Earth Trekkers in Iceland

Our Travels in 2019…Ideas for Your Next Big Trip

Julie Travel Inspiration 10 Comments

Each December I write an article recapping our year in travel. Rather than writing a simple overview about what we did, I want to share with you our travels in 2019 and let you know how you can have the same experiences.

We visited some amazing places in 2019…it was a year filled with adventures and many brand-new destinations. I hope this list inspires you as you make your plans for 2020.

A Quick Recap of 2019

Number of Countries Visited: 6 (USA, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Iceland and Egypt)
Number of New Countries: 3 (Greece, Iceland, and Egypt)
Favorite Destination:  Iceland
Best Travel Moment: A tie between hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim and hiking the Fimmvörðuháls trail in Iceland

February: Gateway Arch and Mammoth Cave

We are on a mission to visit all 61 of the national parks. So, Tim and I spent a long weekend in February, visiting Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis and Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

Gateway Arch is one of the newest additions to the long list of national parks, achieving national park status on February 22, 2018. This is also the smallest national park and one of the fastest to visit, taking just a few hours of your time.

Gateway Arch

Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest cave system, with over 400 miles of explored caves and passageways.

Mammoth Cave

How You Can Do This

Both of these can be connected on a short road trip. Add in a visit to Nashville, Louisville, or the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and you have yourself a long weekend getaway.

Our Road Trip Itinerary: We arrived on a Friday afternoon in St. Louis and went out to dinner. On Saturday, we visited Gateway Arch in the morning, had lunch, saw a few sights in town, and then drove towards Mammoth Cave. It is almost a five-hour drive between the two parks, so we spent the night in Owensboro, Kentucky. One of the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, OZ Tyler, is located in this town, so if you alter this itinerary a little bit, you can include a visit to this distillery. On Sunday morning, we visited Mammoth Cave, and in the evening we drove to Nashville (but Louisville works great too). We spent one day in Nashville before flying home.

This can be done year-round. Since you are mostly “indoors” while visiting both Gateway Arch and Mammoth Cave, these are great national parks to visit in during the winter months.

April: Greece

We take advantage of every break that Tyler and Kara get from school and this year was no different. With their 10 days off for Spring Break, why not go to Greece?!

Ten days is just enough time to visit Athens and several islands. It’s still a bit chilly this time of year and the islands are just waking up from their long winter’s nap, but crowds are low and prices are a little cheaper.

With ten days, we started in Athens and then used the ferry to hop to Mykonos, Naxos and Santorini.

Julie Tyler Kara Athens

Naxos Greece

Santorini in 2019

How You Can Do This

If you are planning your first trip to Greece and have 10 days, the itinerary below is a great starting point for planning your trip. Not only do you get to visit the world-class sites in Athens but you also get to visit three beautiful islands. Naxos is an island that usually does not make the must-see list for first-timers, but this was our favorite spot in Greece and we highly recommend it.

June: Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike

In June, Tim and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary and we wanted to do something epic. So, why not hike across the Grand Canyon?

Most people do this in two to three days, backpacking from the north rim to south rim with an overnight stay down by the Colorado River. However, if you are super fit and very fast, you can hike rim-to-rim in one day.

This is a massive day hike. During the course of one day, we hiked 23.5 miles, descended and then climbed back up nearly a mile in elevation, all while battling high temperatures. It was an incredibly awesome experience.

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim

Julie in the Grand Canyon

Bright Angel Trail

Grand Canyon hike

A lot of planning, training, and preparation need to go into to making this hike successful. We learned so much from this experience that it couldn’t fit into just one blog post. So here two articles about how to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim. Enjoy!

June: Petrified Forest National Park, Saguaro National Park, and Sedona, Arizona

On the same trip to the Grand Canyon, Tim and I also visited several other places in Arizona.

Petrified Forest National Park

I was not expecting much from Petrified Forest National Park but we loved it here! The hiking trails are so unique and this was the first time that we have ever hiked a trail in a national park and did not see one other person the entire time! How awesome is that?

