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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Bucket List Worthy Adventures

2020 has been a tough year for us all.  Elections, pandemic, sinking economy, forest fires, and the list goes on. If you escaped 2020 with your job, your health and your home, then you probably at least fell victim to the social impacts of this isolating year.  Holidays were canceled, weddings postponed, time with friends and family vanished, and vacations put on a standstill. 

If you love to travel, then it's been a challenging year of planning and isolation.  Ever since the pandemic hit, we shifted our gears to local travel to adventures around New England when it was safe in the summer. With the increasing cases and the second surge in the fall, we really stuck to traveling within our state lines (and it's a small state guys...).  It's been challenging with so many unknowns and omeone who loves to plan (me, me, me) can't really plan anything.  Truth be told (and the unpopular but likely truth) is that we don't know how "normal" 2021 will really be.  Vaccines are on the way but with so many individuals to vaccinate and so many unknowns, 2021 is starting to look pretty isolating too.  So instead of planning adventures for 2021 - I'm trying to stay somewhat positive and focus more on the bigger picture - building my bucket list.  

Today's post is two-fold - I'm sharing some of my already accomplished bucket list items as a way to remind myself of all the adventures I've been lucky to take (also with the hopes of inspiring you to build your own). At the end of the post, I'm sharing some of my bucket list items I have yet to tackle so I can keep on hoping, planning, and dreaming of travel returned normal.

Get out your pen and paper and let's plan some big adventures. Today is a day to build your bucket list kind of day.

Go Dog Sledding 

in Banff National Park, Canada

Dogsledding was always a big-ticket item on my bucket list. There was something so dreamy surrounding the image of being bundled into a sled on a wintry day, watching the dogs lead the way through the woods. I went big with this and decided to dogsled on my 30th birthday in the beautiful Banff National Park in Canada. At $350 a couple it's not a cheap excursion but I can honestly say this adventure was worth every penny. It's hard to describe just how amazing it was to see the dogs placed in their harnesses, crazy with anticipation, barking and spinning as they await their commands. Once everyone is ready and after a few short commands, the dogs take off and you slide onto the trails in pure silence. It was so quiet, just the sounds of their paws and the runners as we made our way through the snowy trails. These animals love their job and it was such an experience to tackle this bucket list item in a spot as beautiful and iconic as Banff. Get a glimpse of this adventure in my video and read all about it here. When planning your dogsledding adventure, make sure to do your research on the tour company. Read all the reviews and awards and make sure they are known for their ethical treatment of their animals. Don't go for the cheapest tour and do your research Kingmik is the best in the area and also the most expensive and again - worth every cent for this experience.

See the Sunrise over the Arizona Desert 

from a Hot Air Balloon 

Going on a hot air balloon ride was always on my list. We've all seen the iconic image of colorful balloons perched over the sky, usually somewhere in turkey. Thankfully, we have a lot of great hot air ballooning spots in the USA, ranging from the northeast to the American West. I was lucky to cross off this bucket list item on a perfect morning in the desert of Arizona. We arrived at the launch site before sunrise and we watched the light fill the sky as the balloons were prepped for their flights. Once in the basket, I was amazed by how quiet and how smooth the ride was as we sailed over the landscape with other balloons in view. When we finally landed, we were met with a fresh breakfast and mimosas to commemorate our first flight. Read all about it here. You can find a list of the best places to hot air balloon in the US and if you live up in the northeast corner, you can book an adventure as close as upstate New York or Vermont.

