As our world tour came to a close, the one thing I had to look forward to was sorting through the thousands of photos I’d taken throughout our trip. I knew each one would take us back to the places we’d fallen in love with and would keep our insatiable wanderlust intact.
However, when I sat down to do the task, I hadn’t even begun to grasp how big it would be. I quickly realized I’d taken over 11,000 photos in one year and I didn’t even know where to begin. So, I set a goal for myself, to sort through and start pulling out my favorites. The ones that instantly took me back, that helped me remember the smells, sights, and sounds, and the ones that would eventually end up in this year’s calendar.
My main challenge? That our calendar only has 12 months. 12! I could create 100 calendars and still feel like I’d left some images out. But, I know this collection is just a start.
This year, though, I wanted to go deeper. This travel calendar allows me to share our travels with family and friends, but at a surface level. I wanted to provide a small glimpse into each place to offer a connection and understanding for the viewer. To share the reasons we loved a destination or the sense of awe it inspired in us. I hope it helps to inspire some in you.
The Cover - Lan Ha Bay, Vietnam
Full disclosure, I chose this photo for the cover because it had enough “empty” space for me to fit the title text. Creative, I know. However, we loved our trip to Lan Ha Bay and find this majestical land of towering limestone karsts as fit for a cover as any images you’ll find within the calendar.
Lan Ha Bay kicked off our tour of Vietnam and, to be honest, was a jarring start. I’d had classmates visit Ha Long Bay (Lan Ha Bay’s bigger and more famous brother) during my semester abroad and I knew I couldn’t miss this unique landscape for a second time. However, we weren’t expecting the cold temps and dismal weather that greeted us. Having spent the better part of the month on tropical beaches in Bali, it was a shock to our systems.
Of course, we got over it quickly and embraced the quirks of off-season travel so we could enjoy our week in Northern Vietnam. We chose Lan Ha Bay because we’re diligent budget travelers (and couldn’t afford the overnight sleeper boats required to visit Ha Long Bay) and found a perfect basecamp on Cat Ba Island. From there, we explored Lan Ha Bay by boat, kayak, and foot and even met some of our best friends of the trip on the pretty empty tour boat! Overall, we’d probably choose a different season to visit, but the fog made for some pretty ethereal photos and an even more memorable experience!
Read more about our trip to Cat Ba Island.
January - Lake Lucerne, Switzerland
For those wondering why the heck us budget-travelers visited Switzerland, this decision can be summed up in one word: skiing. For Derrick, the only time budget goes out the window is when skiing is part of the equation. So, we visited Switzerland for three days (that’s all we could afford) for some skiing, fondue, and a glimpse at the awe-inspiring Swiss Alps. It also helped that our friend from Colorado was visiting Zurich for work and could split hotel costs with us for the weekend!
I captured this photo on our drive to Andermatt, a small Swiss ski town and resort about two hours from Zurich. I’d been drooling over the Swiss country-side for over an hour when we turned the corner and Lake Lucerne immediately came into view. I yelled at Derrick to stop the car and all three of us jumped out in silence to take in some of the most expansive views we’d ever seen. After the initial shock, Derrick and I started plotting our move to Switzerland, ideally to that small village on the right nestled between the towering peaks and the shore of Lake Lucerne.
February - Prague, Czech Republic
In contrast to Switzerland, Prague (and the majority of Eastern Europe) is actually a very budget-friendly destination. However, our constraints here were time. My twin sister Emily had just visited us in Ireland and we had one weekend to spare before we were set to be in Germany to stay with friends. This led to a rather spontaneous decision to visit Prague with our spare time, and plans were made within a day.
We filled our weekend in Prague with a city tour on foot and probably walked over 30 miles during the three days. This included sight-seeing at the Prague Castle (medieval relics galore!), the famous Lennon Wall, the Charles Bridge and more. My favorite part was actually due to the time of year we visited. Prague was in full Easter-mode with painted egg decor lining the streets and Easter markets around every corner. For some reason, this made me feel that much closer to home and gave us plenty of cultural traditions to enjoy.
I captured this picture at Golden Hour on our final day of exploration. This vista happened to be only steps from our Airbnb but I’d been so enamored with the rest of the city that this view from a walking bridge seemed to pale in comparison. That is, until we caught it at the right moment and the sun perfectly lit up the famous pastel colors of Prague.
March - Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is a natural wonder unlike any other. I lost count of the number of times Derrick audibly asked “how is this possible?!” while we explored. Silently, I wondered the same thing. Not even the scientific facts that we’d read in the Visitor’s Center could make sense of the thousands of hexagonal rocks beneath our feet.
For this reason, and many others, I couldn’t help but to include this photo in our calendar. It’s places like the Giant’s Causeway that make me respect the sheer force and unpredictability of nature and help to humble us tiny humans. Not to mention the fact that this natural wonder is nestled in the sprawling countryside of Northern Ireland and I was in peaceful bliss while exploring this stunning place.
Legend has it that the Irish Giant Finn McCool created the Giant’s Causeway to reach Scotland to battle another giant. Since that’s a pretty bad-ass legend and I prefer it over the science behind the causeway, it’s the legend I choose to believe ;).
