It’s hard to believe we’re wrapping up our final year of the decade! Our vacation days have taken us all over the globe during the past few years, and 2019 was yet another exciting year for our passports. With an annual goal of using every day of our vacation time to explore, learn, and grow, this year’s focus was on domestic and international adventures, seeking out new experiences, and revisiting favorite places from past trips. We did what we set out to do: from traveling the globe for New Year’s Day in Ghent, Belgium and learning about Vampires in Transylvania, to USA-based adventures in the Smoky Mountains and Disney’s Epcot, our days were rich with new adventures and happy moments.
While we didn’t travel as frequently as we have in previous years, we still ended up using the same amount of days because we enjoyed a few longer trips in 2019. We often try to divide our time away from the office into multiple three-to-four day weekends stretched out over twelve months; in 2019 we ended up taking three longer trips divided evenly throughout the year.
We started 2019 where we left off in 2018: in Bruges, Belgium. We took an early train out of town and spent a full day exploring Ghent, just an hour away. We continued onward to Luxembourg, where we spent a couple of days exploring the historic downtown and enjoying the last remnants of their beautiful Christmas markets. We wrapped up our holiday vacation with a few days in London before coming back to the United States.
Work took a front seat until March, but we still found a few opportunities to include travel as winter warmed to spring. We had a great time at the Travel and Adventure Show in Washington, DC, where we met the famous Duck of Justice and the equally famous Lt. Tim Cotton from the Bangor Police Department in Bangor, Maine. We also spent a weekend road tripping our way through Delaware, and we had the chance to meet up with a couple friends we met during our Antarctica trip—an amazing opportunity to revisit some cherished memories.
Our next big trip was in July, when we spent a week in southeastern Europe visiting North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, and Romania. From historic Dracula castles and Roman ruins to incredible wine regions with grape varietals we had never heard of, it quickly reminded us why we love visiting the Balkans! Over the years, we’ve always enjoyed finding new wine regions and trying wine in different places around the world; it’s a great way to connect with local traditions and flavors, and we’ve met some incredible people on our wine tours—this year was no exception! These days, our list of wine tours reads almost like a website within our website: we’ve visited wineries (in no particular order) in Italy, Uruguay, Slovenia, Portugal, Australia, Chile, California, New Zealand, Croatia, Oregon, Austria, South Africa, Virginia, New York, Luxembourg, Washington, and even a few unexpected places like Delaware, New Mexico, Israel, and Tennessee. Now we can add North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania to that list!
We ended the summer with a fun three-day road trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the neighboring towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This region of the Appalachian mountains had always been on our short list for weekend trips, and it was a fun adventure to squeeze into a long weekend.Things were quiet on the travel front during the fall; rejuvenated after a few fun trips, we were happy to channel our focus into work, but we did enjoy a brief break to visit friends and family in the Pacific Northwest during a brief trip to Seattle, Portland and the Oregon Coast in November. We had a chance to visit a few new places during our drive down the northern part of the Pacific Coast Highway; starting in Seattle, we stopped in the small town of Aberdeen to pay respects to Kurt Cobain before continuing on to a few additional towns along the Oregon and Washington coast.
In late November the tables turned when we had the chance to host our Oregon family as they came to visit for Thanksgiving! It also gave us an opportunity to play tour guide and revisit some of our favorite places around Virginia and Washington, DC including Luray Caverns in the Shenandoah Valley, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (as seen on the back of the US Nickel), the National Archives (home to the original Declaration of Independence and US Constitution among others), and some of our favorite sites around DC like the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Albert Einstein Memorial, Ford’s Theater, the White House, and more.
As December and the holiday season conclude, we’re excited to be enjoying what has become an annual tradition for us: ringing in the New Year on another continent! We’re writing this from our hotel in Tokyo, Japan, but we’ve already had a few days to discover new parts of Asia. On our way over, we stopped in Beijing for an extended layover, which gave us the opportunity to briefly explore the city. Yesterday, we had a fun day trip out of Tokyo to visit the famous Snow Monkeys near Nagano. Which all brings us to New Years Eve, where we’re excited to welcome in 2020 from the famous Shibuya Crossing in downtown Tokyo!
Countries/Cities Visited in 2019
- Belgium (Ghent)
- England (London)
- Luxembourg (Luxembourg City)
- North Macedonia (Skopje, Wine Country)
- Bulgaria (Buzludzha, Sofia, Wine Country)
- Kosovo (Pristina, Prizren)
- Romania (Bucharest, Transylvania, Wine Country)
- China (Beijing)
- Japan (Tokyo, Nagano)
States/Cities Visited in 2019
- Delaware (Rehoboth Beach, Wilmington, Dover)
- Oregon (Oregon Coast, Portland, Eugene)
- Washington (Seattle, Aberdeen)
- Maine (Augusta, Bangor, Boothbay)
- Indiana (Indianapolis)
- Florida (Miami, Orlando)
- Tennessee (Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountains)
- Virginia (Charlottesville, Richmond, Alexandria, Various locations)
- Washington, DC (Various locations)
Number of Vacation Days Used in 2019
We visited nine countries and nine US states in 2019, and we only needed to use 18 vacation days to do it! Not a bad return on our vacation day investment!
