Bethany’s 2015 Travel Awards

2014 was a more dramatic year for me of traveling around Europe while I lived in London, but I did a decent amount of traveling again in 2015. It was mostly domestic and in the Midwest, because I cannot stop traveling and checking out new places while trying to conserve on the travel expenses for my trip to Australia in 2016. It’s worked reasonably well to keep me busy and happy. All but a few of these were within a 5-hour drive of my abode near Indianapolis, perfect for a weekend or long weekend of exploring.

New places:

  • Louisville, KY
  • Nashville, TN
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Marshall, MI
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Toronto, ON
  • Chattahoochee Hills, GA
  • Indiana:
    • Madison
    • New Harmony
    • Parke County
    • Turkey Run State Park

Returned to and explored more:

  • Detroit, MI
  • Chicago, IL (several times)
  • New York, NY
  • Shipshewana, IN
  • Pokagon State Park, IN

Favorite new things in a familiar-to-me city

Chicago food tour and architecture cruise. My dad lives near Chicago, and the last few years I’ve been discovering a new appreciation for this city and checking out places I’ve never been. This year, I toured the city for a couple days with my friend Steph, who was visiting from England, and we did two things I loved. The first was a food tour, and Chicago has amazing food and unique neighborhoods I hadn’t seen before, so I LOVED that. The second was an architecture river cruise. I learned a whole lot about architecture I didn’t know before, only some of which I’ve retained, but I did gain a new appreciation for the uniqueness of the city’s buildings.

9/11 Memorial and Museum. I also was able to go on a brief work trip to New York City, which I’ve spent a few days in before, but this time went to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and was blown away by it. The museum is thorough and immerses you in all the details of what happened that happened that day. I ended up spending most of a day there and still didn’t quite get to see everything!

Favorite new-to-me town in my state:

Madison. Indiana has a lot of small, historical towns, and I visited (and re-visited) several of them this year. They all have an interesting tidbit to offer, but I think I was most struck by the lovely little town of Madison, on the southern border of Indiana not far from Louisville, KY. My cousin Emily and I took a day trip there in March, when there’s not a whole lot going on, but we walked around a neighborhood with a lot of historic houses, ate some homestyle midwestern food, checked out the flooded river, and did some shopping in the adorable shops on the main street. It’s just a charming tiny town in the corner of the state for a nice day out.

Most surprising cities to me:

Nashville, TN and Louisville, KY. Up until recently, I had a pretty strong bias against the South. I probably still do a little bit, but after having visited Louisville and Nashville, I’m past a lot of that.

Even a couple of years ago, when someone recommended Nashville as a place to visit, I balked at the idea, because I associate the city with country music and the Grand Ole Opry, both of which make me cringe. However, after people kept suggesting it, I did some research, and there’s quite a lot to the city besides the country music scene. It’s a music city of all genres, has fantastic food, and is very bike-friendly. So I drove the 4.5 hours from Indy to Nashville (surprisingly shorter than I had realized) and spent a long weekend there, eating, taking a bike tour, and exploring a couple of historic former plantations. Even the drive though Tennessee and Kentucky is full of beautiful, rolling, tree-covered hills!

Louisville was another surprising city that won me over, as well as my cousin Emily who went with me. It’s actually a college town, surprisingly liberal and artsy. I had some of the best vegan wings ever there! It’s also just over 2 hours from Indianapolis. I don’t know why the American South had seemed so far away before!

Most surprising to everyone else:

Detroit. This is the city that, whenever I say positive things about it, I tend to get some shock from others. It’s true, it is rough and not at all the same booming city it was 40 years ago, but it’s recovering, and there are a lot of cool things to see and do.

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View of the Detroit River and Windsor, Ontario, Canada, from inside the GM Renaissance Center.

The first time I went to Detroit, I ended up getting rescued from a malfunctioning jet ski by the Coast Guard and was harassed more than usual by some aggressive homeless people, but neither of those things happened this time (and I don’t hold them against the city at all!) This time, we did a walking tour of downtown, ate some great food, checked out the African American History Museum (possibly the best in the country). My mom especially loved the Motown museum, as did I. The city has a clear identity and soul, which is what really makes me love a place.

