Bavaria, a religiously Catholic state, gets 13 public holidays. It depends on the year, but I try to take as many “Brückentag” as possible. That means if a public holiday falls on a Thursday, I’ll take the Friday off. So 1 vacation day turns into 4 days! Brückentage are literally your best friend when taking advantage of the system. Unfortunately, the next couple of years are quite difficult in terms of when the holidays fall and if a public holiday is on the weekend in Germany, you just lose the day (unlike the USA which will either give the Friday or Monday off for a public holiday that falls on the weekend!).
- Changing jobs – Obviously, this was a unique scenario and not something that will happen in 2019, but I switched jobs in 2018 (more below!). I was able to take 2 weeks between finishing my old job and starting my new job to go back home and see family. I’m so so so happy that I had this opportunity and it automatically added on travel days.
- Weekends – weekends have easily become my best friend! Yes, it’s more expensive to fly or take the train on the weekend, but my Type A personality usually has all my trips planned 3-6 months in advance so I’m still able to snag good deals. I’m lucky that the Hamburg main train station will take me literally anywhere in Europe and Hamburg Airport is close to the city center. Although connections are lacking, it is consistently rated the top airport in Europe (range of 10-25 million passengers).
So now that I’ve covered how I’m able to travel so much, where exactly did I go in 2018?
The happiest place in the world – Disney World (specifically Epcot!)
I rang in the new year at the happiest place in the world – Disney World! Unfortunately, the Prince and I both had a horrible cold and were in bed by 11:30 pm. Not exactly the most festive people :) To be honest, I find New Year’s Eve to be quite overrated and now like to avoid it altogether. This past year, we were in bed before 11:00 pm! I wonder how early we’ll go to bed next year :)
After a relatively low-key and calm January (including celebrating my 27th birthday!), I flew to Luxembourg City for a solo trip at the end of the month. It was a place I had always wanted to visit and didn’t disappoint. When my family did a European vacation in 2012, all my siblings stayed in Luxembourg City. However, due to university classes, I had to miss out on this part of the trip. Although it was cold and rainy, I still managed to really enjoy the city and take a day trip to the castle town of Vianden.
Continuing our birthday tradition of exploring a new German city, the Prince and I headed off to Bamberg the first weekend of February (the Prince’s birthday is February 1st). Once again, we had typical cold, rainy German weather but that didn’t dampen our spirits! It was great to meet up with one of the Prince’s friends who is originally from Bamberg. The city is quite old and charming, and the sun managed to come out for us!
The second weekend of February we had planned to go to Aarhus, Denmark, a cute Danish city (and one of the biggest foodie capitals in Europe), for a weekend. However, with a very sick Prince, we ended up canceling our trip altogether the night before. To be honest, this was the first time we’ve ever canceled a trip and while it was a bummer losing out on some money, it made sense in the long run!
There’s something absolutely mesmerizing about the Austrian Alps
The end of February brought our annual trip to Serfaus in Austria! Once again, the Prince was sick (are you sensing a pattern here!?) and managed to pass it to me on the first day of our trip. Regardless, it was a total blast! I switched from snowboarding to skiing and it was possibly one of the best choices I’ve made all year! Skiing is like riding a bike – even though I hadn’t skied in over 15 years, I picked it up right away and managed to be placed in an intermediate course. I’m so looking forward to our annual ski trip in a few weeks.
I headed off to my first blogging/travel expo in Berlin at the beginning of March. I managed to get press credentials which made the entire event free for me. At the end of the day, I didn’t really make any meaningful connections (I should have gone a day or two earlier but didn’t want to take off work). However, I learned a lot of valuable lessons and had an excuse to go to Berlin ;)
After an unsuccessful attempt to go to Aarhus in February, we spontaneously decided to drive to Aarhus the second weekend of March. The city definitely did not disappoint – small cobblestone streets, cozy bars, and lots of yummy restaurants. It really is a perfect weekend getaway from Hamburg (less than a 4-hour drive!).
Adorable Danish city of Aarhus
Towards the middle of March, I unexpectantly woke up one Saturday morning with the most massive cheek in the world. After ignoring my dentist’s advice to remove my wisdom teeth years ago (they weren’t bothering me!), I managed to get one infected and thus had the biggest blown up cheek. Because it was a Saturday, I was able to see an emergency dentist who gave me antibiotics and painkillers. However, I had to wait until Monday to actually get the tooth removed. German health insurance really shined at this moment – I only had to pay a total of 5 Euros out of pocket for the antibiotics and painkillers, and nothing at all for the removal of my tooth! In the USA, this easily would have cost $1,000+.
After recovering for a few weeks, the Prince and I headed out to the German island of Rügen for the Easter holidays. The island is absolutely gorgeous and such a mix of old vs. new, history vs. modernity, and east vs. west. Part of former East Germany, Rügen has a complicated history both from the Third Reich and communist period.
