Another year in the books! 2021 was definitely an upgrade from the abysmal travel year of 2020, but as another COVID-19 variant surges through the world we’re reminded daily that we’re not exactly back to normal. Our travel year was much different than past years; 2021 was the first year in almost a decade that we didn’t travel outside of the United States. In place of 15-hour flights over oceans and international borders, we opted for 15-hour drives across states and highways! Some of these trips were in the planning stages for more than a year, but we postponed most of our 2020 adventures until it was safer in 2021. We’re in the process of writing about many of the places we visited, and we’re excited to bring those your way in the coming months as we look ahead to new trips as well. In addition to epic road trips, we also made sure to squeeze in a few fun weekend trips along the way. Let’s take a brief look at the month-to-month recap.
Our Year in TravelWhen 2021 started, we were due to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary and my 40th birthday. Originally, we planned to go back to Australia (to see the quokkas near Perth or perhaps Uluru); we also considered returning to Bulgaria for the mid-winter Kukeri Festival. When it became clear that COVID would make these trips unrealistic, we refocused on a domestic trip to celebrate the dual events. Places like New York City and New Orleans were in the running, but eventually even they seemed to be risky because of high transmission rates and many restaurants and attractions shuttered. We decided to stay close to home and spend a day exploring the famous Peanut country in southeast Virginia, home to Mr. Peanut himself.
Things remained slow through the rest of the winter and spring as we visited new corners of Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia that we had never seen before. We visited spots like the National World War I Memorial, Fort Washington, and Mabry Mill. I also took the opportunity to step up my coffee skills and taught myself how to use some unique international coffee makers to make coffee in styles we tried during past trips.
The year in travel really picked up steam in June when we hit the road for our big week-long cross-country trip! We drove from Virginia all the way to the western edges or North Dakota before looping back to the DC area. We’ve written about a few of the places on this trip, like the Field of Dreams in Iowa, the Pyramid of North Dakota, and the Kensington Runestone, but there were some additional places we haven’t covered that were just as interesting. Serpent Mound in Ohio, the Roger Ebert statue in Illinois, and a return to see the Jolly Green Giant statue in Minnesota (we first visited him in 2008) were a few of the fun places we saw along the way.A few weeks after returning from the first big road trip, we took a long weekend trip down to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It was fun to discover the history of the Lost Colony of Roanoke and the Wright Brothers, both of which are associated with the area. Of course, it was also a great opportunity to watch a few sunrises from the beach, which is a highlight of any year in travel.
August brought us another chance for a road trip – this time a little further west! We boarded a plane for the first time in almost 18 months and flew to Salt Lake City, Utah where Stephanie was presenting at a conference. It was a great jumping off point for us to visit places like the Bonneville Salt Flats (very reminiscent of the Uyuni salt flats), the Napoleon Dynamite house in Preston, Idaho, the site of the Transcontinental Railroad completion, and a couple interesting ghost towns in Montana. One of the highlights of this trip was getting to see Glacier National Park and Grand Teton National Park, and both places exceeded our expectations! We also took the opportunity to swing our road trip a little east to revisit a few places we had seen previously, namely the Little Big Horn Battlefield, Devils Tower National Monument, and Deadwood. The drive concluded with stops at Carhenge in Nebraska and a few more interesting stops in Wyoming before wrapping up in Salt Lake City where we began.
September included a few more fun weekend trips and a return to wineries (something we greatly missed in 2020). October brought an exciting weekend trip to New York City, our first time back since the 2012 US Open! We covered a lot of ground in just a few short days, and we’re excited to go back in 2022 for another exciting weekend. The rest of the fall and early winter remained a little calmer, with day trips scattered here and there, but we’re culminating 2021 with a return to our New Year’s Eve celebrations! We’ll be driving a few hours to the other side of the Chesapeake Bay to ring in the new year in Princess Anne, Maryland, where a handsomely dressed Muskrat is lowered via zipline at midnight! Look for that post next week: we can’t wait!
Countries/Cities Visited in 2021
We stayed in the United States this year, but we’re hoping to resume our international trips in 2022!
States/Cities Visited in 2021
- Virginia (Multiple cities, Virginia Peanut Country, Mabry Mill, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia Presidents Homes, Theodore Roosevelt Island, the Cuckoo House)
- Maryland (Multiple cities, National Road locations, Princess Anne, Fort Washington, National Harbor)
- West Virginia (Moundsville)
- Iowa (Field of Dreams, Des Moines, American Gothic house)
- Minnesota (Blue Earth, Alexandria, Bemidji)
- North Dakota (Fort Mandan, World’s Largest Buffalo, Fargo, Pyramid of North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Enchanted Highway)
- South Dakota (Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Badlands National Park, Deadwood, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, Crazy Horse Memorial)
- Wyoming (Grand Teton National Park, Fort Laramie, Devils Tower)
- Indiana (Indianapolis)
- Utah (Bonneville Salt Flats, Salt Lake City, Golden Spike National Historic Site)
- Montana (Garnet Ghost Town, Glacier National Park, Bannack Ghost Town, Little Big Horn Battlefield)
- Idaho (Napoleon Dynamite House)
- New York (New York City)
- Illinois (Champaign)
- Maine (Augusta)
- Washington, DC (Multiple locations, Capitol Hill, National Christmas Tree)
- North Carolina (Kitty Hawk, Outer Banks, Roanoke Island)
- Ohio (Miamisburg Mounds, Serpent Mound)
- Nebraska (Carhenge, Scottsbluff)
Number of Vacation Days Used
We used 16 vacation days this year—not including weekend trips that didn’t require taking a day off!
