9 Experiences I’m Thankful For This Year

It seems impossible, but 2017 is quickly winding down. For me, it’ll seem even more extreme as I’m traveling for two weeks in December, which means these last couple weeks of November are almost the last ones I’ll spend at home this year. While it’s flown by, 2017 has been a mostly good year, albeit with some ups and downs. Looking forward, I hope that 2018 is a little more transformative, with some exciting personal and professional changes. Before I get started on all that though, I thought I’d take some time to share those special experiences I’m most thankful for this year. Most are travel related, but not all, and when looked at as a whole really do point a bright light on me as a person. Some things in life we can affect, others we can’t, but what is important is to be thankful for the lives we lead, no matter where our paths may take us.

Cocora Valley, Colombia
Ethereal Walk in the Clouds in Colombia
Believe it or not but it’s not everyday I’m completely surprised by a new place I visit, but that’s exactly what happened to me while exploring Colombia’s coffee growing region. Massive coffee plantations abound along with mountains and cloud forests that seem as if they were plucked from the pages of a fantasy novel. It’s a beautiful part of Colombia, but this national park is definitely in a class all of its own. The Cocora Valley comes from the indigenous word for “star of water” and it’s certainly a cloudy, wet part of the country. It’s also home to Colombia’s national tree, the gigantic wax palm. It was this tree more than anything that transformed a simple hike into something extraordinary. The last place I’d ever expect to see these massive palms is high up in the Colombian Andes, a world of impossibly diverse shades of green and clouds that envelop you as you walk along. It’s a surreal almost magical place, which in large part defines Colombia. Arguably Colombia’s greatest author, Gabriel García Márquez is famous for his use of magical realism, which is a realistic view of the world that adds in magical elements. I couldn’t think of a better way to describe my morning tramping through the grasses and damp fields of the valley. It was real, but there was something else there too, something I could almost grasp but it kept eluding me. No doubt there’s magic in these hills, a special kind of effect that surely makes this one of the most extraordinary spots on the planet.

Seville Spain
Seville Feria
One of the many wonderful aspects of traveling through Spain with Abercrombie & Kent were the spontaneous and unexpected moments. A great example of how the Tour Director and Abercrombie & Kent added unexpected value to the travel experience happened in one of Spain’s most colorful cities, Seville. Timing is everything and we were lucky enough to be in town during one of the most important events of the year, the annual Feria, or April Fair. As an outsider it can be a little confusing at first, which is why I was so happy our tour director took the time to show us the massive celebration and to explain it to us. This weeklong event takes place two weeks after Holy Week and is one of the highlights of the Seville social calendar. Intensely colorful traditional dresses, more horse-drawn carriages than I thought still existed and of course food, so much food, are all hallmarks of this massive event. Walking through the main fairgrounds I marveled at the 1,000 pop-up restaurants assembled on-site, mostly for private parties and all serving incredible local favorites. Even if you aren’t invited to a private tent though, the whole city gets in the spirit and no matter where I went I found fantastically dressed people on their way to a soiree, adding more color and pizzazz to my travel experience than I thought possible. Our Tour Director wasn’t obligated to take us to the fairgrounds, show us around and explain everything, but she did. She understood the inherent value in the experience and wanted us to be a part of it. That’s special, that’s not the norm but, ultimately, is part of the incredible value of traveling with a world-class company like Abercrombie & Kent.

Germany Wittenburg
Lots of Time in Germany
Germany is one of those stalwart champions of the travel world. It’s always there, it always has something fun to share and it’s so massive I rarely seem to visit the same places twice. Over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of time in Germany, probably more than any other foreign country. Over those many visits I’ve seen a lot of this deceptively large country, from the always-edgy Berlin to those romantic Bavarian escapes that personify Germany for many of us. But it’s more than that makes me love the country – I think it’s the people who have won me over. Tolerating my poorly delivered German, I’ve always been treated kindly by locals no matter where I am, a cultural attribute lacking in many places I visit. Not only do I love the people and the width and breadth of things to see and do in the country, but it’s a place where I just feel comfortable. So yes, Germany has a lot going for it from the food, the people, its centrally located position and its willingness to allow all types of people, even myself, to call it home if they want to.

Exploring Kyrgyzstan
At the beginning of the year I couldn’t even place Kyrgyzstan on a map, much less imagine traveling there. And yet, my couple of weeks spent in this Central Asian country now counts as one of my favorite experiences of 2017. When planning a trip to Kyrgyzstan it’s important not to approach the country as a voyeur. Instead, do everything you can to know and understand the wonderful people who call Kyrgyzstan home. You can accomplish this in any number of ways, from engaging food tours in Osh and Karakol, to attending special festivals highlighting the traditional culture of the country. Everyone has a story to tell and as travelers, it’s up to us to find out what they are. I had honestly never considered traveling to Kyrgyzstan as something viable until I was approached by USAID. However, the trip opened my eyes to a new region of the world, one I had some strong misconceptions about. I never knew how beautiful it was, how friendly the people are, how delicious the food can be and just how fun traveling there is. It felt like an adventure and in 2017, that’s a difficult sensation to recapture but in Kyrgyzstan you can embrace everything great about the spirit of pure exploration.

