2018 Year in Review: Full Steam Ahead, JK Pump the Brakes

It’s hard to believe it’s my fifth one of these bad boys and the conclusion of my first year freelancing full-time. Time is flying by at rapid-fire pace and yet it seems like no time has passed at all since I started the blog. I basically went from casual weekend trips to traveling 50-75% of the year, which was a major lifestyle shift and one I’m still getting used to.

To date, I’ve partnered with over 75 brands in 20+ states, which is pretty crazy if you think about it. I launched my consulting business, the Influencer Institute, and had some cool guest speaking and event opportunities (shout out to Mappy Hour), which I’d love to do more of in the future. I was blessed to be part of some really unique campaigns and ambassadorships that were more than just go to a destination and write about it. I started getting into video creation and curated my own Pandora channel.

My travel this year was almost completely domestic (I’m up to 39 states if you’re counting) save for one repeat visit to Munich where I got to ski in the Alps. But I’m really finding my sweet spot to be mid-tier, up-and-coming cities that are right on the cusp of being cool. I love being ahead of trends and introducing people to places they don’t know yet. A major theme of the year was revisiting old haunts with fresh eyes, places I hadn’t been since I was a kid and seeing destinations that were important to our family through a visitor’s perspective.

I got to try a whole slew of things I didn’t even know were on my bucket list from taking an overnight train to attending a fashion show, adult summer camp, a Segway tour, crabbing, goat yoga, stomping grapes, visiting an ice hotel, flying a vintage biplane, skydiving (again), motorized hang gliding, the list goes on and on. That said, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows as much as I may have made it seem on the ‘gram. I had my first work ER visit, my first lost phone (navigating a new city without one is…interesting), and a near-death experience (sorry mom) that really put things in perspective. I won’t go into too much detail other than saying it was a lesson in humility.

All in all though, the highs definitely outweighed the lows. And without further ado, the highlights:

Texas – I got to know Texas real well this year. I got an Austin redo (my initial assessment still stands) and spent a lot of time in the Houston area with projects in Beaumont, Baytown, Brazosport, Port Arthur, Corpus Christi, and the Woodlands. Close by tons of beaches and plenty of tasty Southern cuisine, Houston is actually pretty cool. They claim they’re the culinary and cultural capital of Texas (I don’t know how Austin feels about that, but whatevs), but I will attest their street art and food is some of the best I’ve seen. It’s one of the only cities in America without an ethnic majority so the diversity is much more integrated, which is interesting in itself. That said, they definitely have an image problem in that most of America knows nothing about Houston other than urban sprawl, NASA, and hurricanes.

Michigan – Growing up in Chicago, it wasn’t summer without lake weekends in Michigan. But there’s still plenty of the state I hadn’t and haven’t seen. Grand Rapids is aptly named Beer City USA (Midwesterners gotta survive those long winters somehow), and I fell in love with Mackinac Island, accessible only by ferry. A place my parents (and probably their parents) used to go growing up, frozen in time, you get around the car-free island with horse and buggies. Famed for their never-ending fudge shops and epic nature, it was a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Alaska – Alaska’s one of those places that seems like a big trip to plan, vast and distant, but Juneau is actually only two hours from Seattle. Crazy, right? It’s also not nearly as cold as you may imagine. There are parts of the state that are truly remote and rugged, and despite the capital only being accessible by plane or boat, it’s much more approachable than your perceptions. I can’t wait to explore more (but probably not in winter).

Cleveland – Ohio gets a bad wrap (probably because it gets confused with Iowa), but Cleveland was one of the places that impressed me the most this year. Clevelanders LOVE Cleveland and I’ve never had an article shared so many times (thanks guys for being so obsessed with your city). The architecture is unreal and they have some seriously bucket list worthy attractions like the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They also have one of the last remaining free national parks in the country, so holler for that.

Arizona – I go to Phoenix all the time, but this year I got to explore a few new and gorgeous parts of Arizona. I fell in love with Prescott (and find it crazy that Watson Lake is not even a state park) and relived my angsty college days in Lake Havasu. The hottest city in America is a great place to snowbird and actually fairly mellow in the winter. Flagstaff is on it’s way to becoming Boulder 2.0 (we’ll see) and I had fun experiencing the Old West Route 66 days in Williams where I stayed at a haunted former brothel (yes, really). I revisited the Grand Canyon by train after hob-knobbing with the Mayor who you’d never know wasn’t a random costumed character wandering the town, which was a pretty great way to spend my birthday.

Spokane – Beyond Seattle, I didn’t know a whole lot about the rest of Washington. Spokane is another city that should be on your radar (and will be in a few years). The downtown is gorgeous (who else has a gondola running right over a waterfall?), the food scene poppin’ (surprisingly more farm-to-table than seafood), and the area is especially great for fall foliage. I’m dying to do more of the PNW this year. Oregon, call me maybe?

East Coast – Planning around a visit to my brother in DC (my first time since the 8th grade Washington trip), I got to check off a few new states on the other coast. I’m still missing a lot of the New England area, but it was my first visit to Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina, and my second trip out to South Carolina (after a bachelorette party in Hilton Head). I fell in love with Myrtle Beach and was shocked by how untouristy it could be if you get off-the-beaten path. I got to cuddle baby tigers on an exclusive US safari (an experience I got as much hate for as envy) and feast on some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted, embracing my new favorite term “hook-to-plate.” Charlotte is another one of those right on the cusp cities and will be a major Southern getaway soon. I loved hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains, driving the Parkway, and discovering why West Virginia is actually called the Mountain State (not Colorado ☺).

NYC – I have bittersweet memories with NYC as it was somewhere I used to go every year to hang with my cool aunt in the city. I haven’t really been back since she passed unexpectedly, minus a stray convention or connection here or there. That said, the New York trip was a turning point this year. I was stuck in a rut and pretty burnout and it was a lighthearted reminder that this job can and should be fun or what’s the point? I spent two days eating every colorful rainbow creation I could find without a real plan or itinerary and took my schedule back into my own hands with one of my favorite travel girls.

MontereyBig Sur was another trip that felt like it happened at the exact right moment with the right people. A group of powerhouse females being inspired by the same places our favorite authors withdrew; it was a retreat to nature with very little reception, a gentle reminder to slow down and appreciate where you are and who you’re with. The itinerary was basically just drive, and I was totally okay with that. It’s one of the most stunning areas of the country and fully believe everyone should drive the PCH at least once in their lifetime.

NevadaTahoe was somewhere we went repeatedly growing up (and actually where I learned to ski) so seeing how much of an adult playground it is was a bit bizarre. Reno, which used to be gritty and gross, has turned it around full circle and become a millennial haven with tons of street art, Vegas-level entertainment, and celebrity bites. Fly Geyser was one of the most insane outdoor spots I visited all year and a totally unknown natural marvel right in America.

I hope you had an equally action-packed year (feel free to share some of the highlights below). I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for following along. And don’t worry, there’s plenty more craziness on the horizon. Cheers to the ride — may it never slow down. 

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