Sunset in San Sebastian, Spain

Sunset in San Sebastian, Spain

This year in travel brought the unexpected, the unpredictable, and sometimes, the unpleasant. It involved getting sick, getting injured, and getting lost. But, like every other year, it has also proven immeasurably rewarding. Our travels, no matter how brief they may have been at times, have taught us so much about this amazing planet and the people who inhabit it.

But most importantly, our year of time-crunched travel has left us forever changed. We leave 2011 as very different people than when we entered it.

So in honor of New Year’s Eve, we offer our own countdown to 2012 by reviewing our whirlwind year in travel. Here are some of the highlights, as well as the lessons we learned along the way.

Humpback Whales off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts

Humpback Whales off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts

 5 of our favorite places we visited this year:
1.) Peru
Machu Picchu
, Lake Titicaca, Living Like the Locals, Junaita the Ice Maiden, and 500-year-old catacombs.  Hands down, Peru was the biggest travel thrill for us this year. The hospitality of the people and the depth of the culture added such significance to this history-filled adventure. This trip will be tough to top.
2.) New Hampshire’s White Mountains
We kicked the year in travel off with several snow shoe trips to the White Mountains in January and February. Trekking through two feet of freshly fallen snow  blanketing dense pine forests set the bar high for the rest of the year’s adventures.
3.) Montreal, Quebec
We headed up to Montreal on Christmas evening, bellies full from our delicious  dinner. We spent a very cold three days exploring the best of what this city of festivals has to offer. The history, the architecture, and the culture made our last-minute escape from the U.S. well worth the effort, even if it was freezing cold and snowing.
4.) New York City
We chose to celebrate the holiday season this year by exploring NYC at this special time of year. The shopping, decorations, and ambience brought back fond childhood memories of watching Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. The only downside was that millions of other tourists decided to do the same thing.
5.) Cape Ann, Massachusetts
In July, we set off for Gloucester, Massachusetts to fulfill my life-long dream of going on a Whale Watch. We headed out with Seven Seas Whale Watch Company, and spent the afternoon sailing across the beautiful Massachusetts Bay to the Stellwagon Basin, off the coast of Cape Cod. We spotted over 13 Humpback Whales feeding off the nutrient-rich waters. The whales circled our boat, appearing just as fascinated by us as we were with them! This proved to be one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of the entire year.

Excited to be hiking along the Appalachian Trail ... until we realized we had taken a wrong turn!

Excited to be hiking along the Appalachian Trail ... until we realized we had taken a wrong turn!

4 things we regret:
Not learning more Spanish before leaving for Peru
… and then losing the Spanish dictionary halfway through our trip. Turns out we needed the language more than we would have thought and were relying on the dictionary more than we realized. I ended up asking our hotel manager “Llave nieve, por favor?,” which means, “May I please have the snow key?” (nueve, or 9, is the word I was searching for).
2.) Turning left, instead of right
We were hiking with friends along the Appalachian Trail in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts when a wrong turn took us five miles up-hill in the wrong direction during a torrential downpour. We’re still on speaking terms with them, but our friends were miserable! We now require people to fill out a disclaimer before going on adventures with us. We cannot be held responsible for our own mistakes!
3.) Missing out on trekking the Inca Trail
A lingering foot injury caused us to forgo our dream of hiking the famed tail to Machu Picchu. Although we were not able to do the hike, we had more time to explore other parts of the country as a result.
4.) Unintentionally ordering raw meet … again.
Why is it that the menus in foreign countries always make ham and steak sound so mouth-watering, but when they bring out your meal, it’s practically dripping with blood, or it’s so raw it tastes like rubber? We seem to make this mistake at least once, often twice, per trip.

Christmas is a beautiful time to visit Montreal. A fabulous light show adorns the Quartier des Spectales across from the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Christmas is a beautiful time to visit Montreal in Quebec, Canada. A fabulous light show in the Quartier des Spectales across from the Museum of Contemporary Art.

  3 countries we visited:
1.) Spain (in June)
2.) Peru (in October and November)
3.) Canada (in December)

2 lessons we learned the hard way:
1.) Buy your tickets in advance
You would have thought we would have learned our lesson after our failure to book bus tickets in advance nearly derailed our trip to Korcula Island on our 2010 honeymoon in Croatia. But, no … during our trip to Spain in June, we repeated our mistake when we took separate modes of transportation to meet up in San Sebastian. We were assured we need not book our train tickets until the morning of departure. Unfortunately, when I arrived, not only was the train sold out, but the internet server was also down for hours, so they could not issue new tickets or check the availability on the afternoon train. I was finally able to book a ticket on the late afternoon train (though all that was available was first-class), but waited all day in the Madrid train station before meeting Justin in San Sebastian after 11 pm.
Lesson finally learned.
2.) Booking through a travel agency
We started booking our Inca Trail Trek with a U.S.-based company. When we had to cancel the trek, we decided to continue working with the agency to book our trip to Lake Titicaca. Big mistake. Once we arrived in Peru, we found out the company merely contracted with local outfitters, rather than running the tours themselves. Although our tours were absolutely excellent, we could have saved a lot of money by eliminating the middle-man and booking directly through the local companies.

 1 major change in our lives as a result of our travels:
1.) Starting The Time-Crunched Traveler
We love to travel, but we also work full-time and are committed to our careers. So, we’re always looking for creative ways to travel the world without having to quit our jobs and sacrifice our future financial security. We figured we’re probably not the only ones! That’s why we developed The Time-Crunched Traveler — to help adventurous working professionals like ourselves make the most of the limited amount of time they have to travel. We’ll be sharing our personal stories, reflections, and recommendations on this travel site through our travel blog and our mini-travel guides (due out in March!). 

 Despite some minor hiccups and a few unnecessary frustrations, this year in time-crunched travel has been a major success. It was worth every penny, every tear, and every moment away from home.

And so we now bid goodbye to 2011, and welcome with great anticipation another year of adventure, exploration, and exhileration.

We look forward to sharing the coming year of time-crunched travel with you. Thanks for joining us on our journey.

Happy travels in 2012!