The hike through the Blue Forest was the highlight of our visit to Petrified Forest. This short trail takes you through the zebra-striped mountains of the Blue Mesa region of the park.

Petrified Forest

Petrified Hike

Petrified Wood

Visiting Petrified Forest National Park is like taking a step back in time. This park gets its name for the petrified logs that are hundreds of millions of years old, to a time when this land was once lush and fertile. But you also get to explore the colorful hills of the painted desert and hike some very unique trails.

If you have plans to visit Arizona, all you need is one day to visit Petrified Forest. Hopefully, you be as enthralled with this place as we were.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is named for the Saguaro cactus, which grows only in the Sonoran Desert. This is an easy park to visit, with scenic drives and short walks among the towering cacti.

Saguaro NP

The park is divided into two sections, an eastern district and a western district, with the city of Tucson running down the middle.

We split our visit over two days, with a stay at the wonderful JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort and Spa. We got upgraded to the Presidential Suite for our 20th anniversary (they knew nothing about our travel blog since we book and pay for all of our travels) and it was an awesome surprise!

Hiking in Sedona

We have driven through Sedona several times in our life but have never stopped to hike here, until now. Over the course of 24 hours, we hiked two trails…the amazing Devils Bridge trail (a short, easy trail with stunning mountain views and the chance to stand on a narrow bridge of sandstone rock) and the challenging Bear Mountain trail.

Devils Bridge Sedona

Sedona Hike

Sedona is filled with great day hikes. In June, it can be sweltering, but if you are looking for a great spring or fall hiking destination, put Sedona on your list.

Our Arizona Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Phoenix, drive to the Petrified Forest
Day 2: Visit Petrified Forest National Park, drive to the south rim of the Grand Canyon in the evening
Day 3: Shuttle to the north rim of the Grand Canyon
Day 4: Hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, sleep on the south rim
Day 5: Drive to Sedona, hike Devils Bridge
Day 6: Hike Bear Mountain, drive to Tucson, visit Saguaro East
Day 7: Visit Saguaro West, drive to Phoenix
Day 8: Fly home

June & July: Summer in Europe

Once again, we took advantage of Tyler and Kara’s break from school (and Tim’s ability to be able to work remotely) and headed back to Europe for part of the summer. The majority of our time was spent in Switzerland and Iceland, but we couldn’t resist a quick day trip into Italy from Lugano.

Bellagio & Lake Como

We spent one wonderful, hot day at Lake Como. It was the end of the crazy European heat wave and temperatures got up to 94°F (34°C). Good thing we were acclimated to the heat after our visit to Arizona in June!

Bellagio Italy

Bellagio

Bellagio (drone photo)

 

Ravenna Italy

Ravenna

How You Can Do This

One day is all you need to visit the “golden triangle” of Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio. From Milan, Italy and Lugano, Switzerland, it is very easy to day trip to this part of Lake Como. With more time, plan on spending the night in Bellagio, so you can experience the quiet streets once the day trippers leave.

Switzerland

We spent almost three weeks in Switzerland. Three action packed weeks filled with hiking, cable car rides, trains, fondue, alpine views, expensive meals, and visits to charming mountain villages and bustling cities.

We started with several days in Lugano, using this as a home base to explore southern Switzerland.

Gandria Switzerland

Gandria

 

Monte Tamaro

Cappella Santa Maria degli Angeli on Monte Tamaro

After one day in Zurich, we journeyed into the Bernese Oberland, the highlight of our visit to Switzerland. This area is so quintessentially Swiss, an alpine wonderland with Swiss chalets, rustic farms, alpine meadows, cable cars, and mountain villages.

