This year has been a crazy one. If you had have told me that I would succeed in seeing 8 countries and 23 different cities before the end of the year I would have thought you were crazy. It’s no secret that we work full-time, that’s what the blog is based off of after all, but so much travel even surprised myself! Seeing 8 countries in one year takes a lot of work, dedication and planning.
The key to seeing as many countries as I did this year was taking advantage of my vacation days and holidays. I was also very strategic in being able to visit countries that were near each other. Here’s a breakdown of where I went this year:
Reykjavik, Hofn, Vik, Akureyri, Egilsstadir, Myvatn
Ghent, Ypres, Brugges
Chicago, New York, Lake Placid, Sarasota
City of Gibraltar
Quebec City, Stony lake
Every year I get 15 vacation days, 2 floater days (so for someone like me that’s basically extra vacation days) and in Ontario we have 10 stat holidays. So in total that’s potentially 27 extra days I can take every year.
When I break it down, I used my days as wisely and strategically as I could. In some cases we paid a bit more for flights because we were travelling over holidays but for the most part, I was travelling off-season which meant the flights to the destinations I was going to weren’t crazy.
Amsterdam, Ghent, Ypres, Bruges
[New Years Day holiday + 3 vacation days]
I rang in 2016 watching an insane amount of fireworks in Amsterdam. Of course we didn’t do this whole trip in only 5 days, this was tacked onto spending Christmas in England with Ben’s family. We typically travel back to England twice a year and try to tack on another country at the same time. This time we drove from England to Belgium and the Netherlands. We spent about a day and a half in each place. While it’s obviously not enough time to really explore each destination, it was enough to get a good sense of what they were like and whether it would be worth returning.
[Family day holiday]
This may sound like a weird trip to have taken but I found a really great deal. Obviously travelling to Chicago in the middle of the winter isn’t the most ideal but it was a great way to see the city with very few lines. Plus, Chicago weather isn’t that much different than Toronto, only a little windier. I had so much fun celebrating Valentine’s day with Ben in Chicago it was definitely worth seeing this city even though it was the middle of the winter.
Stoney Lake is one of my favourite spots in the summertime so when I was asked by Viamede Resort to come and check out their facilities in the winter, I couldn’t resist. The area is absolutely gorgeous in the winter, with all the snow and activities you can partake in as well. Definitely a weekend well spent.
[1 vacation day]
Using one extra vacation day I made the short trip to visit my aunt and grandparents in Sarasota. It always makes travel so much easier when you have a free place to stay doesn’t it? While Sarasota isn’t on the top of many peoples’ bucket list when travelling to Florida, it holds a bit of a nostalgic place in my heart having spent many weeks there when I was younger. There are things to do, of course the shopping is near the top of the list!
Reykjavik, Hofn, Vik, Egilsstadir, Myvatn
[Victoria day holiday + 5 vacation days]
Country number 5 in 2016 and on our list of 8 countries was Iceland. I am so happy I got to travel to this absolutely unreal country. It was on the top of Ben’s bucket list so we of course wanted to make it a priority to visit. Plus, it’s seemingly on everyone else’s bucket list as well! May was a great time to visit because the crowds hadn’t yet moved in and the weather was pretty mild. We managed to see the whole country in 10 days. While it wasn’t exactly a budget trip (we spent a little more than I would have wanted) it was definitely one I’ll remember for a long time. The highlight of the trip was diving Silfra and being in “two places at once”.
New York City
[1 vacation day]
After taking June and July off travelling (it was hard I’ll admit it), we ended the summer with a trip to the big Apple. It had been a number of years since I’d visited and Ben had never been so we thought it was as good of a time as any. New York City is pretty cheap to fly to from Toronto so the flights weren’t too bad. The city in the height of summer though is something else. I can see why it’s not a popular time to visit, I honestly thought we were going to melt away half the time! All in all though, NYC made for a wonderful three day weekend.
London, Oxford, Seville, Lagos, Lisbon, Gibraltar
[Thanksgiving holiday day + 6 vacation days]
Rounding off our last set of new countries our of the 8 countries we visited this year is Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar. Admittedly this trip was a little bit more hectic than I intended it to be but we got a great chance to see a number of different places in one go. The reason Gibraltar made this list is because it was actually the cheapest place to fly to England from near Southern Spain. Lisbon was also one of the cheapest cities for us to fly into from Toronto.
Growing up as a ski racer means I have a unique love affair with the mountains. When I was invited to The Whiteface Lodge in October I couldn’t resist jumping on board. While the drive isn’t one for the faint of heart (it’s about a 6 hour drive from Toronto each way), I’m here to prove that you absolutely can do it in a weekend. The activities in and around Lake Placid are abundant and the views in the fall are stunning. The best part was sitting around the cozy living room drinking red wine before enjoying an unreal steak meal at KANU.
December 30th-Jan 2
[1 vacation day]
Last but not least is our upcoming trip to Quebec City for New Years Eve. I’ve been to Quebec City before (and in the winter no less) but have never been for New Years so I’m very excited for the trip. There’s something so magical about this romantic city being blanketed in snow. We had a travel voucher with Porter Airlines from our trip to NYC (mostly because they suck at getting planes out on time) and Aeroplan points to use so the flights were really cheap. The hotels are a bit more expensive because it is prime season but Ben and I will be using this as our Christmas gifts to each other so it all works out.
How you can see 8 countries in a year:
When looking to travel as much as possible while working full-time my biggest advice is making sure to plan ahead. Because you work full-time you likely don’t have the luxury of being able to take off on a random Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon. If you really want to utilize your vacation and holiday days you’ll likely need to travel during peak times so booking travel as far ahead as possible is your best bet.
Shop around for the best accommodations:
Accommodations fluctuate based on demand. When we were looking to book our New Years Eve hotel, we couldn’t decide which one to book. We weren’t ready to make full payment but I wanted to make sure I locked in the price. I used the ‘free cancellation’ service with Booking.com to make sure we locked in the price and had a few months to decide which hotel we really wanted. Seriously, a life saver, especially because now the hotels are about $200 more expensive.
Look, you’re not going to be able to travel to every destination during peak season and still have money left over. It’s not realistic. Sometimes travelling to a destination off-season is the best thing you can do. The added bonus is the cheaper prices, less lineups and who knows you might just get lucky with the weather!