My A-to-Z Travel Memories: Reflections on World Travel in a Time of Isolation

As a world traveler, I am fascinated by culture and food and music and history. I am amazed by the similarities and differences that unite and divide us all. More than anything, though, I feel that we are all one tribe in this great big world, and all around the globe, we are each dealing with this pandemic that is keeping us physically apart. We can still be united, though, through technology and memories and optimism about the future.

Theo and I have said many times over the past few years that we wanted to travel like mad while we could, because you never know when circumstances will change and keep you grounded. Well, now, I am so happy that we followed through on our crazy travel agenda for so many reasons. We have a wealth of experiences together over the last seven years with memories that will last a lifetime. And during this time of isolation, we’ve also learned that we can simply be at home together 24/7 and enjoy each other’s company. Sure we bicker at times and need our own space, but we are really fortunate to have a solid friendship and comfortable life.

Comfortable or not, staying grounded isn’t emotionally easy. We all have fear or uncertainty and suffer from boredom or stress that we didn’t have before the pandemic. So to keep me from going too stir crazy, I’ve been posting some travel memories—one each day—from A to Z. I thought I’d put them all together and share them here.

American Road Trip

From Alabama to Arkansas to Arizona, from roadside markets and attractions to amazing world wonders, getting out on the road and just driving can be one of the greatest pleasures. Our first travel experience together was a coast-to-coast road trip from California to New Jersey. It was the end of summer and we drove in Theo’s jeep with our 100-pound dog and no air conditioning across the American Southwest, Midwest and on to the East Coast. We even added an extra few hours to a long day just to go see the Cadillac Ranch in Texas—and it was worth it.

Bosnia

Bosnia is truly a special place like no other. We had an amazing time exploring the Balkans, but Bosnia will always hold a very special place in our hearts.  From beautiful scenery, people, music and food, to a troubled past, resilient present and optimistic future, Bosnia is really magical. We made great friends during our short time there and got to explore some of Sarajevo from a local perspective—which included plenty of song, dance and drink!

California

When I was a kid, I’d always threaten to move to California because it was the furthest place I could imagine from Pennsylvania. When I was 18, I won a high-school competition that took me on an amazing journey to Anaheim. After 9/11, when I was 23, I took a trip to L.A. because it cost $145 round trip, and I needed to get out of Colorado Springs. I saw the sun set over the ocean for the first time in my life and swore I would move there. Nine months later, I graduated from college, put a bunch of city names in a hat, pulled out San Diego, packed my car and moved.

I left the west coast six years later, but I went back over the years. The last time I was in San Diego, seven years ago, I came back east with the man who would become my husband (see #1 American road trip). I was hoping to visit Southern California this year for the first time since then, but of course the pandemic is standing in my way. No matter what, though, I’ll always have California in my heart. This photo is from Ocean Beach, 2002, with my brother, a few weeks before my big move.

Dublin

My CEO surprised us with a two-week paid closure for the holidays this year. Amazing! So we went onto Google Flights and found the cheapest option to squeeze in some international travel. We ended up ringing in 2020 with an extraordinary dinner in Dublin, followed by a wander through the crazy Temple Bar area and finally settling in at a quieter, more local bar before the clock struck midnight. New Year’s Eve is the night when everyone is optimistic about the future. I’m so glad we had that lovely start to such an otherwise unprecedented year.

El Salvador

If you’ve read of our blog posts, you know that we absolutely love Central America. If we could only travel to one region, this would be it. Last year we decided to spend a long weekend in El Salvador because it was the only Central American county we hadn’t visited. We were a little concerned because some areas are known to be quite dangerous, but we did our research and felt very safe going to the beaches around La Libertad. El Salvador was an enchanting surprise. We stayed at Playa El Tunco and saw the most extraordinary sunsets. We also took a brief trip into downtown San Salvador and had a blast. By the way, if you haven’t had pupusas, you haven’t lived (I bet you can find them close to home, too.)