We stayed in Mürren, a mountain town that literally clings to the side of a cliff. Every morning and night, we were treated to jaw-dropping views of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

Earth Trekkers in Switzerland

Murren Switzerland

Mürren

 Murren Via Ferrata

Mürren via ferrata

 

Schynige Platte

Hiking Schynige Platte to Faulhorn to First

 

Hiking in Switzerland

Hiking the Eiger Trail

 Train to Jungfraujoch

Train to Jungfraujoch

 

Bernese Oberland

After the Bernese Oberland, we spent two wonderful days in Zermatt. Wow! The views of the Matterhorn are incredible and our visit here beat all of our expectations. If you are planning a visit to Zermatt, don’t miss Gornergrat and the awesome hike to Riffelberg. It’s one of our favorite hikes in Switzerland (and it’s soooo easy!!).

Earth Trekkers in Zermatt

Best Zermatt Hike

We wrapped up our visit to Switzerland with a long stay in Lausanne. This great city also makes a handy home base for exploring the French side of Switzerland. Hiking around the Gastlosen and visiting Gruyere were the highlights for us.

Lausanne Switzerland

Lausanne

 

Lausanne Day Trip

Day trip to Chateau Chillon

 

French Switzerland

Western Switzerland

 

Gastlosen

Hiking around the Gastlosen

How You Can Do This

We don’t have an itinerary published yet, but if you have 10 days in Switzerland, I recommend spending several days in Lucerne or Zurich and then putting a majority of your time into the Bernese Oberland. You will need several days to visit the highlights, and to give you some contingency time if you get bad weather. Zermatt is also a wonderful place to visit and it needs two days minimum.

Iceland

Iceland is a country that has been on our list for a long time. We kept putting it off because so much has already been written about it and it sounded very touristy. But, at the advice of many of you, we decided to add Iceland to our summer itinerary.

Thank you to everyone who wrote to us and told us that we should visit Iceland. You were right!!

On our visit to Iceland, we didn’t want to just see the typical spots…the Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle, Reykjavík, etc. If we were going to visit Iceland, we wanted it to be epic. That meant renting a 4×4, driving across the remote interior of the island, visiting out-of-the-way waterfalls and hiking past volcanoes that erupted just a few years ago, walking on the largest glacier in Europe, and hiking the unforgettable Fimmvörðuháls trail.

Iceland lived up to our very high expectations. From start to finish, this was one of our favorite travel experiences yet and we are so glad to have finally visited this amazing country.

We spent two and a half weeks in Iceland. During this time, we road-tripped along the Ring Road, visited Landmannalaugar, spent the night in Kerlingarfjöll, drove across the interior of Iceland on dirt roads, saw puffins, visited Reykjavík, relaxed in hot springs, photographed more waterfalls than we can count, and hiked some amazing trails.

Earth Trekkers in Kerlingarfjoll

Kerlingarfjoll

Kerlingarfjöll

 Tim Tyler Kara Kerlingarfjoll

Sigoldugljufur

Sigöldugljufur

 

Landmannalaugar Hike

Hiking Landmannalaugar

 

Landmannalaugar

Tim, Tyler and Kara in Landmannalaugar

 

Best things to do in Iceland

Kirkjufell

 Tyler in Iceland

Aldeyjarfoss waterfall

 

Glacier Walk

Hiking on Vatnajökull Glacier

 

Godafoss

Godafoss

 

Skogafoss

Skogafoss

I have lots of information to share with you. You can check out our Iceland Destination Page for our full list of articles or check out the list below.

How You Can Do This

Ten days allows you to experience a lot of what Iceland has to offer. With 10 days, you can plan a road trip on the Ring Road, visit Iceland’s most famous and iconic destinations, or plan a 10-day trip filled with adventures. Check out our Iceland Itinerary for overviews of four different ways to spend 10 days in Iceland.

August: Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier & Waterton Lakes National Parks

The four of us returned home the very end of July. Tyler went off to Cross Country camp, Tim went back to work, and Kara and I went on a “girl’s trip” in August.

For 11 days, we road-tripped through Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks in the USA, with a one-day visit to Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.

