The week between Christmas and New Year’s always feels like one of reflection. It’s when I think about what went right and wrong during the year, and try to figure out what’s on tap for the future.While I’m not a huge resolution person – I’ve found that as soon as you write a plan, life has a way of turning it upside down – I like the process of assessment that comes with it.
Before I go forward, a look back: I spent about 132 nights on the road, more than a third of the year. I went to Patagonia and Japan for the first time, traveled to Europe twice (staying a month on one stint), and explored new-to-me destinations in Canada, such as the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and remote areas of British Columbia.
In the US, I went to Asheville – a town that had long been on my must-see list – for the first time, discovered Upcountry Maui, drank craft beer across Colorado, and delved into Scottsdale’s art and culinary scene. I met one of my writing heroes, HBO producer David Simon, during Jazzfest in New Orleans and helped my sister say yes to the dress at Kleinfeld’s in New York. And I took four – yes four – separate trips to Napa Valley, where I ate at The French Laundry (expect a separate post on that).
In addition to all this travel, I spent a lot of time in 2012 building up my business as a freelance writer/content strategist. This blog has never been a place for me to talk about my work – I’d rather share photos and travel tips – but I am proud of what I accomplished during my first year freelancing. I met my financial goals for the year, and hope to increase revenue by 20 percent in 2013.
In no particular order, here are my top travel takeaways for 2012:
1. You can work anywhere – as long as you have Internet. Because I had more writing clients this year, I often found myself completing projects on the road. I conducted interviews and filed stories from several airports and hotel rooms, cruise ships and (once) from a strange Internet cafe in Vukovar, Croatia. I still try to finish my stories before I hit the road, but I’ve become a pro at getting it done, regardless of time zone.
2. When you’re working while traveling, reliability trumps charm. I had always turned up my nose at people who chose business hotels instead of finding a charming pensione. And I still believe that, to a point. On the other hand, my month in Europe would have never worked without stays in some solid chain hotels, where I knew I’d have a breakfast buffet, privacy, reliable, free Internet and a shuttle to the airport. I’ve become a road warrior!
3. In the cruising world, service trumps style. I still have official reviews coming out for various cruise ships I took in 2012 so I don’t want to give too much away. But after traveling on several lines this year, I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter how new a ship might be. What matters is the personal service that the people on board give you.
Case in point: Grand Circle Cruise Lines. Although their ships lag behind others cruising the world’s rivers, the sheer amount of information and education that they give their passengers make up for the less modern cabins. Despite a reputation as a “budget” line, the staff knew everyone’s name within a few days. I didn’t see that on better-known cruise lines.
4. Status makes life easier. My resolution last year was to pay more attention to airline loyalty programs and gain status on one or two instead of spreading points around. I started 2012 with silver status on Delta (through a match) and the Star Alliance, through US Air. Having baseline elite status did save me a lot of money on baggage fees, and I do love access to priority boarding and security lines.
I am frustrated, however, with the lack of perks that Star Alliance Silver members get on United Airlines. I still have to pay to reserve an exit row, for example, which does cost our family quite a bit (exit rows are key for my 6’5 husband). Since there’s almost no way to avoid United in Seattle, I’m going to ask for a status match, and build my loyalty there.
5. Travel is a great way to bond with loved ones. I was fortunate to be able to bring friends and family on a greater percentage of my travels this year – and my relationships became better for it.
I knew my father and I were a lot alike, for example. But I never realized how deep the similarities were until I shared a cabin with him on a Rhine River cruise. My friendships with some of my girlfriends have never been stronger, thanks to female bonding trips to the Biltmore, Napa Valley, Colorado and Spain. And my husband and I continue to be each others’ favorite traveling companion, no matter if we’re road-tripping across Vancouver Island or wandering the streets of Belgrade.
6. While travel is great, it’s nice to have a home base. Despite spending so many nights on the road, I’m not the type of person who wants to be a permanent nomad. I like having a base, a beachhead complete with exercise routines, beers with friends, kitchen experiments and a lot of quality time with my cats (and that husband I mentioned earlier). I realized this year that my time at home is as nourishing as the time I spend on the road – and having a balance is what makes a happy Chris.