April - Machu Picchu, Peru
We woke up in Agua Calientes, Peru at 4:45 am to begin our final climb. We’d spent the previous four days trekking through the Andes to reach Machu Picchu, and the final leg of our journey included hundreds of steps to the base of the infamous ruins. Even that early, the line of tourists was long and the damp climb to the top was a mental and physical struggle (at least for me, Derrick is perpetually fit). As the sun finally started rising, I was disappointed to see a thick, dense fog settled over the ruins. We’d just walked for five days to get there and all I could see were clouds.
Nevertheless, we explored the ruins and focused on admiring the famous Incan stonework since there were few views to be had. Luckily, around mid-morning, as Derrick and I made our way down from the Sun Gate (the famous end of the Inca Trail), the clouds started to clear and the sun began to peek out. We just happened to be near a clearing on the trail and I snapped this photo which ended up being my favorite of the day. I think partly because I was so relieved to see the ruins and partly because the view was so awe-inspiring that I could barely focus my camera. I will never forget that moment and I’m so thankful I have this photo to forever freeze it in time.
May - Gunung Kawi Temple, Bali, Indonesia
We visited this temple at the end of a very stressful day. We’d just arrived in Ubud, Bali and had decided to take our motorbike out for a temple tour to kick things off. At the first temple, we’d been expertly conned into buying expensive Sarongs to cover our legs out of respect for the temple. Of course, we wanted to abide by these customs, but even by western-standards, we’d spent too much. The next temple was such a famous cultural site that we could barely walk around due to the crowds of tourists and worshippers alike. It felt like a strange mash-up of culture and intrusion. On the way out, we got lost in a never-ending maze of tourist shops that had us ready to call it quits.
Luckily, we pressed on to the final temple on our list, Gunung Kawi, and found the zen we’d been hoping for. We were some of the only tourists around and the mix of jungle flora and fountains created a peaceful yet colorful experience. Derrick and I actually parted ways at this point, both ready to explore this temple without the chaos that had ensued throughout the day. I took a few photos as I walked around and felt this one perfectly captured the beauty and tranquility this temple had allowed us to find. I’m not sure if we would’ve loved this temple as much without the bad experiences preceding it, but we still look back on it with appreciation.
June - Neak Pean, Siem Reap, Cambodia
I opted not to include a picture of the well-known Angkor Wat temple in this calendar because our explorations of this ancient site opened our eyes to much more beauty than what people know from Tomb Raider. As the world’s largest pre-industrial city, there were plenty of ruins to explore and many of them held our attention far better than the more famous sites. Particularly, especially for me, this gorgeous water temple known as Neak Pean.
Compared to the other temples, this one could be considered under-whelming, but I think that’s exactly why I loved it. When we arrived, it felt like we’d stepped into a different world that didn’t seem to belong to the ancient city. I wondered if that was why it was built, as an escape from the bustling mecca that once stood around it. We had to walk along a lengthy boardwalk above a man-made “moat” to reach the temple, which also added to its allure. I loved everything about Angkor Wat, but this temple stood out the most. You can read more about our explorations at Angkor-Wat here.
Read more about our explorations of Angkor Wat.
July - Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy
Just looking at this photo brings back so much joy that it’s hard to know where to start. Italy’s Amalfi Coast was one of the few places we visited that I think Derrick and I both loved equally. I have a hunch that if we wanted to move abroad, the Amalfi Coast would be where we’d end up. Particularly, a small mountain town above the coast named Arola. We found Arola after a random Airbnb search and ended up staying at a family-run winery with a 25-year-old host who we still consider a friend. Between the wine, the home-made cheese, and the family’s Michelin-Star rated restaurant within blocks of our door, we were in Italian heaven.
Arola was our basecamp for exploring the Amalfi Coast with our trusty (and TINY) Fiat and we found views like this around almost every bend. It was towns like Positano (pictured) that made me question how anyone was lucky enough to stay there, let alone call it home. It was hard to pick just one picture from this amazing region of the world, but I figured this one would be enough to inspire anyone to get up and GO.
Go. Visit. Amalfi. Drink Limoncello, hike the Path of the Gods (hundreds of feet above the coast) and relax by the sea in too-good-to-be-true towns like this one.
August - Los Tunneles, Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands
A trip to the Galapagos is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don’t say that to inspire jealousy, but because the Galapagos are so unique and so special that it’s impossible to imagine experiencing anything like them again. As an example, this picture was taken on Isla Isabela, one of the Galapagos’ most beautiful and pristine islands. It includes cacti, lava rock, a tropical ocean, likely some sea turtles below the surface, and a pair of blue-footed boobies off to the right. It’s truly unlike anywhere else on earth and I feel confident in saying that, even though I haven’t been everywhere (it’s on my list).
We visited Los Tunneles as part of an organized tour that included snorkeling with sharks, octopus, sting rays, sea turtles and more. After that life-changing excursion underwater, we took the speed boat over to the habitats of blue-footed boobies, sea turtles, and PENGUINS. Guys, I can’t even tell you how excited I was to see penguins in the tropics. We watched them swim and play with sea lions and I felt a kind of happy I’d rarely experienced before. However, this level of bliss was common on this unbelievable network of islands and we both feel so lucky to have had the chance to visit.