Grand Teton NP

Grand Teton National Park

 

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone

 

Yellowstone Bison

Bison in Yellowstone

 Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone

 

Glacier NP

Glacier National Park

 Wild Goose Island

Wild Goose Island

 

Highline Trail

Hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park

 

Waterton Lakes

Waterton Lakes National Park

Kara and I had such a great time. I’m so fortunate to have been able to spend this quality time with my daughter. It won’t be long until both she and Tyler are off to college…it’s crazy how quickly time is passing by.

How You Can Do This

With ten days, you can plan a road trip through Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. The best time to do this is in the summer months, when the roads are open in the parks (in all three parks, the roads can close in October or November, depending on weather conditions). For more information, check out our 10-day itinerary.

October: Acadia National Park

Our timing could not have been better for our trip to Acadia National Park. The fall colors were spectacular.

Acadia in October

One of the things that makes Acadia so unique, and so exciting, is the large number of trails with ladders and metal rungs. Similar to a via ferrata, you can hike along narrow ledges and climb up sheer rock faces with the aid of these metal rungs.

Hike Acadia National Park

Julie in Acadia

Tim in Acadia

If defying gravity on a cliff trail is not for you, keep your feet on solid ground and hike to the summit of a mountain or stroll along the coast. Or, go on scenic drives, enjoy the view from Cadillac Mountain, explore the lovely town of Bar Harbor, and eat all of the lobster. Yum!!

How You Can Do This

A long weekend is all you need to explore Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. If you want to see Acadia with peak fall colors, your best bet is early to mid-October.

November: Kentucky Bourbon Trail

This was our second visit to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Tim and I visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for the first time in 2016. We toured all nine distilleries, including Louisville and a handful of sights in Kentucky.

Since our visit in 2016, eight more distilleries were added, so, purely in the name of research, we planned a return visit to tour these new distilleries. 🙂

It’s just as fun the second time around, and maybe even better, since we have acquired a taste for bourbon. Plus, the distilleries are getting more creative with their tours, offering mixology classes and food pairings to bourbon tastings.

Tim and Lux Row

Lux Row

How You Can Do This

Now, there are a total of seventeen distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. If you want to see all of them, you will need a lot more time than just a long weekend.

If you only have a weekend, I recommend splitting your time between bourbon distilleries and sights in and around Louisville. Check out our Kentucky Bourbon Trail itinerary for ideas on how to do this.

December: Egypt

Currently, we are in Egypt, and it has been a fantastic experience. On this trip, there are six of us, since my mom, Kathy, and Tim’s mom, Valerie, are joining us.

For two weeks we are touring Egypt from top to bottom, with visits to Cairo, Giza, Saqqara, Luxor, Abydos and Dendera, Aswan, and Abu Simbel. We have ridden camels in front of the pyramids, marveled at the detailed artwork in the Valley of the Kings, learned the basics on reading hieroglyphics, sailed by felucca on the Nile River, visited more temples and tombs than we can count, tried new foods, and made new friends.

Here are a few highlights from Egypt.

At the Pyramids

At the pyramids of Giza.

 

 Tomb of Nefertari

Inside the tomb of Queen Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens.

 

Tim Tyler Kara Luxor

Inside the tomb of King Ramses V and VI in the Valley of the Kings.

 With Ali

With our guide, Ali, on the West Bank of Luxor.

 

Karnak

Tim and Tyler at Karnak Temple.

 

Feluccas

Feluccas on the Nile River in Aswan.

 Abu Simbel

Julie at Abu Simbel.

Since being in Egypt, the #1 question we get asked is if we have felt safe. We had the same question leading up to this trip. Since being here, we have felt safe everywhere we have been. There is a strong military and police presence since a lot is being done to protect Egypt’s valuable tourism industry, but we have never felt threatened or uneasy in any way.

Tourism is on the rebound and tourist numbers are increasing year by year. Right now is a great time to visit Egypt, because visitor numbers are still low so the sites will be relatively uncrowded. Plus, Egypt could use your tourism dollars. Ever since the revolution in 2011, tourism has been down and it has had a huge impact on Egypt’s economy.