Website Year in Review
We had our best year to date on the website! In 2019, Road Unraveled was visited by more than 154,000 readers from around the world! According to Google Analytics, our website visitors came from 196 countries and territories, as well as every US state and Washington, DC, and we had more than 214,000 page views. We weren’t able to beat our record for total blog posts which we set in 2018 (when work was busy this year, it was very busy!), but we still published 35 articles with an average of just over 3,000 words per post.
In 2019, we launched our new interactive, in-person Business of Vacation workshops! They give us a chance to work directly with companies to help educate employees on the value of using paid time off and how vacation can benefit the workplace. Be sure to contact us if you are interested in learning more about how we can help your business!
2019 also had a few media appearances from Road Unraveled. Stephanie appeared on multiple podcasts in 2019 including the GoodPractice and Quit Bleeping Around to talk about the value of vacation time in the workplace, the Business of Vacation™ workshops, and stories from our travels.
We were also very excited to have Road Unraveled content featured in Atlas Obscura and MSN in 2019, and we were honored to be accepted for membership into the Society of American Travel Writers this year. Membership in this elite organization of travel professionals is offered only to highly qualified contributors to the travel writing field, and we are thrilled to help advance their mission to inspire travel through responsible journalism.
Best of The Year 2019
A few years ago, we started sharing some of the highlights from our year in travel in the form of a “Best Of” list. As we look back at our year in travel, we continue a tradition we started in 2016 and showcase a few of our favorite (and not so favorite!) moments from 2019.
► Best Places of 2019
This year was brimming with fun destinations, but it’s hard to top the days we spent in London. From tours to teas and from theater to walking along the River Thames, London reminded us why we always look for a way to include a stopover during our trips to or through Europe. We also loved getting to see Buzludzha, an incredibly fascinating day trip from Sofia, Bulgaria. Creepy, off-the-beaten-path, and a monument to a challenging time in history, we were so glad we prioritized it in our Balkan itinerary.
► Best Meals of 2019One of the most delicious treats we enjoyed this year were papanași, a fried donut stuffed with sweet cream cheese and topped with tangy berries. Recommended by our guide during our visit to Transylvania and Bran Castle, it was one of the best snacks we have ever tried. We also loved Spaghettieis from Poynor’s Pommes Frites in Gatlinburg, which is a heaping bowl of ice cream that bears a strong resemblance to spaghetti and meatballs. We’re also thrilled we had a whole week of delicious Balkan food as we traveled from Skopje to Sofia to Bucharest, especially the cevapi, ajvar, rakia, tatarsko kufte, and traditional snacks we sampled during wine tours.
► Best Tours of 2019
It’s almost impossible to choose a favorite tour from our travels in 2019, but this year we have to recognize Wine Tours Macedonia, who went above and beyond to not only give us a great tour of North Macedonia’s wine country but ensure the rest of our visit to the Balkans went smoothly, too. When our transfer from Skopje to Sofia was in jeopardy, Martin booked a reliable ride that put us at ease. The wine tour was also among the best we have taken, and we can’t wait to book another one during a future visit.
► Best Memories of 2019
As usual, the best memories we make are because of the people who are part of them. We loved exploring Washington, DC with our Oregon family during Thanksgiving; having the chance to show our nieces and nephew what we love about our hometown was a big highlight for us. If you’re ever short on vacation time or money, playing tourist in your hometown with friends and family is the best way to ensure your year is filled with incredible memories of days well-lived.
► Worst Memories of 2019
We almost missed our chance to explore Romania when our flight was cancelled for technical reasons mere moments before we were scheduled to board. Despite the fact we had already checked our luggage, received boarding passes, and passed through immigration, we found ourselves at a deserted gate without a single member of airline personnel to be found. Although we eventually reached our destination 14 hours late, it was a horrible memory… that, fortunately, led to a great lesson learned.
► Best Lesson Learned in 2019
We’ve written about why it’s important to be an informed traveler so you can be an advocate for yourself if your vacation goes off track, and our experience with our cancelled flight was an important reminder. When the airline was more than willing to leave us stranded in Sofia and without a confirmed way to get to Bucharest, we discovered it’s important to do your homework and know your rights as a traveler. In our case, because the flights took place within the European Union, we were entitled to compensation, and we would have missed out on what was rightfully ours if we didn’t know our rights.
Final ThoughtsThe end of 2019 marks the end of a decade of travel (although, the real end of a decade may actually be up for debate, but I digress). Anyway, much of our travel this decade has been documented through Road Unraveled. At the end of 2009, I had only visited half the states in the USA and I had only been to five countries. In 2009, Stephanie had been to just six countries. At the end of 2019, Stephanie and I have both visited all fifty states, all seven continents and 51 countries—and Stephanie has been to 70 countries when you count her business trips, bleisure travel, and solo travel! All of this was accomplished while we both held full time jobs and managed our limited vacation time. It’s a great feeling to look back and see how far we’ve come and all the places we’ve been, but it’s also encouraging to know that you can see the world and discover exciting new places while still holding down a normal day job.
Thank you for joining us on our Road Unraveled journey in 2019. We’re grateful to you for reading, for sharing your own stories as you plan your own vacations, and for inspiring us to make the most of our paid time off. We hope you are looking forward to some wonderful vacations of your own in 2020. Happy new year!
A map of where we went in 2019
Take a look at some of our previous Year in Review articles.