If you're anything like us, you're looking at the date (December 29th) and thinking where did the year go? We've always loved deep, dark December for its ability to spur reflection; it's a time to pause and take stock of where you've been, and where you want the new year to take you.
In order to inspire some 2018 travel, we figured we'd ask our globetrotting Canadian Traveller editorial team and freelance writers to describe their best travel moment of 2017. Being in the business of travel, we have the great fortune of participating in some unique and wonderful - and sometimes downright whacky - travel experiences. Here are the moments that made our hearts race - moments that perhaps you'll be inspired to experience yourself.
Surf’s up on the Wild Atlantic Way
I’ve numerous botched relationships with sea water. We’ve just never got on well. I understand lakes. I swim like a seal in fresh-water rivers. But oceans scare the beejaysus out of me. A glorious visit to the west coast of Ireland cured that: One day last April I signed up for my first-ever surf lesson in the cold, salty waters off Lahinch, a resort town on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Many people of Irish descent visit Ireland to retrace their family roots. With the last name of O’Neill – the equivalent of Smith – an ancestry search would be pointless. So I opted to embrace a different sort of challenge – to conquer my fear of the ocean.
It was a cold spring morning, the white caps were rolling into the bay, the water was briny and cold, and I felt ridiculous in my wet suit. (No one but Daniel Craig looks sexy in one of those tight-fitting rubber outfits.) With trepidation I joined a beginner class. The exhilaration of (trying to) stand up on the board and crashing repeatedly into the ocean water called forth the child in me, all playful and giggly, with the taste of saltwater in my mouth as I hugged the slippery board. I remember looking up into the slate-grey sky as I rode one last wave into shore and saying to myself: Yes, I’ve got this.
– Doug O'Neill, travel writer and Canadian Traveller contributor
Swimming with humpback whales in Tahiti
40-feet below me, a dark shadow lies in wait.
“This is crazy,” I mimic to a fellow snorkeler.
That shadow, immediately beneath me, is a female humpback whale. Below her, is her young calf.
My guide, Maui, of Corallina Tours assures our small group that in 15 or so minutes, she’ll rise to take a long breath of air.
For now, I’m suspended in time, contemplating the plausibility of being saddled on her back as she surfaces. Twenty minutes float by without ceremony.
Slowly, her massive body starts to come into greater focus. Like a submarine, she begins rising level toward the surface. I can now see the gentle rocking of her pectoral fins. Her calf peeks out from beneath her body. I feel my heart swell and realize I’m unconsciously clutching my own pregnant belly. It’s a tender moment, but I’m also very, very aware that I’m hovering some 20 feet atop an adult whale.
Then, with little to-do, she abruptly turns her head skyward, arcing her way to the surface. Instinctively, I let my legs carry me in her direction. It’s little use. With a few graceful fans of her giant fluke I’m left in her wake. The moment has passed…but was made all the more precious because it was so fleeting.
- Jenn Hubbert, online editor and contributor Canadian Traveller
River cruising Germany with Mom
A trip I took in September was one that marked a lot of firsts for me; my first time in Germany, my first time sailing on a river cruise, and best of all, my first time travelling abroad with my mom. I grew up in a full house, with three siblings each demanding so much from mom (as was I) so I realized before we took off that we had never spent more than a few hours together, just the two of us. It was bound to be special.
We sailed from Amsterdam aboard the Avalon Expression, enjoying quality company and amazing accommodations on board the ship, and beautiful tours and excursions in the various small towns in Germany we stopped – a new one each day.
The itinerary itself was amazing, but suffice to say, sharing the experience with my mom – one of the most beautiful people I know – is what made it my best travel memory of the year…if not of my life. (Read about the experience in the spring issue of Canadian Traveller – there’s still time to subscribe! Click here.)
- Terrilyn Kunopaski, Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Traveller and CT magazines
I spent much of 2017 paying off debt, so most of my travel remained close to home in Newfoundland. My favourite trip was attending The Gathering (a food, music, and cultural festival hosted by comedian Shaun Majumder) in Burlington. It reminded me of where I grew up: totally isolated, rural Newfoundland without so much as cell phone service.
Unplugging and connecting with the festival was priceless. I camped out on the beach in Tent City, and I’d wake up every morning to a cup of hot coffee from my neighbour, and the sound of squid jiggers puttering their boats into the open bay. Every day there’d be food hikes and other events, and in the evenings, people came together for bands and comedy shows. Back at the campsite, someone would whip out a guitar and we’d spend some time singing campfire songs. After working two-plus full-time jobs this past year, it was the kind of cathartic experience I needed.
- Candice Walsh from freecandie.com
Scenic flyby in New Zealand
The Southern Alps in New Zealand have some of the most impressive peaks in the world, so we admired them from the sky, as well as from the ground. Mount Cook stands 3,724 m tall and is located in the Southern Alps, together with 19 other peaks, all ranging over 3,000 m.
We took a scenic helicopter flight and soared above the snow-covered rocky peaks and turquoise lakes. Because I was seated in the co-pilot seat, I was treated to unobstructed views. Mid-flight, we landed on Fox Glacier, a 13 km-long maritime glacier. Standing on the glacier, with only snow and the spectacular peaks around us, made this the most memorable travel moment of 2017.