Matt Long LandLopers
Freedom to Live My Life
I live in a bubble within a bubble and it’s been something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to lately. I’m definitely one of those much reviled East Coast elites; over-educated, comfortable financially and I tend to love anything pumpkin spice flavored. Even within that bubble though, I live in a much smaller bubble – that of professional traveler. It’s a strange world that I’ve created over the years, but it’s one I love dearly. If you’ve followed this site over time, then you’ve watched as I made the at-times uncomfortable transition from a 9-5 professional, to whatever it is I do today. I made the difficult leap of faith from a job with a salary, benefits and stability to one that has none of those things. In the years that have elapsed though, I’ve become a better person in every possible way and today, in 2017, I couldn’t imagine living life in any other way than I do now. I also recognize though that it’s a luxury to be able to follow one’s dreams and passions. While I work extremely hard and do everything I can in order to earn money and to provide, I know it’s a job that not many people have, although they would like to. So I am thankful for the ability to follow those dreams I’ve had since I was a little kid and to be able to turn a lifetime of passion into a new profession.

Thailand Chiang Mai
Much Needed Vacation in a Region I Love
September was a fun month for me, not only because I had the opportunity to visit a new country for the first time – Myanmar – but also because I was able to return to one of my favorite destinations, Thailand. Although Bangkok and I had a rocky start to our relationship many years ago, it has become one of my favorite cities and I never skip an opportunity to spend some time there. The beauty of my most recent visit is that I didn’t attempt to over-plan, instead I just enjoyed the city in my own personal way. I slept in, enjoyed brunches and spent too much money on new sports coats. But I also had an incredibly fun few days in the city, meandering around at my own pace and remembering everything that has endeared the city to me since that first tentative moment I stepped foot in the country.

Nova Scotia Canada
Getting Back to Nature in Nova Scotia
While I almost always enjoy spending time outdoors, admiring the natural splendor of whatever place I’m visiting, I equally enjoy going back to my comfortable hotel at the end of the day’s adventures. No, I am not what you would call a camper, far from it. I’ve done it, I don’t usually enjoy it and I almost always try to avoid it. That all being said, my two days spent kayaking on the Bay of Fundy and camping along its shores was one of the highlights of my time in Nova Scotia. Joining one of the tours offered by local provider NovaShores Adventures, I arrived in the quiet cove and waited for my adventure to begin. NovaShores Adventures takes folks out everyday for a fun day trip out on the water, but I was there for much more than that. I was taking part in one of their well-known overnight experiences. With a private guide and outdoors expert as my escort for the 2-days, we immediately set out on the water, eager to start the adventure. And that really is a good word for it, adventure. During the easy day of paddling on the mighty Bay we saw everything from amazing natural formations to bald eagles and more. It was also a great way for me to first experience the incredible tidal changes the Bay sees every day, creating new landscapes every 12 hours. As much as I hate to say it though, spending the night on the beach along Fundy was the best part of those two-days. Watching the sunset without another soul in sight, it was peaceful, it was spiritual and it was fun. It was also the ideal first introduction to the best aspects of the Bay of Fundy.

Rome Italy
Learning to Love Rome
Before my recent return to Rome with untour company Monograms Travel, my only other experience with the Eternal City had been for 36 hours several years ago. Needless to say, that first time I didn’t even give the city a chance really which is why I’m so thankful for this second attempt. As it turns out, I fell in love with Rome which is certainly something I never expected. Yes, I enjoyed hanging out in the Piazza Navona with gelato in hand, but I equally enjoyed walking around neighborhoods that remain nameless to me, just admiring the atmosphere and what it was like to be present in the moment. Sitting outside with friends enjoying a meal, lifting a glass of Prosecco in a silent cheer to a golden sunset, getting delightfully lost down a seemingly endless array of side streets; these are my favorite moments in Rome, much more than seeing the Sistine Chapel or trekking up the Spanish steps. Those private, independent moments are what endear us to new places, it’s why we travel and my trip with Monograms facilitated this in a way no one else could have.

Sunrise Diplomat Beach Resort Florida
Health and Well-Being
I’m 41 (almost 42), my back hurts and I have arthritis in my knees. And yet, for the most part, I’m healthy and that means a lot. Over the last few years I have unexpectedly lost almost every member of my family, emphasizing to me yet again not only the importance of being healthy, but of doing what makes us happy in life. Our time on the planet is short and can end at any time, so if we’re not happy then what’s the point? If we want to change our lives or if we want something more in our lives, we have to act on that today, because tomorrow is frankly far too late. Go, plan that trip you’ve always wanted to take and don’t look back. Life isn’t about the past, it’s about continuously moving forward.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

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