In few days we will be home and I will start writing about Egypt. We have SO MUCH information to share with you. In the meantime, if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section below.

Happy New Year to you and we are wishing you many happy travels in 2020!


We hope this article adds a few new places to your travel wish list. If you have any questions, comment below!

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Comments 10

  1. Love reading about all of your trips and send them on to my husband and kids. Have you been to Argentina? We are working on a trip now and could use your insight. Thanks.

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  2. I’m all over your Egypt posts thank you very much! I have always wanted to see the big sites there but was put off by the unrest in recent years and the seeming lax security at their airports. Plus the complexity of putting together a trip. So your ongoing posts are very inspirational and I feel that it could be within my remit this year. I see you mentioned the possibility of your travelling to Morocco in 2020. I spent 10 days last year split between Marrakesh and Essaouira. I travelled solo and used Airbnb. I found Marrakesh somewhat hard going and quite an “experience”. Essaouira by contrast was almost laid back (certainly there was only 10% of the hassle experienced in Marrakesh). In Marrakesh I would recommend getting official advance support for anything you want to do within the Medina. If you stay in the medina, expect that google maps will be of limited help. A street sign was such a rarity that I photographed one or two as being worthy of note! If you ever look lost for more than a few seconds, someone is going to latch onto you and they will require a ridiculous amount of money for their help. Make sure you have plenty of coins and small denomination notes as everything requires payment. Performers in the main square will want money for even cursory viewing and especially for photos. This is absolutely fair and reasonable of course, but don’t get caught with only big notes in your possession! The currency is closed so you have to pick up some at the airport. The arrival lounge money-kiosks, prior to inbound security checks, offer a poor rate but I grabbed a small amount as the ATMs are after security and if they are down, you’re in trouble as you can’t go back. I waited until Marrakesh to get my main money. There’s lots of ATMs all over. Same with Essaouira. My UK cell provided charged data at the equivalent of 5 USD per 1mb. That’s staggering expensive as it takes 3mb to simply identify my gps location! So I never used data and had to rely on wi-fi. Those with unlocked phones simply pick up a cheap sim at the airport. Maybe some of this will be of use to you but I don’t profess to be in your awesome research league!

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      This is great, thanks for all of the details. Funny thing, we are putting off Morocco for one year…we have (kind of out of the blue) decided to go to Costa Rica instead. I think that the 4 of us weren’t thrilled about the long flights to get back to Africa. Costa Rica is much closer to where we live and a nice change of pace, with the outdoor adventures. But Morocco is high on our list and we will get there soon so I will take a look at your suggestions once we start planning it.

      I love that so many people are reaching out to us about Egypt. Everyone has the same concerns: it looks like an amazing trip (IT IS!) but there are concerns about safety. We felt very safe in Egypt and the people are so welcoming and friendly. I highly recommend a trip here, especially now, because our guides said that tourism is picking up, so go now while crowds and prices remain relatively low. Cheers, Julie

  3. And what are your plans for 2020? Any trips in mind? We are aming for Andalusia in the end of April and for the North of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia in the summer. Both with our children 13 and 11.

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      Those sound great! We have no solid plans but we are looking into Morocco for April and Portugal/Azores/Madeira for the summer. Plus, we plan to get to several more national parks in the USA. Cheers, Julie

  4. Thanks for all the info! We’re nailing down dates and I’ve emailed Egypt Tailor Made. Their website looks like they include accommodations in their price, though based on your comments, you picked your own lodging. We normally do Airbnb in foreign countries…would you recommend that in Cairo, Aswan and Luxor?

    On a personal note: been interesting to read your bio and see some overlap. My husband worked in orthopedics with Stryker for years and my daughter for a few years as well.
    Also, saw y’all spent quite a bit of time in Norway. Any chance you are of Norwegian descent? If so, this worked really well for our college kids: The Norwegian Children’s Home Association in Brooklyn, N.Y. This organization offers grants to students ages 17 to 23 with at least 25 percent Norwegian heritage who are enrolled in or accepted to a full-time program of study at an American undergraduate school. Basically, anyone who can prove it receives $1000 per year.
    More info: http://www.norwegianchildrenshome.org
    Deadline: March 1

    Thanks again for your hard work!

