2017 was a year of adventures and plenty of firsts for our family, including the one-year anniversary of becoming location independent, and as we look towards the excitement and promise of a new year, it feels only right to take a moment and look back on a few of the travel highlights from a year spent learning, growing, exploring, and never giving up.
Hot Springs was our first major stop after spending the beginning of 2017 stationary in order to finish up projects on Wander Bus that needed our attention. The weather was perfect, and warm enough that we felt removed from the cold Midwestern weather we’d left behind, which only enhanced our sense of change and adventure. Hot Springs was not what we’d expected, but that was something we were soon to learn would be par for the course as we continued to make our way south after spending a few days with the restorative waters of Hot Springs, AR.
There was so much about this trip that was exactly what we needed, and it set the tone for an adventure along the Gulf Coast that would include a trip to Abby’s childhood home, and end at one of the most picture-perfect beach spots we’d ever laid eyes on (but more about that later). New Orlean’s allowed us to complete another Junior Ranger badge, taste some of the BEST beignets (and no it wasn’t from Café Du Monde) and enjoy another free museum thanks to our membership at the Museum of Science in Industry in Chicago.
If you think New Orlean’s is Mardi Gras, bars, late nights and lots of drinking, you’re right, but it’s also a great stop for families and our must-do list highlights some of our favorite spots and makes the case for why NOLA is for everyone.
Mammoth represented a check off our travel bucket list that dates back to the days when it was just Jason, Jack and Abby, so basically almost a decade of trying and never making it the worlds largest cave system. Once there all we kept saying was, “why did we wait so long?” In our Travel Journal on Mammoth we finished up with this thought: “For us, history was definitely alive at Mammoth Cave National Park, and after years of waiting, the park didn’t disappoint. With the many more cave tours to enjoy, the numerous trails above ground, and even more rich history to be discovered, there’s a reason why Mammoth is a World Heritage Site, and we can’t wait to return.”
Voyageurs represented our first real experience with a park that felt remote and completely removed from much of the urban and suburban familiarities we’d grown accustomed too, especially after spending a couple of weeks just outside of Minneapolis prior to heading to the Canadian border. We did a lot of hiking inside Voyageurs, one being pretty epic in length and layout, took a boat tour in order to fully appreciate a park that’s composed of 40% water, completed a Junior Ranger program, and learned how to manage a full-time work schedule in a place where cellular service and internet access were slim to none. For our friends in the upper Midwest, Voyageurs should be on your vacation short-list. It’s not a difficult drive, one that could be made in one or two days depending on your location. It is a true National Park hidden gem.
If there is one destination we talk about time and time again, it’s this one. Fort Pickens in Pensacola, FL marked the end of our Gulf Shores tour, and it couldn’t have been more picture perfect. Sugar sand, crystal clear water, and sparkling blue skies peppered our entire week. There are so many moments from this trip that live on in our memories, and whenever we are asked for a National Park recommendation, Fort Pickens is at the top of our list. As we prepare for our 2018 trips, it’s hard not to make our way back to Pensacola and to the historical fort and gun batteries hidden among the island. Fort Pickens was the highlight of 2017, and that’s saying a lot because we were blessed to explore some pretty incredible locations this year.