Favorite new activity:

Kayaking. I went on a weekend camping trip with a few friends to Turkey Run State Park and tried kayaking for the first time. I loved it! It got a little crazy when it thunderstormed and we had to stop in the middle of our kayaking cruise down Sugar Creek, but overall it was a fun trip down a fairly calm river, and I’d love to do it again with that same kind of stable kayak.

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Kayaking with my friends Alex, Corinna, and Ben

Favorite overall thing:

Niagara Falls. Emily and I did a trip to Toronto, Canada, the only time I left the country this year. While we were there, we just had to see Niagara Falls, only an hour and a half drive from the city. I try to not have my hopes too high for things this famous – I mean, I’ve seen a fair amount of big waterfalls. But the thing is, photos and videos, no matter how well shot, simply do not do Niagara Falls justice. It blew us away. Kind of literally. The boat tour where you get up close and personal with the falls, and pretty wet, is definitely recommended. We both want to go back again – it was incredible in the autumn, but next time maybe even in the winter in all its snowy and icy glory!

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Traveling Alone

I love solo travel. The sheer freedom of being able to do whatever you want is great, because rarely will one find a travel partner who wants to go to all the exact same places you want to check out, even within the same city. Of course, there are downsides too – it can be nice to have some of the burden of logistics shared when you travel with another organized person, and also being able to share the experience with someone. But for an introvert like me, I like being able to really experience a place solitarily. And now, with social media, I can instantaneously share the beautiful vistas and unusual situations with my friends and family and not really feel alone anyway. The biggest drawback? The awkwardness of taking selfies and/or asking strangers to take my picture. But I’m working on getting that down.

I’ve been going on extended group trips since about middle school and never got homesick – an early indication of a future love of travel. I rode a plane on my own for the first time when I was 20 – a relatively short flight to Los Angeles on the way to meet my group for New Zealand, but I think that trip helped me get more familiar with airports and the process of flying. With a decent amount of travel experience under my belt, it seemed only natural to me to go on a trip alone. So in February of last year, during a seemingly random burst of wanderlust, one day I booked a round-trip March flight to London for a week.

Why not? I’d wanted to visit England for years and years, I’d saved up money to travel, and I knew no one would want to go with me. I had full control over what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it. I didn’t even ask anyone if they wanted to join or request the time off work before I booked the flight. This was happening, and nothing was getting in my way.

So I was surprised when I talked about my trip and people asked me who I was going with. Really, you’re going alone?! Wow, how brave. (And I could tell by the looks on some faces that they were thinking, How strange.) This gave me some doubt about how well the trip would go or if it would end up horribly, but really I wasn’t too worried. It was an English speaking country and I had friends over there to meet up with, so perfect for traveling alone. And it was a wonderful trip! I fell in love with London and had a fantastic time in my friends’ English towns and Cardiff. There were of course some kinks, but I really didn’t mind being by myself.

Later last year, I took an even more spontaneous trip to New York City to meet Julie Andrews and experience the city for a few days, since I’d never been there before. That trip was fantastic too! Now people who know me seem less surprised/worried about my traveling alone, because clearly I can pull it off. But I’ve often wondered, why is this such a strange phenomenon to them? Plenty of people travel alone.

Upon exploration of various articles and blogs on the internets, it’s now my theory that it’s because I’m female, and also probably because I’m introverted and it just surprises people that I’d want to be so adventurous. Would you be surprised to find out that an outgoing guy went on a trip to London on his own? Is that because guys can obviously take care of themselves?

If you’ve ever wanted to go on a trip but couldn’t get anyone else to go with you, here’s my advice: just go. Don’t wait around, because usually things don’t just happen on their own, contrary to popular belief. Don’t let your significant other hold you back if they don’t want to go. Find a way to make it happen. Do your research, go somewhere safe, and in all likelihood you’ll be fine and have a great time!

My Wanderlist

I like reading other travel blogs, and when I encountered the amazing Janaline’s World Journey List, I was inspired to create my own. And, well, it doesn’t hurt that I have a slight obsession with making lists. (ListGeeks, anyone?) I haven’t been nearly as many places as Janaline, but before getting more into my current travels I thought I’d share some of the highlights of my past journeys, starting when I was a teenager.