September - Athens, Greece
Greece was the first stop of our Eurotrip and damn was it a good start. We found a quaint Airbnb in the Koukaki neighborhood which was in walking distance of the Acropolis, and many of Athens’ famous museums. We were also neighbors to Filopappou Park, a gorgeous oasis in the middle of the (awesome) concrete jungle known as Athens. Each day, we’d set off on foot to explore the city, eat a packed lunch in various ruins or on park benches, and end the day with a walk back to our Airbnb through the park. We felt like locals and loved it.
On the night this picture was taken, we’d spent the day at the Acropolis Museum and started our walk home around Golden Hour. The park is home to old ruins like The Prison of Socrates, the Monument of the Philoppapos, and more, so we took our time exploring and hiking to the highest point. When we reached the top, the sun was starting to set and illuminated the Acropolis in a golden glow that stopped us in our tracks. We were joined at the top by a few Athens locals but the chilly wind kept most people away and we were happy to enjoy sunset in solitude. We finally made our way home in disbelief that we had views of the famous Acropolis in our (rented) backyard.
Read more about our week in Athens.
October - Chinchero, Sacred Valley, Peru
Derrick and I visited Peru’s gorgeous Sacred Valley throughout the week leading up to our trek to Machu Picchu. We stayed at a hostel in Cusco, Peru (11,000ft elevation!) and spent the days exploring the famous sites throughout the valley. Most were home to Inca ruins which we navigated by self-guided hikes. Given the high elevation, we used most of these hikes as conditioning for our multi-day trek and pushed ourselves harder and harder each day.
Chinchero was the last city on our Sacred Valley tour and Derrick had found the hardest, least tourist-traveled hike yet. We exited the bus and began the immediate up hill climb to the ruins which also served as our trailhead. We reached the end of the road after just a few minutes and, to our surprise, found some street vendors set-up in front of the entrance. I’d thought after a year of travel I would’ve been wary of the impending sales experience, but I was so in-awe of the scene in front of me that all I could do was take pictures. I loved the juxtaposition of the tourist market, the ancient Inca stones, and the towering mountains beyond. It felt so quintessential Peru and surprisingly ended up being one of my favorite photos from the Sacred Valley. I’m still not sure exactly why.
November - Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
We visited Germany’s “Disney Castle” while staying with family friends in Munich. The castle is about a 2.5 hour train ride from Munich and it was the first solo day-trip Derrick and I had taken since arriving in Germany. We loved our gracious German hosts, but it was exciting to set off on an unplanned adventure for the day.
Truth-be-told, we enjoyed the journey down to the castle just as much as we enjoyed the castle itself. The train system in Germany is spectacular and the comfy seats and gorgeous views of the Germany countryside made for a very enjoyable trip. We had decided to visit the castle somewhat last minute so we hadn’t been able to reserve a tour inside (reservations sell out weeks in advance). However, we knew the famous view was from a bridge above the castle anyway, so we felt the trek down would be worth it.
Overall, we had an awesome afternoon hiking around the area, exploring Fussen (the quaint town below the castle), and taking the perfect tourist photos. It may not have been the most memorable trip, but the pictures were certainly calendar-worthy!
December - Mt. Batur, Bali Indonesia
Our entire trip to Bali could be considered “unexpected.” We arrived two days before Mt. Agung erupted which made us some of the only tourists who weren’t stranded on the island. Most inbound flights had been cancelled and tourists were catching boats off the island in droves to secure flights out of Jakarta. This isn’t to say the island wasn’t safe, but an erupting volcano just doesn’t bode that well for tourists.
Luckily, we made it onto the island and were determined to enjoy the experience. This included a new goal of actually witnesses an erupting volcano. So, after ensuring it was safe to travel inland, Derrick and I booked a tour to hike Mt. Batur (a dormant volcano in Bali) at sunrise. If the weather was clear, views of Mt. Agung were guaranteed.
We arrived to the halfway point of the hike just as the sun started rising and our guides suggested we stop for a snack and to take some photos. As it got lighter and lighter, we realized we were staring directly at the erupting volcano and Derrick and I took picture after picture of the incredible scene. Of course, our snacks encouraged a group of at least 20 monkeys to pay us a visit and we were surprised from behind as many of us kept snapping away. The monkeys remained docile, at least at this point of the trip, so our guide and I took turns taking photos of the monkeys in front of the volcano and I had to pinch myself to ensure that was really happening. Save for the slightly grainy resolution (thanks, sunrise lighting), it’s safe to say I hit my photography peak with this once-in-a-lifetime photo ;).
Read more about our sunrise trek up Mt. Batur.
If you’ve made it this far, THANK YOU for sticking with us and learning more about some of our favorite photos from the trip. If you want a copy of the calendar you can email me at megankotlus[at]gmai[dot].com or text me, direct message us on social media (@adventureskotli) etc. If not, that’s cool too! We hope you enjoyed reading more about these destinations and taking a look behind the photos of in our 2019 calendar.