Florida

I lived in Florida for 4.5 years. I didn’t move to Florida under the best circumstances (see my HuffPost Personal article on surviving the ICU), but my time in South Florida quickly became some of the very best of days. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a student at the University of Miami School of Law, and I made some of the very best, lifelong friends in Fort Lauderdale. We love to go back and visit friends, hang out by the water, and even drink ridiculously giant and overpriced drinks while people watching on South Beach.

Greenland

Travel to Greenland for a once-in-a-lifetime experience—it is equally a humbling and majestic feeling. We only spent one night in Kulusuk during a trip to Iceland, but it was magical. Our hike to see icebergs in the bay felt like a walk through a dream. The lichen-filled paths looked like a painting leading to a rugged shore and breathtaking views of mountains, glaciers and icebergs. This was juxtaposed with poverty, simplicity and resilience.

Honduras

Do several trips to Roatan Island really count as going to Honduras? Maybe—or perhaps only if you stuff your face with Baleadas at least once per trip (this is possibly required and definitely enjoyable). Well, Roatan has the best relaxing vibe, the most insanely beautiful snorkeling right from the shore, great people, and wonderful food, and it gets extra point for ease of travel. This is a place we want to visit over and over, and next time, we’d like to hop over to the mainland to check out the Copan Ruins and Pico Bonito National Park.

Iceland

This island is so beautiful and diverse—and easy to get to from Washington, D.C. My obsession with Iceland started on my daily commute. I would stare at an Iceland Air ad on the metro and dream of the blue lagoon—wondering if it was a tourist trap or not and wishing I was there either way. The advertising worked. Next thing I knew, we booked a trip and were trekking around Iceland. We’ve had some unbelievable meals in Reykjavik and unforgettable journeys around the ring road—especially the drive to Vik. Iceland is incredible. We can’t wait to go back and explore more. Maybe next time we’ll get to Jokulsarlon to see the icebergs.

Jaipur

I have to admit that trekking through India in 118(F) degree weather was a challenge. But I’m so happy to have experienced it. This was a wonderful mother-daughter trip, and of all the cities we visited, Jaipur was my favorite. The spices and scarves and fruit for sale in the markets brought so much color and fragrance to the dry air. Of course, these were mixed with the scent of cow, elephant and grit, but the juxtaposition is part of the city’s beauty.

Aside from seeing the breathtaking Amer Fort (or Amber Fort) Palace, my favorite memory from Jaipur was crashing a wedding. We stumbled across the groom on a horse—making his way with his family to greet his bride’s family—and they let us join them for a bit. We had so much fun celebrating and taking photos together before moving on to our dinner that evening. These are the experiences I love the most.

Koh Samui

The Thai Islands are a wonderful place to either unwind or party till dawn—or perhaps a bit of both. Koh Samui (or Ko Samui) was the first Thai island I visited in 2013, and although I was there only a few nights, I quickly fell into a daily routine:
1. Wake up for cook-to-order eggs and fresh fruit
2. Go for an hour kayak on the crystal-clear and calm water
3. Go for a refreshing swim in the hotel’s lap pool
4. Head back to the beach for a $10 massage
5. Relax on the beach with a few 50-cent beers
6. Nap
7. Refresh and explore the nightlife
8. Repeat daily
Does it get any better that that? I’d love to go back and explore more Thai Islands one day and pick up the very same routine. (Note: I’m not sure which Thai Island is pictured here. I didn’t take a lot of photos, and I traveled to three islands).

Lake Atitlan

For several years, I have been mesmerized by gorgeous photos of a lake surrounded by volcanoes that frequent popped up as my Windows screensaver. Every time I clicked to find out more about the location, I’d see the same thing: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. And I wanted to go there. Last year, we had an 8-hour delay in San Salvador and Avianca gave us a generous flight credit to use in the next year. So I did a Latin America search on Google Flights, and Guatemala was the best deal. We booked the flights to the capital city, and I made sure we added Lake Atitlan (in addition to Antigua) to the itinerary. Wow! A luxurious Airbnb. Stunning sunsets. Beautiful meals. A breathtaking lake. All around, it was a wonderful experience that went from screensaver stock photo to mesmerizing backdrop to unforgettable album page.