April was a bittersweet month as I said goodbye to my first job in Hamburg at the end of the month. Although it was hard to leave this company and the amazing people there, overall it was the best move for me career-wise. I took a spontaneous trip to Zürich and Lucerne at the beginning of the month after finding cheap plane tickets and absolutely fell head-over-heels in love with Zürich.
Towards the middle of the month, the Prince and I took an overnight trip to Edinburgh. It’s our favorite city in the world and we’ll use any excuse to go there – even if it’s for less than 36 hours. Once again, the Prince was fighting a cold while we were there (2018 really wasn’t his year in terms of health!) but there was no rain and it was super sunny!
At the end of the month, we took our annual trip back to Heidelberg for the Maifest ball, the place where we initially met 4 years prior! Heidelberg had the most beautiful springtime weather and we indulged in our favorite cafes and restaurants.
Read More: One Day in Zürich
May was an eventful month for me! I accepted a new job that started the middle of the month. Thus, I had the opportunity to fly home for 10 days to see my family. It was great to visit my sister in Alexandria, Virginia as well as my grandparents in Virginia Beach. My parents drove down from Michigan and it is always wonderful being able to spend time with them.
Cobblestone streets of Alexandria, Virginia
A significant milestone in May: I celebrated being 25 years cancer free on May 21st. The Prince and I booked a 4-day road trip through the Lake District in the UK. We stayed at the most gorgeous, quaint B&B and when they found I was celebrating being 25 years cancer free, they upgraded us to the best room. It was terrific and the Prince and I talk about this room upgrade at least once a week!
At the end of the month, I flew to Amsterdam and took the train down to Rotterdam for Traverse, a massive travel blogger conference. Between the classes, workshops, and just getting to meet other travel bloggers, I felt so inspired and motivated to do more with this space! I’m excited to go back to this conference again this year – this time, in Trento, Italy!
In terms of playing tourists in Hamburg, the Prince and I saw Ben Folds perform at the newly-opened Elbphilharmonie. It was absolutely gorgeous and the acoustics did not disappoint! Ironically, the Prince’s mom and brother both had tickets to the concert as well.
June was an absolutely crazy month! Between taking on a few new leadership positions, getting ready for the World Cup (let’s not talk about Germany’s showing), and starting my new job, it was absolutely packed to the brim! At the beginning of the month, the Prince and I headed back down to Heidelberg for a Polterabend for dear friends of ours (the guy actually sort of set us up!). A Polterabend is a traditional event that takes place before getting married in Germany. It’s too complicated to explain so you can read more about it here :)
In the middle of the month, I headed to “two” new countries – Moldova and Transnistria. Technically, Transnistria is a self-governing, unrecognized state. It broke away from Moldova during the fall of the Soviet Union and has been in political limbo ever since. It’s super eerie because although Transnistria is unrecognized, the government is funded by Russia and passport control is handled by Russian soldiers. It’s the only place in the world that still has the sickle and hammer on its flag, and there’s definitely a level of secrecy surrounding the country. I really need to write a full blog post on Transnistria but needless to say, it’s one of the craziest places I’ve visited.
The view that greets you when entering Transnistria!
In contrast, I spent the weekend after on the gorgeous island of Sylt. I’ve sung its praises before because it really is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. It’s only 3 hours by train from Hamburg so my friend and I took a day trip to the island and managed to fit in a lot!
Summer 2017 provided some of the dreariest weather – cold, rain, and grey all the time. In contrast, summer 2018 was one of the best summers on record in Hamburg. Hardly any rain and multiple weeks with temperatures over 80F. Actually, for a week or two, we had temperatures closer to 95-100F and it was absolutely miserable – we live on the 3rd floor of a building with no air conditioning! However, I can’t complain too much!
We started off the month by celebrating the 4th of July – it’s one of my favorite American holidays! Our local American Center hosted a party for the American Women’s Club of Hamburg and the Prince and I attended it. For the event, the weather was absolutely perfect and we had so much fun indulging in our favorite foods.
July was also the final month of the Prince’s thesis so while he was writing away, I took a solo trip down to Nuremberg and Bayreuth. I had been to Nuremberg in the winter time and wasn’t a huge fan of it. Unfortunately, my trip in the summer didn’t really change my opinion. It’s a lovely, historical city that’s extremely beautiful. However, there’s just something “missing” for me. I took a day trip to Bayreuth and was able to meet up with one of my favorite travel bloggers who just happened to be there as well – Christina from Happy to Wander (we also met up in Tübingen). It’s always fun meeting up with other travel bloggers and swapping stories.
