My best travel moments of 2017

When it comes to travel, 2017 was a pretty good year.

I played mas with friends in Trinidad. I stuffed myself silly with beignet in New Orleans. I shopped myself silly in Hong Kong and Shanghai. I went to Bermuda and loved it so much, I took my mom back for a second trip. I sipped wine by the Seine with my dad in Paris. I learned what a hoodoo was in Utah on a rare trip that didn’t involve a beach. I gave my heart to Grenada and I discovered new things in Los Angeles, a place I lived for eight years.

All in all, I hit six countries (two of them new), 11 cities, went to two Carnivals, tried foods I’ve never tasted and met people I wouldn’t have crossed paths with, so I’d say it was a year of travel blessings that I’m very grateful for.

Now, while there was something good about all of these experiences, there are some that have to make the best list for 2017, as I’m sure I’ll still be thinking about them well into 2018. So here they are, my best travel moments of 2017.

Best place

This will probably come as blasphemy to my fellow T&T fam, but I think the award for best place I went to in 2017 has to go to Grenada, hands down. The island is stunningly beautiful, and that beauty hasn’t been exploited for overrun tourist beaches or too many massive and unsightly hotels. Grenada is sweet and simple and understated about everything it has to offer, but it’s a place I plan to frequent. The people are gracious and kind, the food is rich and delicious and much like what I eat in sweet Trinidad & Tobago, plus the airfare to get there from New York isn’t bad at all. Really, ranking it the best place of 2017 doesn’t wholly give Grenada its full due, as it’s one of the best places I’ve ever been.

Best experience

Sometimes it’s the simple things that win out over everything else. This year, the best travel experience I had was sitting along the Seine in Paris, and drinking wine and cheese with my dad. It was such a magical moment just because, well, Paris. But it was also a really cool thing to be able to do with my dad, to explore things with him as a grown up and create these really memorable daddy-daughter moments. That’s definitely something I’m looking forward to having more of in 2018, because I really think sometimes it’s the people you’re with that make the travel moments most memorable.

Best tour

I don’t always do touristy things, but sometimes it’s worth taking certain tours in certain places if it’s something you wouldn’t be able to see on your own, or wouldn’t be able to experience as fully without a guide who knows what’s up. This year, the best tour I took was the Sound of Music tour in Austria with Panorama Tours Salzburg (I’ll claim my nerdy-ness on this one with pride). The tour took us to the spot where Fräulein Maria and the kids sang Do-Re-Mi, the Leopoldskron Palace, which was the back of the house where Maria and all the kids fell out of the boat into the water, then to the gazebo where Liesl sang Sixteen Going on Seventeen (that’s where I’m standing in this photo). It was a half day well spent and it was fun to see the movie I’ve grown up watching and have re-watched and re-watched a gazillion times, come to life. It’s a tour I’d even be up for doing again. Here’s more on the experience and other things to do in Salzburg.

Best meal

I really love food. And I really love food from all over the world. But to me, nothing will ever taste as sweet as the cuisine from Trinidad & Tobago, and that’s why one particular meal I had there wins as the best meal from my travels in 2017. It came from Trinidad’s hippest and most happening hotel, the Hyatt Regency, and I fully believe it’s the gem of the Waterfront restaurant’s menu. The meal? Jerk snapper served over a bed of red beans and fried plantain with tamarind sauce. Ask for a side of hot pepper sauce and you’ll be plotting opportunities to get back there and order the dish again. I think I ate this three times in a week’s stay and I don’t regret it one bit. Here’s more about Trinidad cuisine in my piece at HuffPo.

Best hotel

I’ve always liked hotels, mostly because they go hand in hand with travel and adventure. Of course we all have those hotels we’d rather not remember, but the best one I stayed in this year was the Star Inn Hotel Premium Salzburg Gablerbräu, in Austria. The hotel was modern and clean, but most importantly—it was smack in the middle of everywhere I wanted to be. It’s right in the Altstadt, or the old town, minutes from the river, a short walk to where Mozart was born, and to the famed Mirabell Palace and Garden (where part of the Do-Re-Mi song in Sound of Music was filmed), close to shops and restaurants and pretty much most things you’re likely to want to get to. I’m looking right up at the hotel in this photo, so everything around it was beautiful. Definitely a place I’d stay again if I found myself back in Salzburg.

Best beach

Sadly, I hit fewer beaches in 2017 than I would have liked (must make mental note to change that in 2018). From the ones I did see, though, I have to give this one to Grenada too for having the best of them. From the color to the clarity to the fact that the water in every beach I set foot on was legitimately warm—I’ve been thinking about Grenada (and telling everyone I can how beautiful it is) since I left. Hoping 2018 will see me back there to soak up more of it. The beach in this photo, Portici Beach, was by far my favorite, and I had the place practically all to myself. On a Saturday. Here’s my roundup of best beaches there if you’re adding it to your must-travel-to list.

Best travel lesson learned

To me, travel is one of life’s greatest teachers, and that’s something I’m reminded of every time I go somewhere. One of the best lessons I learned this year came from dining out in Paris. There, people take spending time and enjoying meals very seriously. It’s such a thing there that shops close around 7 p.m. so workers can go meet their own friends and family for dinner, and hostesses won’t give you an estimated wait time for a table, because people will be there as long as they’re there. And sometimes that’s for the whole night. It was a good reminder to not always be in a rush, to take time to enjoy and just be.

Beyond that, if I could sum up my travel lessons learned in 2017 with one quote and one reminder for all of us travel types, who non-travel types sometimes simply don’t understand, it would be this:

I’m not lost, I’m exploring. —Jana Stanfield