Morocco

I asked Theo: “What does ‘M’ stand for most in our travels?” He replied: “Morocco, of course.” When we first took the plunge into a relationship, I already had a G Adventures trip booked to Morocco, so I asked Theo to join me. It was our first international trip together, and it cemented our bond. Our travel style was compatible, and we had so much fun. My favorite memory is spending New Year’s Eve in Merzouga, a small town in the Sahara Desert near the Algerian border. We ate local food, drank local wine, danced, and listened to live music with new friends. We also went to Madrid and Manhattan on our way home—so the trip involved many “M’s” … not to mention that Meknes and Marrakech were memorable stops on our journey, too! Also, we officially got engaged right after that trip, so the trek clearly influenced our marriage. Marvelous Morocco made for unforgettable memories.

New Orleans

We’ve had the opportunity to visit NOLA a few times over the last couple of years. I think the experience can be overwhelming on the first visit: Bourbon Street, heavy meals, festive music, singers, painters, oysters, beignets, riverboats, rats, hurricanes, hand grenades, beads, street performers, scammers, mystery and madness. I was intrigued on the first visit, and by the fourth, I had a perfect plan of attack, which mostly involved walking, eating and drinking.

In New Orleans you can find the most amazing food in all price ranges. From po’ boys and beignets to brunch at Commander’s Palace, delicious food can be found everywhere. Our favorite new spot was Annunciation, where we enjoyed creole-inspired dishes, friendly service and a swanky atmosphere. Aside from eating, our favorite thing to do in New Orleans is wander around. The architecture, the cemeteries, the sounds, the smells, the river, and the theatrics are all amazing to take in while getting some exercise and burning off those beignets.

Ometepe

We have to honor the outstanding volcanic island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. We had a wonderful time in Nicaragua all around, but Ometepe was the highlight. I’m not big on Valentine’s Day, but we arrived at our gorgeous finca in the evening of February 14 and were greeted with song and dance and rum and roses. How can you not love that? There’s something so beautiful about celebrating with strangers from around the world—and lots of adorable chihuahuas. Our spot on the island was remote and rugged and absolutely breathtaking. When we wandered to the only restaurant in waking distance—which resembled a little-league concession stand and picnic tables—we asked to see the menu. “Pollo,” we were told. And so, pollo we ate, whilst dinning amongst the gallinas. Our adventure included horseback riding and kayaking and wandering around the finca. So lovely.

Portugal

I’m not sure why, but I had explored a lot of Europe before ever making my way to Portugal. Maybe because it’s a little out of the way. Maybe because there’s so much to explore in Spain on the Iberian Peninsula. Whatever the reason, I quickly learned that I was missing out. Theo and I did a 3-night trip to Lisbon over Thanksgiving one year, and I loved it so much that I went back last year with my mom (and added Cascais and Sintra to the itinerary). What a magical country. Lisbon is a photographer’s dream, as it stands on the edge of beauty and decay, old and new, history and the future. The trams, the wine, the seafood, the squares, the water. I have such fond memories of Portugal and can’t wait to return one day to explore more.

Quito

Ecuador was one of the poshest trips we’ve ever taken. We got an incredible deal on business class flights and stayed in a gorgeous colonial bed & breakfast in Quito before traveling on to our lush accommodations on Academy Bay in the Galápagos Islands, This trip involved A LOT of transportation—seven flights, several buses, lots of boats and a few taxis—and we were only in Ecuador for eight nights! The luxury helped for it to be so enjoyable. The most memorable part was our market excursion and cooking class in Quito. We hung out with a local chef and he brought us through the market before taking us back to his restaurant and directing us on how to make a delicious four-course meal with all the local ingredients. We highly recommend doing a cooking class everywhere you can—especially if it is a private trip or small group excursion, so you get personal attention and feel like you are just hanging out with a friend in town.