Website Year in Review
While our traffic still has not recovered to 2019 levels, we are definitely ticking back up in our numbers! We had just under 88,000 users from 186 countries/territories in 2021, 105,000 pageviews, and we published 19 posts with an average character count of 2,550. We also were honored to appear in our first podcast interview this year! We were invited on to the Winging It Podcast with James Hammond in September and we enjoyed trading travel stories with James. Be sure to listen to that episode if you missed it! Our newsletter received some updates in 2021 as well- including bringing our subscribers a brand-new exclusive blog post every month that we’re only promoting in the newsletter. These stories are only shared with newsletter subscribers, and if you’re looking for some narratives and storytelling we encourage you to subscribe so they make it to your inbox, too! We’ve also been working on expanding our video presence and adding more content to our YouTube channel, stay tuned for that in 2022.
Best of the Year 2021
Think of this as our Road Unraveled travel awards! Our Best Of (and Worst Of) list is a fun tradition we started a few years ago, so we wanted to keep it rolling in 2021. Check out a few of our year in travel highlights below.
► Best Memories of 2021
In a big way, it’s the simple things that are most memorable these days, and for both of us the moment the engines of our aircraft roared to life in August was one of the most exciting things to happen during the year. We used to think nothing of driving to the airport, boarding a plane, and getting ready for a great vacation. After more than 18 months on the ground, it was a wonderful feeling to be doing something that was once so normal and now is nothing to take for granted.
► Best Places of 2021Even in an off year, it’s hard to choose just one best place from all of the locations we visited. Still, the one that comes to mind most often is the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. We started our drive through the park at sunrise, and every turn was more stunning than the last. Despite the crowds, there were plenty of spots to pull the car over and admire the scenery without another person in sight. It was a great place to find peace and calm amidst the stress and frustrations that plague so much of the world these days.
► Best Meals of 2021
I have been following Zombie Burger on social media for years, so when we passed through Des Moines I made sure we had time to stop for lunch. It was as incredible as I hoped! The burgers and shakes were really good, and they were well-worth the detour and lunch break. It was also fun to discover regional coffee chains on the road trips; places like Dunn Brothers, Biggby Coffee, and Montana’s City Brew were all regional chains we fell in love with this year.
We would also be remiss if we didn’t mention the Indian tacos we enjoyed at Cheyenne Crossing just outside of Deadwood, South Dakota. After stopping in for lunch during our June road trip, we made a point of planning a route that took us through Deadwood a second time in September just to have another meal there. It’s a popular stop with locals, and we’ve seen it featured on shows like Man vs Food on the Food Network. Indian tacos are basically open-faced tacos served on Navajo fry bread instead of a tortilla, and we can’t imagine them tasting better than they did at Cheyenne Crossing.
► Best Tour of 2021
In a year of social distancing, we didn’t take many tours, but one that we really enjoyed was the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site in North Dakota. We spent about 60 minutes exploring the launch control center with a guide, and she shared plenty of interesting facts with us as she explained the relevance and importance of the site. We were also thrilled that we had a very small group tour, which helped it to feel more relaxed and gave us plenty of time to look around and ask questions.
► Worst Memories of 2021
We were fortunate to avoid major disasters this year, and most of our plans went as we hoped. We did try a couple times to get down to West Virginia to explore the history of the Hatfields and McCoys feud, but we had to cancel each time: once due to weather and once due to hotels being full for an unrelated event. It’s on our list for 2022, so stay tuned!
► Best Lesson Learned in 2021As bad as 2020 was, 2021 offered a positive step in the right direction and a subtle return to many of the things we are used to enjoying. A big theme for us this year was that good things come to those who wait. We have done our very best to stay healthy, distance as needed, and stay home entirely to protect ourselves and those around us. It hasn’t been easy for any of us, but travel is a lot more fun when you feel good, so it has been worth the effort.
We’re not too sad to say goodbye to 2021, especially with the promise of better days ahead in 2022. 2021 had plenty of great travel moments for us, though, and we’re glad to have been able to invest some vacation days to enjoy some truly memorable travel experiences. We’re looking forward to many more in the not-too-distant future—and we’re excited to be able to share them with all of you through Road Unraveled. We hope 2022 provides many more opportunities for you to unravel your own plans, prioritize the experiences that will make your year memorable, and explore the world close to home and around the world. We’ll look forward to seeing you along the way!
A map of where we went in 2021
Take a look at some of our previous Year in Review articles.