Drive Across the Country 

Thanks to a cross country move and a serious itch to see it all, I've had the privilege of driving coast to coast (in two different segments, on two different routes). I've driven from the Connecticut coast along I-80, across the country to Salt Lake City, Utah and from there, traveled to the western coastlines of Oregon and California. There is something to be said for dipping your toes in the Atlantic, making your way across the states, stopping to see all the beautiful sights through these "fly over" states, and then reaching the opposite coast, watching your dog play in the Pacific under the Golden Gate Bridge. On my second route across the country, I made my way back east along I-90, traversing the country with a different set of sights and a different glimpse of our country. You can really learn to appreciate the expanse and diversity of this beautiful country when you spend hours driving through the flatness that is Nebraska, when you stop at funky little restaurants in South Dakota, finding those weird roadside attractions like the World's Only Corn Palace. You can also make your way to some of the bigger attractions like our National Parks and Monuments and we used our cross country road trips as a way to see the bigger sites like Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Cuyahoga National Park, and Badlands National Park. While fancy trips abroad are always an adventure, there is so much to see within our own country. Get in your car and drive and see what some of these fly over states are all about - I recapped some of my road trip here.

Swim with Wild Dolphins 

in the Azores, Portugal 

While visiting the Azores, I made sure to soak up as many outdoor activities on the island as I could. I went scuba diving, hiking, and eventually went on this once in a lifetime experience to swim with wild dolphins. A helicopter sets out to spot the wild pods of dolphins. We load up on a small boat and the pilot reports back to the boat captain on where a wild pod is. The captain brings the boat close to the pod and everyone in their snorkel gear slowly slides into the water. I was instantly amazed by the number of wild dolphins around me but even more, the sound of the pod echolocating around me. They are easily spooked and don't hang around long but to be able to slip into a pod of wild dolphins all around you is an experience that will stick with me forever. Read more about it here.

Hike Up, Across, and Over 

a Waterfall in Iceland 

This is one of those things that I didn't realize would be so insanely bucketed list-worthy until I was smack in the middle of it. I thought I would be going on an epic Iceland hike (which we did), but the fact that we ended up hiking up one side of this waterfall, CROSSED IT at the top, and then hiked down the other side was so insanely bucket list-worthy. It's also sort of out in the middle of nowhere Iceland and had plenty of solitude which made it even better. Iceland feels so wild and this isn't your typical hike protected by nice fences and warning signs - there are steep ledges and an actual OH SHIT moment as you cross the top of the waterfall knowing the consequence of losing your balance. It was a long day with some dicey moments, but this hike ended up being a highlight of our 10-day trek around the country. You can read all about this Icelandic adventure here.

Get SCUBA Certified 

(and use it)

Learning to scuba dive was always at the top of my bucket list. Having a marine science degree and an obsession with the ocean, it was a big goal of mine to get certified and take this new skill abroad. The first day in class, I was incredibly anxious and claustrophobic - I hated it and tried to return every item I had purchased. I am happy to say that thanks to some great instructors and a support group of fellow divers, I stuck with it and fell in love with this hobby. I even went on to get my advanced certification and started diving locally every week and eventually around the world. Virtually everywhere I went, I always snuck some time to scuba dive, even if it meant going entirely on my own (well, with a group of strangers). I have been lucky to experience some great diving here in the U.S. but also had the chance to dive in Grand Cayman, Puerto Rico, Bonaire, the Azores, and Madeira. While you can do some kind of basic scuba experience when you travel, I can't recommend taking an actual class and getting your certification in this (dangerous) hobby enough. It is truly a life or death hobby and taking the time to learn how to scuba dive and get your certification is an amazing skill you can put to use on practically any and many of the trips you take.

Eat Your Way 

Through Paris, France

The sights in Paris are amazing but the one thing we can't stop talking about is the food. The city is as romantic as they say and the food is even better than you can imagine. People literally walk around munching on fresh loaves of bread. You can sit at a small table on the sidewalk with a bottle of wine and watch the city move around you. You can eat snails and Frites, dine on duck and dessert. The food in France is something you have to experience first-hand and for yourself. I don't like to visit the same place twice with so much of the world to see but a trip back to Paris is high on our travel list. Read more about what we ate here.