Rittenhouse Square

Although I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, Rittenhouse Square in Center City, Philadelphia has represented “home” and “family” for the last decade. I love walking through the square when it’s lit up for the holidays and sitting at the outside tables at Parc, Rouge or Devon and people watching in the summer. I’m glad my family lives in this beautiful area of the city, which is an easy Amtrak ride from my home in Washington, D.C.

Southampton

I spent years 3 to 20 in this Bucks County suburb of Philadelphia, and I have so many beautiful memories. So this is an ode to my childhood and teenage years. Acres of woods, a babbling brook (or “the crick” as we called it), pristine sidewalks, deer, turtles, cemeteries, fields and fun. I love visiting Southampton. Even if there’s sometimes a disconnect between the adult version of me and this Pennsylvania town, the child in me is rooted here. In my world adventures, which have included climbing through muddy mangroves, canoeing through caiman infested waters, hiking on rugged paths and wading through flooded trails, I feel like my time growing up in Southampton’s woods gave me the fortitude not only make it through but also to thoroughly enjoy these excursions around the world. Most important to me are the friends I made in Southampton and the memories we formed together.

Toronto

This is one of our favorite cities in our friendlier sister country to the north. Toronto is a foodie’s dream. We ate chicken feet and ginger pigs feet in Chinatown, delicious tacos at Seven Lives in Kensington Market, incredible oysters and lobster at Rodney’s Oyster House, and peameal bacon sandwiches at St. Lawrence Market—and we drank excellent brews at Steam Whistle. Toronto is a great walking city with lots to do day or night—and it helps that we have awesome friends there, too. The museums, the hockey hall of fame, ping pong bar and Second City are a few highlights, but there’s lots more to explore. Now I’m hungry!

Utah

My most cherished memory with my grandfather was when I was 21. What 21-year-old college student signs up to spend a week on the road with her parents and grandparents? This girl. At ages 10, 20, 30 and 40, I’ve always love spending time with my family (perhaps not at age 14, but that’s a different story). I had the great fortune to travel to Europe a few times while in college, and it opened up a whole world to me about art, history and humanity. Although I was a business major, I took every philosophy, art history, and anthropology class I could in college. I was overwhelmed and excited about my newfound knowledge.

So my parents, my two Grans and my Pop rented a van and traveled all over Colorado and Utah. Pop was a quiet man, but once you got him on a topic, he really opened up. We sat in the back of the van together the whole trip, and I started telling him about what I was learning in college. I brought up Friedrich Nietzsche, The Trial of Socrates, Van Gogh, Monet and Gauguin. And then my Pop started talking about all of these people, philosophies and creations in incredible analytical detail. I was absolutely floored by his knowledge. He was a blue-collar, self-educated man. And for the first time, I understood the extent of his self-education. We talked for hours a day in the back of that van on our road trip. We spent the most time talking about the impressionism because it was my new passion, and he knew so much about it as an artist himself.

What I liked most about our conversations was how interested he was in spending time with me and hearing my opinions. He was my intellectual superior by far, but he really wanted to know his granddaughter’s thoughts … and I really wanted to know his. Pop wasn’t the most affectionate guy, but he was very loving. At the end of that week, he hugged me and said, “We’re kindred spirits.”

Vancouver

After taking the Florida bar exam in 2012, I took off for a two-month globe trek that started with a solo wander through Vancouver and ended with a social gathering in San Diego where I met Theo (though our first unofficial date was still 14 months away). I had such a blast exploring Vancouver: Stanley Park and the aquarium, the museums, the waterfront, and Blue Water Cafe for a fancy solo dinner. The trees were so extraordinary that I found myself compelled to literally hug them. One even looked like an Ent from Lord of the Rings! The weather wasn’t ideal. It was rainy and overcast, and I never saw a mountain despite my plans to drive around the area. It didn’t matter. I had such a wonderful time and even made a few friends before hopping a flight to China.

