The general theme of 2016 for most seemed to be “the worst year ever.” I had my fair share of bad days and challenging circumstances, but there were also a lot of amazing things that happened.
I started the year unemployed, and ended it with immense personal growth. I expanded my comfort zone by leaps and bounds, started my own business, launched this blog, and built a budding career as a freelance travel writer and photographer. I spent an amazing week with John in Belize, went on a handful of fun day trips with my mom, traveled solo to Miami, and discovered new corners of Florida. I witnessed two of my best friends get engaged on Anna Maria Island, ate a LOT of delicious food, spent more time with family and friends, and grew tremendously in my personal and professional life.
While it’s been enlightening reflecting on 2016, I’m ready to look ahead to what’s in store for the new year. This time of year always has me feeling extra inspired and ambitious, and while so much is unknown I’m excited for the journey ahead. Especially the parts of that journey that include travel.
Anna Maria Island/Longboat Key
My grandparents have officially become snowbirds and have chosen Longboat Key as their base this year! My sister is also spending a week with me in early January, so a beach visit to grandma and grandpa is definitely in store. I loved having my grandparents so close last year, and look forward to more of the same. Being 1,000 miles away from family is one of the only tough things about living in Florida, but I’m so thankful to have a few months out of the year where at least some family members are close by.
In lieu of Christmas gifts, John and I instead chose to celebrate with a mini getaway. There’s so much of Orlando we still want to explore so in February we’ll be embarking on an Orlando staycation! I’m excited to try new restaurants and explore, but most of all I’m looking forward to the quality time together. The past two years have been SO busy for both of us, and career-wise we’ve both been through tons of changes, so this will be a nice break.
Attend my first travel blogging conference
Earlier this year, I spoke with a travel journalist who recommended conferences as the #1 kickstarter to her career. I love learning new things and meeting new people, and have heard of TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) many times throughout the travel blogging world. So, I’m following my gut and getting a ticket to attend the stateside version of the conference in Huntsville, AL. I’m ready to grow as a writer, blogger, and photographer and consider this a big step in the right direction.
Plan Italy 2018
If I had to choose only ONE more place to travel to in my lifetime, there’s no doubt that it would be Italy. I can envision myself so easily eating my body weight in pasta and Piazza hopping in Rome, stuffing my face with gelato in Florence, hiking the coastal villages of Cinque Terre, sipping wine in Tuscany, eating pizza in Naples, and of course taking thousands of photos to capture the memories. (There is a lot of eating in my vision of Italy.) I want to go for 3 weeks (John says he’ll tag along for at least a week!) with the majority of my time spent in Rome, Florence, and Tuscany, with side trips to Pisa, Cinque Terre, and Naples. My good friend Lisandra already lent me her travel guide, so I’m ready to plan. And who knows, maybe I won’t have to wait until 2018 to get there…
See St. Augustine at Christmas
Nights of Lights is supposed to be one of the best Christmas light displays in the state, and despite having been to St. Augustine a few times I’ve never visited during the holidays. The whole historic city comes alive with Christmas lights, carriage rides, and more. It’s hard to get in the holiday spirit in Florida (especially this year when it was in the 70s and 80s most of December) but Christmas lights in mass quantities certainly help.
Visit Florida springs
One of the things that has surprised me most about Florida is the natural beauty. Before I moved to Orlando, I just assumed everything was theme parks and tourist traps. But Florida has a wild, diverse beauty to it–Central Florida especially. Wekiwa Springs State Park was my first experience with a cold spring and I fell in love with the crystal clear water. But there are many more springs and rivers to explore. Ichetucknee Springs and Weeki Wachi are highest on my list, so I’m prioritizing them for 2017.
Make it out of the country at least once!
I don’t have any international travel plans at the moment, but 2016 helped me rediscover my adventurous and spontaneous side. While I can think of plenty of reasons why it’s “impossible” for me to travel internationally next year (time, money, work) I can’t think of a reason not to dream and manifest this goal anyway. I’d love to visit Cuba or the Dominican Republic, or perhaps make it back to Belize for the third time.
Visit St. Pete or Key West
I’ve lived in Florida for 5 years now and have STILL not made it to Key West. The historic downtown area of St. Pete is another staple I’ve yet to visit. Both destinations are high on my Florida bucket list (totally have Orlando and Florida bucket lists in my journal) and because both are easily accessible by car from my house, there’s no reason not to go. I definitely take living in Florida for granted most of the time, so 2017 is all about a commitment to explore more of the beautiful destinations in my own back yard.
See manatees in the wild
I’ve seen manatees from afar at Anna Maria Island, but I’d love to see one up close and personal. Winter is one of the best times to see them, and there are several manatee hot spots (like Crystal River) not too far from my house. I’m hoping to make this travel goal a reality before March.
What’s in store for you in 2017? Wishing you a wonderful year of adventure, growth, and happiness.