Swim Under Waterfalls and Play on Natural Water Slides in Puerto Rico 

This is another one of those "I didn't know how epic this was until I was doing it" sorts of thing. I went to Puerto Rico for a wedding and made sure to include some fun other activities on my break from another New England winter. I don't even remember how we came across Las Paylas but I am so glad we did. It was basically this amazing natural playground in someone's backyard. You pay a few bucks, park in a driveway, and walk into someone's backyard to see this epic natural rock waterslide that made for a wonderful afternoon in Puerto Rico. It was one of those random epic adventures somewhere far away that was au natural and when paired with a hike in the rainforest swimming under waterfalls - made for a bucket list-worthy adventure - read all about it.

Experience the Wild West 

This one's a little vague but there are so many amazing parts of the American West that I felt it was best to leave it a little open. There are parts of the western United States that make you feel like you are back in time, a place where cowboys and Indians still coexist. Start with the beautiful western states of Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming and traverse long lonely dirt roads that climb through canyons and bring you to towering arches. You can walk along the monuments on an Indian reservation and see ancient ruins. Head out to find bison, moose, and elk. See the cowboys in Jackson, Wyoming and try your hand at country line dancing. Explore the desert, the animals, and the mountains that make the west feel wild.

Swim with Seals 

off the Coast of Massachusetts

Drive the rugged coast of Massachusetts until you reach the quaint fishing village of Gloucester. From here, you can hop on a boat and motor our about an hour to a tiny little rock peeking up out of the Atlantic where the harbor seals come out to play. They are completely wild and insanely curious. You get into the shallow water and almost immediately, you can see the shadows starting to appear. They start to come closer and closer and before you know it, one is grabbing your fin while another is checking out your scuba tank. If you start to do twist and turn and barrel roll in the water, they are sure to playfully mimic your movements. They are quite literally the dogs of the sea and it is quite the experience to play with these locals and see just how curious they are (scuba certification required) Read all about it.

Feed Wild Stingrays 

in Grand Cayman

Okay, so there is a lot of playing with wild animals in this bucket list but that's kind of my style of adventure. This one feels a bit touristy but it was such a cool experience. You hop on the boat with your snorkel gear, motor out to the sand bar and simply wait. The stingrays hear the boats and know that an easy meal is coming. You slip into the water as they approach the boat and it's hard to believe they are really wild. Armed with handfuls of fish, you are immediately swarmed by stingrays looking for food. They scuttle around your legs and basically climb up you, impatient and pushy as they take the bait from your hands. They do not hurt (or bite) but may leave you with a hickey if you find a particularly feisty one. Early mornings swarmed by wild stingrays in the Caribbean... put it on your list. Read more about it and see the video here.

Go on a Sleigh Ride 

It sounds sort of simple but there is something bucket list-worthy and romantic about heading out into the snow on a one (or two) horse open sleigh. Taking a sleigh ride in Jackson Wyoming just may be the best way to do it as you also get a tour through the National Elk Refuge where you see the elk up close and learn a lot about the animals. You climb into the sled and bundle up in blankets as the horses charge out into the snow and onto the refuge. It's a bumpy ride as you traverse the landscape and the jingle of the harnesses and sound of the runners on the snow is blissfully therapeutic. Read all about it here.

Vineyard Hop in Napa Valley and 

Drive Highway 1 along the California Coast 

There is something special about road trips - even more so when you chose to take the scenic route. Driving down California's Pacific Coast Highway is an amazing experience. We started our drive with a stop in California's wine country, Napa Valley. We stopped at several of the amazing dog-friendly vineyards, buying bottles, going through tastings, and simply just walking through the vines. We then reached the coast by Half Moon Bay and jumped on the famous highway. The road borders the Pacific Ocean and takes you through some pretty amazing sights. You can stop at various fruit stands, see wild sea lions sleeping on the beach, watch dolphins play in the surf, and cross historic bridges with the warm California sun beating down on you. There are some amazing spots to eat along the way and I am still dreaming of the random hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we grabbed fish tacos and an extra burrito for the road. A drive down Highway 1 will slow down time, all while offering amazing views and even better weather - read more about it here.