Washington, D.C.

I had planned to move back to Philly after a health setback changed my trajectory, but when my acceptance letter to Georgetown Law’s LL.M. program came, I knew my move would fall about 120 miles short of my intended destination. It’s only a two-hour train ride to Philly and it’s an exciting move that I would have never made without the cushion of the law program. I quickly found consulting work and transitioned into legal journalism less than a year after the big move. The career change and the location were a perfect match. I love D.C.! Museums. Fine Dining. Food Trucks. International people. International cuisine. Culture. Live music. So many neighborhoods to explore. History. Civic lessons. Kayaking. Cycling and walking trails. Wildlife. Monuments. Beauty. And, of course, three airports to help me get out of town easily when I need to escape. I’ve now lived in D.C. for seven years—longer than I’ve live anywhere in the last 22 years. This is home … for now.

Xi’an

Sometimes a page out of a storybook or a history book unfolds before your eyes. And sometimes an exhibit at Epcot Center becomes your travel dream. I hadn’t thought much about traveling to China until I saw an exhibit at Epcot Center about the Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Army. I immediately became obsessed with seeing the soldiers with my own eyes. Six years later, I made it happen! I was terribly hungover that day, but that’s kind of part of travel, too, and it didn’t take away from the experience. I was amazed by the warrior sculptures and couldn’t believe I was seeing the ancient historic wonder in person. After exploring the site, we settled in Xi’an for the night in a lovely hotel. The next day we rode bikes around the city’s ancient wall, and it was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing days of my whole trip to China. Renting bikes and cruising around a city wall wasn’t necessarily high on my list of things to do when I was planning the trip, but it’s one of my fondest memories. It was peaceful and relaxing and really beautiful. We seek out the wonders, which are amazing, but many times it’s the simple moments that are the most memorable.

Yucatan

The Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico is where Cancun and Tulum are located. Aside from a brief trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls when I was 12, Cancun was my first international destination (the summer I turned 19) and my first trip without adult supervision. So, of course, it’s also where I had my first legal beer(s). I returned to Cancun 17 years later for my honeymoon. I’m not usually a fan of all-inclusive resorts, but we had a lovely time unwinding on the beach with unlimited piña coladas. I made sure we had a few active days, too, exploring Tulum and Chichen Itza and other Maya ruins. We also took a wonderful snorkeling trip through the beautiful waters on the second largest barrier reef in the world.

Zanzibar

Zanzibar represents the only place on my A-to-Z list that I haven’t visited … yet. But I wanted to end this list with something forward looking. Zanzibar is an archipelago off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. For many years I have dreamed of taking a long journey from Ethiopia, through Kenya and Tanzania and south to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Perhaps a stop on Madagascar could be arranged. Of course, time and money have never allowed for such a trip, so it remains a dream for now. Every time I dream of this trip, it includes a stop on Zanzibar.

I had an opportunity to take an international law course over winter break on Zanzibar one year to help me get the credits I needed to graduate early, but I couldn’t make it happen and opted for an on-campus summer class instead. (hey, Miami’s not a bad alternative). So for now, Zanzibar stays on the wish list. I am optimistic that we will resume travel soon, and until then, I will keep dreaming of future exploration and reflecting on the incredible adventures I’ve been so fortunate to have so far.

Published by LiAnn & Theo

We're not twenty-something backpackers taking a trek around the world (anymore). We work full time and spend every spare dollar and minute on our wanderlust. We live to travel. Exploring new cultures, meeting people from around the world, sharing food, drink and music—all this reminds us that we are one tribe. We write how-to tips to help you have a smooth journey as well as our inner thoughts on new places we explore. Let us know what you think!

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