Top Places I Found Myself in 2015
23.12.2015 - by wanderlustaddiction
With the year coming to a close, I took some time to do a bit of reflection.
This year I found myself shooting in some great places. Looking back at the year, I visited less destinations than I did in years past, but it sure seemed like I was on the road a whole lot more. In the last twelve months, I racked up new experiences in 13 countries (Mexico, Qatar, Thailand, Cambodia, The Philippines, Indonesia, Bahamas, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and 10 US States (Louisiana, Massachusetts, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas).
This year, one of my favorite images wound up in Lonely Planet Traveller Magazine. I made quite a few new friends on Instagram and began to learn how to tweet. I printed a couple of new books on my travels, GRIT and ANCIENT. I also added the Fuji X-T1, Fuji XF 16mm 1.4, and meFOTO Carbon Fiber Traveller tripod to the camera bag.
I redeemed nearly 250,000 American Express points, emptied my Hilton Honors account, leveraged about 150,000 flyer miles, and cashed in $1,000 in travel vouchers.
And last but certainly not least, I earned a fifth year of Gold Elite status with Qatar Airways. Unfortunately, I failed to maintain my second tier status with KLM/Delta for 2016. It looks like next year I may not be blessed with the same upgrades I enjoyed this year.
All that said, on to a few highlights of my favorite travel memories from 2015…
First up, was my first ever visit to, the very appropriately named, Grand Canyon. I had the pleasure of visiting in March during a long weekend. After spending a couple of weeks studying at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix, I rented a Toyota 4-runner and hit to the road bound for the South Rim. South Rim is easily accessible from several directions and makes a quick trip, if you’d like it to. I didn’t do any hiking, but spent the better part of a day just cruising from one look out point to another capturing shots along the way. I found the accommodation to be expensive along the Rim, so I made a late night drive over to Kanab where there are plenty of excellent great value B&Bs.
Then in April, my colleague Reed and I headed down to Mexico City to see the big city and do a bit of exploration. It was a busy itinerary. If you only do one thing while you are there, it should be getting out to Teotihuacán to see the pyramids. Be warned that it can be quite crowded on Sundays as most of the locals visit then. A quick tip… if you can get up early try and arrive to the site before 8 AM. That should help you be the first through the gate and give you a few minutes to wander around in solitude before the tour buses show up.
A few months later, I somehow found myself wandering the ruins in Cambodia, again. I think this may have been my third visit to Cambodia. Traveling to this country never disappoints – beautiful culture and people, great food, value accommodation, and it is awfully hard to take a bad photo there. This trip, I took the time to get off the mainstream tourist trail (not that the others aren’t well traveled too) and explored Beng Mealea and Koh Ker. Visiting in the July heat had my friend Mississippi Dave and I exploring outside the crowds. Highlight of my time in Cambodia? Definitely sitting on top of a temple with a young monk. If you visit, try our local guide Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As part of the same South East Asia visit, I spent some time in the Philippines. Once I arrived in Manila, I booked a flight to Palawan (taking a small risk of hitting the beaches in the rainy season) as I had read that Palawan remains relatively undeveloped. I found that to be the case, particularly during my many cold showers and whenever I was trying to find reliable WIFI. However, the islands appeared to be developing quickly. Island hopping was incredible, both in El Nido and in Coron. Pick out your fish at a local market, board a boat to a remote island, have your guide grill up lunch… that is definitely the way to go. I recommend traveling here soon to enjoy the authenticity. It is a great alternative to overcrowded beaches.
The highlight of this trip had to be meeting a group of six locals from Manila, who kindly let me tag along on their holiday excursions.
Before departing the Philippines, I visited Intramuros (the Walled City) in Manila on foot. It was an incredibly photogenic area. In hind sight, I probably should have planned to stay in the historic center for a night or two.
In September, I went back to the American Southwest to spend some more time in the National Parks. This time I returned with my long time Scottish friend, photographer and art director, Scott. We flew into LA and put some serious miles in on the open road. The list of places we visited included Red Rocks, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Monument Valley, and Antelope Canyon. Of course, we stopped in Vegas for a night so I could make a donation before returning to LA. The must see of the entire tour was hiking the Narrows, although shooting the Milky Way over Delicate Arch was a close second.
In October, it was off to Europe. Of the dozen or two visits I’ve made to Europe, this year marked the first time I rented a car to road trip a bit. The result was a tour of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany in a small Mini Cooper. I definitely enjoyed driving through the countryside with no real destination in mind, armed with only an in car GPS unit and my camera gear. Krefeld, Germany wound up being one of my favorite towns to have stumbled upon. It was there were I captured one of my favorite photos of the trip. It was a scene of a young woman sitting on a bench under a lone tree with her bicycle.
I transited through Amsterdam as well… having done so several times before as a KLM frequent flyer, this turned out to be the first time I visited during October. The canals were filled with fall colors that week, something I’m told doesn’t last very long there. The Netherlands is now on my watch list for fall trips. Although I was disappointed that Hotel Sebastian’s had slipped a bit in the customer service department since my last visit, I did find a good value hotel just off the square (Hotel Clemens).
Now let me tell you about the best $23 I ever spent. Having never visited Central America, I cashed in a $500 American Airlines travel voucher for a $523 flight to Guatemala City. While I’d originally intended to only visit Guatemala, I wound up dropping into El Salvador and Honduras as well.
Photographically speaking, I found Antigua and Lake Atitlan to be my favorites, though the region is incredibly rich with beauty. This part of the world was definitely intriguing – a colorful culture, good food and drink, and great value travel. I was amazed that I could hop a shared shuttle from one country to another for as little as $20 USD.
My top experience in the region outside of Guatemala? It was either watching a sunset above the Copan Ruinas, cigar in hand, at Hacienda San Lucas or catching a few sunsets and sunrises on the black sandy beaches of El Tunco, El Salvador.
Finally, toward the end of the year, I took some time to get back to my roots in Mississippi. After spending so much time abroad, it was very interesting to find myself at home seeing my home State differently than I ever had before.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A man must generally get away some hundreds or thousands of miles from home before he can be said to begin his travels. Why not begin his travels at home? Would he have to go far or look closely to discover novelties? The traveler who, in this sense, pursues his travels at home, has the advantage at any rate of a long residence in the country to make his observations correct and profitable.”
Driving along the Natchez Trace catching the fading fall colors, I took a detour off the scenic drive to an old burned home in Port Gibson. What remains there is called the Windsor Ruins. Although relatively young compared to sites outside the US, walking around the charred old concrete and brick columns was fascinating.
If you Visit Mississippi, one place I highly recommend is the Shack Up Inn. This old plantation’s sharecropper shacks have been converted into rooms for travelers, which gives it an extraordinary atmosphere. Situated in Clarksdale, the Shack Up Inn is less than sixty miles from where I was born. I almost felt at home on one of the front porches.
I hope you visit a few of the same places and drop me a line about your experiences at some point. Until then, Happy New Year and safe travels.