Reflection is a funny thing. It can be therapeutic. Comedic, even. A little depressing. Perhaps uplifting. Possibly motivating. And even downright terrifying. This is why it’s healthy to take a look back. By doing so, we can only then realize how far we’ve come, how much we’ve learned and what mistakes to avoid for the future – like letting your health insurance payments pass you by because you could’ve sworn you put them on AutoPay but then your bank closed the card you had on file because it somehow became part of fraud scheme at some undisclosed ATM, all during a year when you decided to have major surgery… Oh wait, that didn’t happen to you? Maybe that’s just me then. Ha.
ANYWHO. Let’s dive into the past 12 months of The Road Les Traveled, shall we? Yes we shall.
My first trip of the year was to one of my favorite Caribbean islands. This time, I wanted to see more than just Puerto Rico‘s beaches and its tourist attractions and luckily, a local did his best to show me its many different sides. I’m thankful he did because as many of you know, the island may never be the same after Hurricane Irma.
I was dealt a good hand in life, the hand that allowed me to be Alex Speed’s best friend and ultimately the sister she never had/travel buddy extraordinaire. We grew up tackling the slopes of Aspen together, so it was beyond fun to do it all over again this past March…tree trails, shopping, and the Ultimate Taxi included. Read my Aspen Guide here.
A small package can pack a big punch. That’s how I think about Wales, a country in the United Kingdom with a population the size of my home state of Arkansas. For a country this size, I was taken aback to find that it encapsulated everything I hope for in a destination: coastline, mountains, culture, cuisine, and good people. Did I mention locations get bonus points for castles? Also, I fully realize this post is long-winded, but I’m going to take the liberty of telling a story really fast. On one particular day in Wales, I posted this IG photo:
The following day, I received a message that said, “Hi Lesley. The yellow house in Llanfairfechan is my family home. I live in Croydon presently, however the house is still my father’s. My sister and I will inherit the house one day (hopefully never of course). Perhaps I can put you down for first refusal? :)”
Out of all the people in the world, the man who grew up in the yellow house read my Instagram post. What are the odds?! He then went on to say how his dad was the first to paint his house a different color. They were all white and black or grey. All the neighbors hated it for the first year until one neighbor broke down and painted his blue. A pink house came next, and so on. Damn I love a good trendsetter. Way to go, Mr. Yellow House.
Anyone remember that time I did a polar bear plunge into the ice waters of Lake Louise on The Bachelor and said I’d never do it again… ahhhh, never say never. Helsinki sees about two months of summer each year, with the remaining 10 months seeing low temps, ice and snow…hence why sauna-ing is a way of life here. I was stunned to see locals go back and forth between the steamy sauna and the icy Baltic Sea only steps away. Apparently there are major health benefits from this hot-cold flip flop going on, but to an outsider it’s just painful AF. Read more my post on what to do in Finland here.
Yukon Territory, Canada
Snowmobiles, sea planes, dog sledding, arctic foxes, cozy fires, hot chocolate AND THE NORTHERN LIGHTS. Am I selling it yet? Great, grand, wonderful, get on the plane. I should warn you that any Aurora trip you take will be exhausting if you’re actively hunting for them. Think setting your alarms for 5 different times throughout the night to only wake up early the next day for 7 hours of man-handling your very own dog sled team. But who’s complaining? Not I! More on my northern lights trip here.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Oh, yep. There it is. No, this one isn’t about another exciting destination or stamps in my passport. This year I underwent a double mastectomy to rid of my potential cancer genes. Back in February, I received a call from my geneticist that I was BRCA 2 positive, meaning I have a great risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer and ovarian cancer at some point in my life. I’m a firm believer that at the end of the day, our health is all we have. I ultimately knew I’d have to part ways with my boobs. No more potential cancer cells, no more worries. I couldn’t have done it without my family, and I want my readers/followers to know how much you helped me heal. To y’all, I owe you the world. So I’ll keep exploring and bring it to you digitally as best I can 🙂 I’ve written many posts from this crazy journey, but I’m most proud of this one. It’s raw, it’s funny, it’s sad, and the last paragraph brings me to tears every.single.time.
I’m just going to say it. A small (ok, medium sized) part of me really wants to be Canadian…so much so that I’ve been three times this year and had to hold myself back from going a 4th time. My love affair with Banff began on reality TV, and I knew I’d return some day. That some day was over Memorial Day weekend when I solo adventured around Alberta. T’was one of my favorite trips of 2017 and if you’ve never traveled by yourself, do it at least once in your lifetime. Do it for me, do it for you, do it for the love of freedom. And also for some guy named Tim Horton 🙂 More from my week in the Banff wilderness here.