  • My first taste of world travel was in high school (2005), when on a school trip I explored the masses of historical art and ancient ruins in Italy and Greece.
  • Saw the pope speak in Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
  • Stared up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
  • Explored the lava-preserved ruins of the city of Pompeii.
  • Ate delicious pasticcio and baklava in Tolo, Greece.
  • Witnessed my bus driver punch a hit and run motorist in post-Olympics Athens, Greece.
  • A few years later during college, I joined a spring break road trip to Jacksonville, Florida.
  • Imitated a monkey at the North Carolina Zoo.
  • Overlooked the beach from the top of an old fort in St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest US city.
  • Feasted at a Hangi as part of the adopted family of a native Maori tribe in Tauranga, New Zealand.
Queenstown, New Zealand

Me just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand

  • Hiked down to enchanting Narnia at Cathedral Cove, New Zealand.
  • Zorbed in a big watery ball down a hillside in New Zealand.
  • Bathed in a silky warm mud bath in the geothermal springs of Rotorua, New Zealand.
  • Rode on horseback through the hills of New Zealand where The Lord of the Rings movies were filmed.
  • Danced the night away in the bars of Wellington, New Zealand.
  • White-water rafted on the Rangitikei River, New Zealand.
  • Climbed Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand.
  • Bungee jumped off a ledge overlooking Queenstown, New Zealand at night.
Top of Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Top of Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

  • Viewed St. Louis from the top of its Gateway Arch.
  • Took a whirlwind world tour at the International area of Disney World’s Epcot, Orlando, Florida.
  • Had a blast at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, Orlando, Florida.

Me at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

  • Petted a penguin at Newport Aquarium in Kentucky near Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • Was awed by Van Gogh and Monet’s original paintings in London’s National Gallery.
  • Rode the London Eye, the big wheel near Big Ben, to take in the incredible views of the city at night.
  • Photographed the incredibly old and beautiful churches and architecture of the financial district, called The City in central London.
  • Watched a West End show in London, Phantom of the Opera.
  • Walked around the adorable, classic English town of Sheffield.
  • Enjoyed bread pudding in a traditional English country pub in Leicester.
Leicester Abbey, England

Me at Leicester Abbey, England

  • Met the stars of Doctor Who at the first official convention in Cardiff, Wales.
  • Went hot air ballooning over central Indiana.
  • Zip lined through the forest of Brown County State Park in southern Indiana.
  • Got rescued by the Coast Guard from a jet ski in Detroit, Michigan.
  • Perused the fantastic collection of impressionist paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago and saw my warped reflection in The Bean in Millennium Park next to it.
  • Stood in Times Square in New York, where it is still packed and buzzing at midnight.
  • Looked over New York City from the top of Rockefeller Center.
Rockefeller Center

Me at the top of Rockefeller Center with Central Park behind me

  • Strolled through Central Park and saw the iconic statues and pathways.
  • The stars of the show Once on Broadway signed my Playbill after I watched the show.
  • Crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot to see amazing views of the Manhattan skyline.
  • Saw as much of the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art as I could in a few hours.
  • Attended a Julie Andrews book signing in the Upper West Side of Manhattan so I could meet her.
  • Perused the massive bookstore that is Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.
  • Ate at Portland’s legendary food trucks downtown.
Golden Gate Bridge

Me in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

  • Crossed the Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay.
  • Hugged one of the very tall and majestic California redwoods in Muir Woods.
  • Stood in a prison cell in Alcatraz after cruising over from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

Me at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

  • Danced through the aisles on the Ellen Degeneres Show set and sat in the gazebo from Gilmore Girls and on the couch from Friends at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California.
  • Found that my hand is the same size as Julie Andrews’s in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California.
  • Walked down the Hollywood Walk of Fame next to the red carpet the day before the Oscars.
  • Played in the sand at sunny Santa Monica Beach, California.
  • Watched the changing of the guards in front of Buckingham Palace.
  • Toured Westminster Abbey, with all its royal history, in London.
  • Watched Palace Guards play the Happy Birthday song to the Queen of England on her 86th birthday at Windsor Castle, her favorite getaway from Buckingham Palace.
  • Experienced the ancient mysteries of 5,000 year old Stonehenge.
  • Drank water from the thermal springs of Bath, England.
Roman Baths in Bath, England

Me at the Roman Baths in Bath, England

  • Shopped at Harrod’s in London, the largest department store in Europe.
  • Cruised down the Seine River in Paris and saw the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral.
  • Sipped champagne at lunch in the Eiffel Tower.
  • Braved the crowds at the Louvre museum in Paris to see the Mona Lisa.