At the end of the month, we headed to outside of Düsseldorf for the wedding of a dear friend (the one whose Polterabend we attended in June). It was utterly hot and I was stung by a wasp (!), but it was a beautiful wedding and a great reunion with some old friends.
August brought the trip that the Prince and I had been waiting for all year – Hawaii! I’m lucky enough to have a brother who lives on the Big Island and it was so great to visit him. Unfortunately, my parents canceled last minute due to unforeseen circumstances. However, it was still a great trip with my younger siblings. Between the ATVs, secret beaches, hardened lava, volcanoes, coffee tours, and the trip to Oahu for Pearl Harbor, it was an unforgettable vacation and one that I loved sharing with my siblings!
Top of the volcano Mauna Kea on the Big Island in Hawaii
After getting back home from Hawaii, I ended up having another emergency wisdom tooth extraction! Because this tooth wasn’t infected (just really hurting me), the recovery time only took a day or two and, to be honest, was just like getting any other tooth removed. I now only have one wisdom tooth left (I only had three to begin with) and am waiting to see when I’ll have to get that one removed ;)
My siblings and I in Hawaii as well the Prince and my older brother’s girlfriend!
At the end of August, I headed down to Mainz, Wiesbaden, and the Rhine region for some wine tasting! August and September are the primary wine months in Germany – there are wine festivals every single weekend in both the big cities and small towns. I spent the day going along the Rhine to Eltville and Rüdesheim am Rhein. In the evening, I headed to Mainz’s yearly wine festival – there were over 100 wineries represented and I definitely took full advantage of all the wine tasting!
The week after the wine festival (and only 2.5 weeks after getting home from Hawaii), I flew back to the USA for my older sister’s wedding! Even though I was just home for 4 days, it’s always so special when I’m able to be with my family. Plus, I hadn’t been home to Traverse City for over 2 years!
The weekend after my sister’s wedding, one of the Prince’s close friends got married in a small town near Hamburg (Lüneburg). It was a gorgeous, intimate wedding and a nice overnight getaway for the two of us.
Towards the end of the month, I was invited to the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg. It’s a music festival for up-and-coming artists and there are hundreds of shows over 4 days. Because I was home for the weekend and the weather was glorious, the Prince and I headed out on a scooter for a ride around Hamburg. Hamburg has this amazing scooter-sharing program and we take advantage of it all the time. By waking up early, we had the streets almost entirely to ourselves!
At the end of the month, the Prince and I flew to York in England. We had heard such great things about the city and it did not disappoint us. As much as we loved this trip, it will always be marred by the fact that I had the most stressful, anxiety-inducing travel experience – I lost my wallet with my entire life in it! I didn’t notice until I went through security at Manchester airport that it was missing. I had a full-on panic attack and could barely breathe (surprisingly, I was in such a state of shock that I didn’t immediately start crying). Props to the entire staff at Manchester airport – they did a thorough search of the scanning machines to make sure no one had stolen it from security, got me water and tried to calm me down, and took me back out through security to retrace my steps. I had repacked my bag before security and the closest counter was Emirates. I ran up to them and they said they had found a black wallet and returned it to Lost & Found. I headed there and after a tense few minutes, it was recovered! I still couldn’t stop shaking the entire time in the Manchester airport and started crying when the Lost & Found guy handed it over to me. He probably thought I was crazy, but I had never been so happy in my entire life! I hope never to have that experience or feeling ever again.
Read More: Music City of Hamburg
My sister Paris turned 21 years ago and managed to convince my parents that she needed to celebrate her 21st birthday in Paris. She claimed that because she was named Paris, it was only fair. Can’t argue with that logic! Before flying to meet her in Paris in the middle of the month, my sister Loren came over early and we checked off a bucket list item – Oktoberfest. We absolutely LOVED it and I loved it so much, the Prince and I are headed back this year (he’s never been before!). It was crazy and overwhelming and so much beer. But you can’t help but love it! Loren and I managed to get into 3 tents on a weekend so we were quite proud of ourselves.
We then came back to Hamburg for a few days before heading to Paris where we indulged in so many yummy meals, cliché tourist destinations, fancy high tea, and dinner overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Only the best way to celebrate your 21st birthday!
At the end of the month, the Prince and I headed to London for a special event – to celebrate his undergrad graduation! To brag for a moment, his bachelor’s thesis on the British House of Lords scored a perfect (!!!) score of a 1,0. What a nerd but I’m so extremely proud of him and how hard he worked :) He clearly has a passion for politics and it has been great to see him grow both academically and professionally! It only seemed fitting to gift him tickets to “Hamilton” in London. We’re both obsessed with the music and it was such an impressive live performance.