Charleston, South Carolina
That one time I took a stranger to Charleston with me…and it was the best decision ever. Let’s back up for a second. Two years ago, I ran a campaign with Cathay Pacific Airways where the winner traveled with me for 14 days throughout Asia. This year, I switched #BucketListWithLesley up a bit and took a breast cancer survivor from Arkansas with me to Charleston. Lindsay, you’re a rockstar and I’m so lucky to call you an amazing friend.
When you are given the gift of visiting a private island with flamingos, you get on a plane and go. This was my second year in partnership with Renaissance Hotels, and their Aruba property didn’t disappoint. Mingling with the mingos was one for the books!
I couldn’t think of a grander destination to send off my 20’s in style than Grand Cayman with my mama. Truth be told, I wasn’t exactly cleared to get in the water yet due to recent-ish surgery, but when stingrays are underneath smiling for your GoPro, you get in and take their photo. This is quite possibly my favorite picture ever taken. See more from my guide to Grand Cayman.
I’ll be honest. Everyone was traveling to Iceland, and I felt a bit left out so I booked a plane ticket, too. I like Iceland. I’m not entirely sure it would fit into my Top 10 destinations around the world, but it was a fun adventure while it lasted. My favorite part was during my very last night in the country. I spent it in a really sweet bubble. Take a few more minutes off your life to watch my Iceland videos below.
Laguna Beach, California
I planned a bachelorette party for 14 people, and I’m going to go ahead and pat myself on the back for that. No one cried, no one died, and we married off the bride a few months later. It was a success with plenty of reality TV reruns via The OC to relive the adventure. If you’re up for a bachelorette in Laguna, look no further.
Miami sticks out as a big 2017 destination in my mind not only because I married off my best friend, but also because I stayed put for two weeks after the wedding in order to work in a warehouse collecting aid for hurricane disaster relief. It was a ton of hard work and dedication, but I met some of the finest humans on planet earth here. It’s crazy to see what happens when you put passionate people with big hearts in one room. They rebuild an island. Many thanks to Bethenny Frankel, Global Empowerment Mission, Third Wave Volunteers, We Do Better, and all the helpful private citizens like Juan Padro. Y’all are my heroes.
Puerto Rico, again
After Miami, I made it to Puerto Rico. This trip was vastly different than the first. This go around, the goal was to get on-the-ground and hand out aid to those in need. Dr. Alison Thompson along with myself and 4 others traveled to Puerto Rico on a small chartered plane to deliver solar lights, water filters and meals to anyone we came across. Many are still living in the dark and some are still without clean drinking water. I can’t adequately explain to you how it felt when an elderly woman looked me in the eyes with pure elation after she was handed a light source and water filter. She’d seen zero aid until we showed up. Children were ecstatic because they could see through the darkness again. When the most simplistic features and basic needs become luxuries, humanity is stripped of egos, of status, of prejudice. I’m ecstatic to be returning to Puerto Rico during the first week in January ’18.
Arga, Uttar Pradesh, India
India is a difficult place to put into words. It’s a place you simply have to visit in order to understand its complexities. That’s when my love affair officially commenced with the people, the food, the animals, the landscapes and the beautiful mess as a whole. And the Taj Mahal, ohhh the Taj Mahal. I live for moments during travel when my eyes widen, my jaw drops and my heart beats a little faster. Those keep me inside the adventure, and this was exactly what happened when I walked up to this landmark. India is sensory overload and its finest and it’s a place that requires every single fiber of your being at all times. Don’t forget to be incredibly present while in its presence 🙂 More on my highlights in India here.
My final international destination of 2017 was spent solo in Sri Lanka. I experienced the world’s most beautiful train ride, I check into a haunted hotel to only check out at midnight (I’ll get to that story in a separate post), I met some beautiful locals and basked in the southern coast’s sun. I believe it’s a country that retains so much of its authenticity, even with the ever-curious tourists lurking around its grounds. What a gem you are, Sri Lanka. Thanks for the memories!
For my 17th destination, you’ll have to have a little bit of patience. Coming to a screen near you soon.
Dear 2017. I’m not sad to see you go, but I kinda hate to watch you leave. You’ve been full of wonder and awe, pain and pure hell, love and laughter, break ups and make ups, devastation and reform, and lessons learned. I finally have my very own phone plan as of this year (thanks for the free roaming, T Mobile). I’ve made bigger business than I ever thought possible. I entered into a new decade. I feel somewhat prepared to birth a child now that I’ve had MAJOR surgery. I yoga’d with yoga_girl in Aruba #lifegoalz. I completed Iceland’s Ring Road so fast that it hurt. I learned what it takes to give back to an island that has given me so much. I’ve spent more time with family this year than maybe ever before. Life is good.
2018 Intentions: more off-the-grid travel, attend a yoga retreat, get my yoga teach training, explore lots more of Africa, make friends with the penguins in Antarctica, see Ireland and Scotland, swim with the whales, write a book, finally get to Alaska, and maybe…probably…definitely rent an apartment. #roots
Over to you! Where do you want to see The Road Les Traveled in 2018?