    Kathy

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      Hello Kathy. Yes, we think Tim could be of Norwegian descent. However, we have visited Norway twice simply because it’s an amazing country. And I am very familiar with Stryker products and used them a lot in the operating room. Egypt Tailor Made is fantastic. They really took great care of us and each day ran like clockwork. It’s great to have an Egyptologist so you know what you are looking at. I don’t know much about AirBnb in Egypt. Each hotel we stayed in (listed in the previous comment) was great and I have no complaints. If you choose to do an AirBnB, read reviews very carefully. Three star in Egypt is not the same as three star in Europe or the US. In Egypt, you can stay in nicer hotels without spending a fortune, so we took advantage of that. If you really want to stay somewhere nice, check out the Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan.

      Ali was our guide for Luxor and Aswan and Laila was our guide in Cairo. Both were wonderful and now we feel like we made two friends that we will stay in touch with for years to come. The Egyptian people are so friendly with a great sense of humor. I really enjoyed our time in Egypt, more than I was expecting, and honestly, I think it was because of the people even more than the sites (but the sites are pretty incredible). Stay tuned for our articles. I just got home two hours ago and I will start writing tomorrow! 🙂 Cheers, Julie

  5. Found your blog yesterday and stayed up reading til 2am! So admire your determination to travel/experience life with your kids! Our family of 6(4 adult kids age 22-27) is planning a 10 day trip mid-May. Egypt is on the short list… Interested in knowing what things on your itinerary you navigated on your own and what adventures you recommend using a guide/taking a tour. Any fav guides/companies to work with? Did you set them up ahead of time or once you got there? What were your top attractions and what you would lop off your list? Any “wish we had known” advice for Egypt? Looking forward to hearing all about it!

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      Hello Kathy. We did not take a cruise, traveling by land and air instead. We started with 2 days in Cairo/Giza, flew to Luxor for 5 days (west bank, east bank, with a day trip to Abydos and Dendera), drove to Aswan and spent 2 days here with a day trip to Abu Simbel. Today we fly to Cairo, have one last day here, and then tomorrow start working our way home. With 10 days, visit Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan. Abu Simbel is worth the day trip. The day trip to Dendera and Abydos is not worth it if you only have 10 days. My favorite part was Luxor. The pyramids are cool to see, but the tombs of the kings and queens are truly amazing. We hired Egypt Tailor Made and had a private guide and driver in Cairo and a private driver and egyptologist/guide in Luxor and Aswan. Our guides really made this trip special and I highly recommend Egypt Tailor Made. Ali was our guide for 6 straight days in Luxor and Aswan and he is extremely knowledgeable. He is now a friend of our family.

      Basically, Egypt Tailor Made offers one day tours and we strung them together to visit all of the big sites. Having an egyptologist not only helps you learn about the tombs and the temples, but we also learned so much about Egypt. We planned everything before our trip. You can communicate back and forth via email with Egypt Tailor Made if you want to change any of their day trips (we tweaked their day trips a little bit). In your planning, the main things to do right now are to book your flights, determine how much time you want to spend in each place, book your internal flights (we flew Cairo to Aswan, flew to Abu Simbel as a day trip rather than driving, and flew Aswan to Cairo), and book your hotels. In Giza, we stayed at the Marriott Mena House (amazing view of the pyramids), the Hilton in Luxor, and the Movenpick in Aswan. In the upcoming weeks, I will be publishing a lot of articles about Egypt (including a 10 day itinerary) and hopefully have it all written by May, so it should help you on your trip. One of those articles will be a “things to know before you go” kind of article and I will write that one soon (actually, Tim has been writing in as we have been traveling, with info on tips, ATM’s, etc). In your planning, if you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Cheers, Julie

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