- Lies Veldman from nonstopdestination.com
Road-tripping for the eclipse
This summer, my husband and I decided to take a spontaneous 14-hour road trip from Toronto to South Carolina to see the total solar eclipse. We arrived in the town square of Laurens, just as the eclipse was starting, and where about 300 people were already gathered.
In the last two minutes before totality, a hush fell over the crowd as we all stared through cheap eclipse glasses at the diminishing sliver of sun. The temperature had already fallen dramatically from the 48 degrees that we’d stepped out of the car into. The last few seconds were punctuated with chants of, “go, go, go!”, from the crowd, until the last speck of sun disappeared.
Removing my glasses, the sky was purplish in colour – like that of dusk – and the clouds orange like at sunset. But all around us it was too dark for what we know that sky to look like. There were stars visible, but it was the sun that held my attention. I’ve never seen anything so black and empty in my life as the hole that had seemingly been punched out of the sky. From it came a silvery, feathered glow – the corona: plasma that shoots out millions of miles into space, only visible with the naked eye during totality. It was spectacular.
Time stood still for the two minutes and 41 seconds that we were completely in the moon’s shadow. Then, suddenly, when the moon moved, the shard of light that hit us lit up the whole world and, just like that, it was over.
But the feeling inside, a visceral one of both amazement and fear and that had caused me to shake from head to toe during the entire event, was stamped on my memory. Without exaggeration, experiencing the total eclipse was the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed. The next one will pass through Buffalo/Rochester in 2024, and we already have plans to be in the crowd.
- Jennifer Prendergast, publisher of CT Magazine & Canadian Traveller
Iceland on crutches
In a freak accident, I dislocated my knee about one month before our already-booked high adventure trip to Iceland. The doctors said it would take about two months to heal properly and although I worked hard with my physiotherapist to get off the crutches in time for my trip, it simply just wasn’t enough time. Did I let this stop me? Of course not.
I pushed myself on those damn sticks for my entire 10-day trip in that gorgeous, planet Mars-like country. With the help of my ever-so-patient boyfriend, we toured the Golden Circle. We explored the Diamond Beach covered with icebergs, climbed down a volcanic crater lake and hiked to see the bursting, steaming geysirs. The craziest part about all of that? I wasn’t the only one we came across on crutches doing the same thing!
The most memorable part of that trip though, was when we made our way through Seljalandsfoss which is the famous waterfall you can walk behind. It was number one on my travel bucket list, and when we finally made it there, we were a bit heartbroken at the flights of wet, metal stairs and slippery rock paths. It might not have been the brightest idea, but we were determined to at least give it a try. So, with the help of several encouraging, friendly fellow tourists, and a lot of high fives along the way, we made it behind the falls safely. Feeling the waterfall mist on my hot cheeks, planting my feet in the cavern’s dirt, and enjoying the wild view, I forgot all about my predicament for the first time that whole trip.
We were challenged almost every day in adventurous Iceland, and yet, I’ll never forget that feeling of pure peace and erratic joy we both felt, having made it behind Seljalandsfoss.
- Myriah Saulnier from feministtravelcorner/myriahsaulnier
Llama trekking in Austria
Exploring the trails above the Montafon Valley in Vorarlberg, Austria with a feathery-lashed llama-for-the-day was my most memorable travel moment of 2017. The irresistible animal companions, stunning Austrian alpine scenery, and pleasing llama trekking pace made for one of the best days in the mountains ever - llama trekking was an unforgettable travel experience.
- Nancy Besharah from luxetravelfamily.com
Leap of faith in Peru
My most memorable travel moment of 2017 was rappelling down a 40-metre waterfall in the cloud forests of northern Peru. The view was amazing, as was the sense of achievement I felt which managed to totally eclipse my fears.
A visit to Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
Artur | Adobephotostock
Ever since a university art history class had piqued my interest in Byzantine architecture, I had dreamed of visiting this stunning pink building that not only raised the bar for architectural wonders, but has miraculously survived fires, sieges, and destruction, time and again. When I stood underneath the enormous dome, with sunlight streaming through the windows and reflecting off of brilliant golden mosaics and hovering angels, I felt like I was floating.
- Kate Robertson, travel writer; katerobertson.ca
Surreal career travel in Ecuador
This year, I went on more press trips than I ever thought possible. The moment that stands out the most to me was in Ecuador, the first country I’ve visited in South America. After hiking through the rainforest, I jumped into a waterfall. As I stuck my head beneath the pounding water, I thought to myself, “I’m under a waterfall in the middle of the rainforest in Ecuador. And this is my job.” It was pretty surreal.
- Alison Karlene Hodgins from aroundtheworldwithalison.com & Canadian Traveller contributor
Pandora: The World of Avatar, Orlando, Florida
My family and I are big Disney aficionados, and this year we travelled down to Orlando, Florida for the opening of Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom. We made a point of re-watching Avatar before our trip, and we were truly impressed at how the Disney magic has extended to this new franchise. AvatarFlight of Passage is a Fastpass-worthy must-ride, and experiencing the park at night is nothing short of incredible. Magic Kingdom has updated its nightly fireworks show as well; I challenge you not to tear up at least once during “Happily Ever After.” It’s phenomenal.
- Corinne McDermott from havebabywilltravel.com
What was your most surreal
travel moment of 2017?
Let us know: comment below!
More 2017 "bests" on Canadian Traveller: