As we begin to wrap up 2017, we can’t help but look back on the past year and reflect on all of the fantastic memories we’ve created in 15 countries and three continents. It was an unexpectedly, phenomenal travel year for The Budget Savvy Travelers.
The year started off in Budapest, Hungary where we kicked off 2017 enjoying one of our favorite cities in Europe. To date, we have yet to discover a more perfect city to enjoy Christmas and the holiday season. Truth be told, we missed the charms and European beauty of Budapest this winter.
From Budapest we flew to Bangkok to begin a whirlwind tour of seven different Asian countries. It would be our second tour of Asia. We were shocked at how Bangkok has evolved, taking its place among some of the world’s top metropolises. In fact, the increase of prices reflect its change and growth.
Sadly, our stop in Thailand was a brief one, but it conjured up memories of a carefree time of joy rides on a red scooter, delicious cheap Thai food, and tropical beaches. Life here is easy and it takes great effort to prevent ourselves from booking a plane ticket to return to that laid-back lifestyle.
Next, we were off to Malaysia for one of the best adventures of the year, where we ventured into the Borneo Rainforest. For us, chasing wildlife always creates the most memorable holidays because it’s a time for exploration and adventure.
Visiting Borneo Rainforest Lodge checked off one of our top bucket list items and it was a highlight of 2017. After a quick stop in the capital of Kuala Lumpur to gaze up at the Petronas Towers, we headed off to the Philippines.
On a last minute whim, we added the Philippines to our tour of Asia. We kicked ourselves in the ass for not visiting when we toured Asia the first go around. After a lot of research, we decided Bohol was the perfect island for us. We simply treasured our time here. Not since the Cook Islands have we experienced a true, idyllic, island paradise.
To this day, the Philippines haunts me. We know this is a country in which we didn’t explore long enough or deep enough. In our beachy daydreams, this is the place where our mind wanders. We still have unfinished business in the Philippines.
We left the balmy beaches of the Philippines and landed in frigid South Korea. Weather-wise the two destinations could not have been at more extreme ends of the spectrum.
We loved South Korea and the kind people. On several occasions we were struck by the beautiful connection that South Korea and The United States share. The comradery on display was most strongly observed when touring the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). It was here at the JSA (Joint Security Area) where we crossed over into North Korean territory. This would go down as one of our most treasured and meaningful travel experiences of our lifetime.
Next, we were off to one of our favorite countries on the globe. Interestingly, for a country known not to let outsiders in, we always feel right at home in Japan. We love the quiet, respectful culture. We adore the cleanliness and organization. We love how the Japanese work hard, but play hard too. We are never lost in translation when we’re in Japan.
Our last stop on our Asian tour took us to Taiwan. Many travelers claim Taiwan is their favorite country in the world and we can understand why. Traveling around Taiwan is easy, the country is safe, and the people are laid-back and friendly. In Taiwan, we experienced one of the best hikes of our life on the Zhuilu Old Trail.
In May, we became sailors and lived aboard a 52-foot sailboat for two weeks on the turbulent Aegean Sea. This was an adventure that took us way out of our comfort zone! However, traveling by sailboat took us to some of the most secluded islands and sexiest, turquoise-colored bays of the Greek islands. We can now rest assured that we’ll always know what it’s like to set off and sail the open sea.
Following Greece, we settled back home in our beloved Croatia to enjoy the start of the summer and to savor the beaches until the crazy tourist season began. Our visa (and friend Davor) allowed us to stay well through the middle of July. It was great to experience the cool crisp Adriatic Sea when the weather was nice and hot!
We decided to explore Macedonia for the summer and couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. Macedonia has world class wine, beautiful scenery, and some of the kindest people. Macedonia was a great, budget friendly place to explore in the summer high season. We loved it so much that we’re considering a return to explore new ground in 2018!
While based in Skopje, we rented a car to complete a multi-country road trip where we explored Albania and Kosovo. Kosovo reminded us of Colorado with its alpine lodges, ski resorts, and sweeping mountain views. Here’s a whacked out fact!
Did you know that Kosovo has better driving roads than Chicago? Chicago’s pothole ladened roads are awful!
Croatia (Part II)
In October, we celebrated our 12 year wedding anniversary aboard a small ship cruise. We started in Dubrovnik and cruised along the gorgeous Adriatic coastline stopping at some of Croatia’s most hard to reach destinations. We were spoiled touring Croatia via a luxury yacht and discovered that the most epic way to travel is not by plane or helicopter but by yachtcuzzi!
Finally in December, we find ourselves back in our hometown. We never would have thought we would have ended our year in Chicago. After over three years on the road, my mom helped us return home for the holidays. Our plan was always to surprise everyone in the most epic way possible and we think we successfully accomplished that goal.
What will 2018 hold?
While home, we have two main goals. First, to spend as much time with our nieces and nephews as possible. Second, we have to get rid of the majority of the belongings we left behind. These items have been weighing heavy in our minds the last few months. We have until March 7th, 2018 to get this done!
In terms of travel, after a week in Split, Croatia we will be heading to Scotland for a week of hiking in Trossachs National Park. For our visa, we will have to remain out of Croatia until May, so we are currently in the initial stages of planning a busy March and April 2018. Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia may be a possible option. We’ve had our eyes on this region for awhile.
Come May, we will enter back into Croatia to enjoy the start of the summer season. With any luck, we will join our Croatian friends at Ultra Europe 2018, where we will finally be in town to experience the ultimate party of the summer.
Hungary, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Greece, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo & The United States.
Europe, Asia, and North America