Swim with Wild Manatees 

in Florida 

Okay, the theme is real - swimming with wild animals is on my bucket list in a few spots. This one is an amazing experience pretty unique to this part of the world. Being able to jump into the warm water of Crystal Springs and see some of Florida's manatees up close and personal is an epic bucket-list worthy experience. They are fairly slow-moving creatures which means you have a good chance of spending some decent time in the water with a manatee. We set out on pontoon boats and spotted a few manatees staying warm. We quietly observed from a distance, watching these amazing creatures snooze in the shallows or slowly swim on by. They are absolutely adorable with puglike faces and are endangered and highly protected. Being able to swim with them in the wild is an amazing experience, one very specific to this part of Florida. Read more about it here.

Hike New England's High Peaks 

There are six northeastern states that make up the area known as "New England". New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts each have their own high point or peak, varying from a pretty tough hike (Maine and New Hampshire) to a glorified hill on the side of the road (Rhode Island). I made it my goal to hike the highest summit in each state and what an adventure it was. Maine's highest point was about 7 hours away in a remote part of northern Maine far from cell service. New Hampshire's high point is also the highest point in New England with the highest ever recorded wind speeds on record. It was an exciting accomplishment to see New England from its highest peaks and one that brought me to some of the most beautiful views in the northeast. Read all about it here.

Winter Camp/Sleep in a Yurt

Winter camping is a whole different ballgame when compared to camping in the other seasons. It's likely cold as hell and you will spend a lot of time and energy finding ways to stay warm. A good way to ease into winter camping (and a very cool experience in itself) is to camp in a yurt. I found a yurt tucked away in the woods of northern Vermont and decided this was a perfect way to celebrate a February birthday in New England. Our yurt came with bunk beds that kept us off the cold ground and a wood stove that helped to keep us toasty through the night. It was my 29th birthday and it was so much fun to spend the night in a yurt with five of my outdoorsy friends and our dogs. We also made a winter summit of a nearby mountain, Camel's Hump which offered an entirely new mountain adventure. Read more about it here.

Bucket List Adventures Left 

This post is such a reminder of some of the amazing adventures I have been on and as I went through my travels over the years, I felt a bit more inspired and a lot less lonely. In such a strange year, this was exactly the reminder I needed to take a trip down memory lane and to look at the bright side and plan for adventures to come. I don't think 2021 will be a big year of adventure but I am hoping for some amazing travels in the years to come. Here is my bucket list, some of the big-ticket items I have left to do and see. I hope this post inspires you to dream big and think out of the box a bit, planning your bucket list adventures big and small.
  • Go on an African Safari
  • Hike the Long Trail in Vermont
  • See polar bears in Alaska and visit the National Parks 
  • See the Norweigan Fjords and Northern Lights
  • Go White Water Rafting
  • Overnight Canoe Trip 
  • Bike Icefields Parkway
  • See the Netherland Tulips
  • Hike at Glacier National Park
  • See Yellowstone in the Summertime 
  • Explore Yosemite National Park
  • Explore Amsterdam
  • See the Banff Glacial Lakes in the Summer
  • Go Catskiing
  • Bike the National Park of Tatras, Slovakia 
  • Shop at a European Christmas Market
  • See Cinque Terre, Italy 
  • Take an Italian Cooking Class 
  • See the Amalfi Coast
  • Ride horses in Camargue, France 
  • Visit Dubrovnik, Croatia 
  • Visit Porto, Portugal 
  • Hike Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon
  • Hike a portion of the Joh Muir trail
  • See Vietnam
  • Eat through Japan
  • See Petra, Jordan 
  • Scuba Dive in Cuba
  • Scuba Dive with Sealions in La Paz, Mexic
  • Scuba Dive with Manta Rays - Yap Micronesia
  • Go horseback riding in South Africa 
  • Stay in an over ocean hut in the Maldives
  • See hammerheads at Cocos Island, Costa Rica
  • Stay in a posh resort in Sri Lanka 
  • Go to an elephant orphanage - Kenya (David Shedrick Wildlife Trust) 
  • Walk the Incan Trail, Peru 

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