November brought more adventures and lots of turkey! A good girlfriend and I headed up to Copenhagen and Malmö. Even though Malmö is in Sweden, it’s only a 20-minute ride away from Copenhagen and soooo much cheaper (travel-saving tip!). We had some train issues but were still able to explore Copenhagen for a day and Malmö for a day. The Prince and I are hoping to get back to Copenhagen sometime this year because he’s never been there (it’s only a 4-hour train ride away from Hamburg).
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and I was able to celebrate it three times – once with my work, once with the American Women’s Club of Hamburg, and once with friends. All three times were so much fun. With my job, it was most people’s first Thanksgiving! I thought maybe 10 people would participate and it would be a small affair. However, almost 25 people attended and I ended up cooking an entire turkey! We then celebrated with the American Women’s Club of Hamburg and it was wonderful to celebrate with other Americans. Nearly 100 people attended the event and I ate so much food! Our last Thanksgiving was celebrated with about 12 friends in Hamburg. It’s our 3rd year hosting one and it’s become a bit of a tradition. I think I was turkeyed-out by the end of the month :)
As we rolled into December, the Prince and I jetted away for a quick weekend trip to Lisbon. It was the Prince’s first time there and he absolutely loved it. It’s hard dealing with the winter months in Germany so any excuse for sunshine is much appreciated. It was so sunny in Lisbon, we didn’t even need our jackets!
As always, December flew by and 2018 came to a close! At the beginning of the month, we celebrated the holiday season with the official Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the U.S. Consulate in Hamburg. I then headed back down to Mainz for a winter wine weekend. Although it was a super short trip, I discovered a few new wineries and brought back 6 bottles of wine!
The next weekend, I jetted down to Basel and Bern for a solo weekend. After absolutely falling in love with Zürich, it was great to be back in Switzerland. While Switzerland is a bit of a disappointment for Christmas markets, I still loved exploring the two cities – they are both so picturesque!
In between all our trips, the Prince and I officially celebrated 3 years together! It’s crazy to believe that the boy I randomly met at a ball has become the absolute love of my life. I could get all mushy, but life with him really does get better each day, month, and year. Sometimes I just stare at him and think to myself, “How did I get so lucky? And how do I continuously fall more and more in love with him?” He’s that once-in-a-lifetime soulmate that I only dreamed about finding. I can’t wait to see where life takes us in 2019!
At the end of the month, the Prince and I flew to Traverse City, Michigan to celebrate Christmas with my family. I absolutely love Germany and just wish that my family lived over here with me – it’s the absolute hardest part about living abroad. I think that the Prince and I stayed in our pajamas almost the entire trip. All the Prince wanted was a white Christmas. After tracking the weather for several weeks leading up to our flight home, we realized that it probably wasn’t going to happen. However, magically on the 24th, we received unexpected snowfall! We received so much snow and blizzard conditions on New Year’s Eve that we ended up in bed at 11 pm (are you sensing a New Year’s Eve pattern!?). Fortunately, we woke up New Year’s Day to sunshine, good road conditions, and perfect powdery snow – the best skiing conditions. Although it’s no Alps, the ski resorts in Michigan aren’t bad!
Read More: Winter Wine Trip from Mainz to Rheingau
Just when I thought 2017 couldn’t be topped, 2018 swooped in and managed to take the cake. I pinch myself every day – I feel so fortunate personally, professionally, and everything in between.
I also had some significant, but wonderful life changes in 2018 – I changed jobs in May and absolutely LOVE my new company. I’m working in digital strategic communications and really enjoy the field – it’s a mixture of consulting, creativity, and analytical reasoning. I have two fantastic clients and just enjoy going to work every single day. Additionally, my new company is entirely in German! I feel like in the past 6 months, my German has drastically improved – nothing like being forced to speak the language daily :) I used to be so scared of speaking and have this newfound confidence in the language!
The Prince had such a huge year as well – he completed his bachelor’s degree with a perfect score, was accepted into his master’s program (only a 10% acceptance rate!), and absolutely rocked his job. I’m so proud of him and all the hard work he puts into everything he does.
As I mentioned above, I took over a female expat group in Hamburg for the latter half of 2018 and really enjoyed the experience. Although I am no longer the head of the group (not enough time!), I am still very active. It was awesome being able to plan so many events around the city. I also joined the American Women’s Club of Hamburg and took over the After Work Drinks group. These women are absolutely amazing and have so much wisdom. In December 2018, I was nominated for the board and officially confirmed in January 2019. I’m so excited to see myself grow in this group!
My blog also had its best year in terms of growth, revenue, and partnerships. After the blogging conference in June, I found a renewed love, joy, and ambition for my blog. I managed to secure five sponsored trips with tourism boards for the last few months of 2018 and found a huge confidence boost in approaching tourism boards! I can’t wait to see more growth in 2019!
What a year it has been! I hope all of you had a fantastic 2018, a great start to 2019, and prosperous and healthy rest of 2019!