Ever wonder what travel editors do on vacation? Get the scoop on the moments that resonated most with the T+L staff in 2012—and see photos of us on location.
Most days, you'll find the Travel + Leisure staff hard at work to bring you the latest destination advice, industry trends, and inspiring photography, with the help of our trusty correspondents. But we can’t stay in the office all the time!
Our vacation days are precious, as we bet yours are, too, and trips large and small remind us what travel is all about. There are the thrills that come with skydiving or making it to an iconic destination like the Great Wall of China. The bizarre foreign foods and encounters with locals. The mishaps that you’ll laugh about—one day. And, of course, the people you bring along to share these unforgettable memories.
Read on for our favorite travel moments of the year, and share yours in the comments below. —Kate Appleton
While working on designing T+L deputy editor Laura Begley’s Hamptons feature for the July 2012 issue, I was inspired to book a stay at the c/o Maidstone Inn in East Hampton for my husband's birthday. We strategically went the weekend before “the season” opened, and the vibe in Eastern Long Island that weekend was magical. The beaches were utterly empty, we rode the bikes the Maidstone lends to its guests all over the place, and even got a table at famed Nick & Toni’s for dinner without a reservation. It was filled with locals enjoying the natural beauty of this tiny strip of land at the tip of Long Island. —Sandra Garcia, design director
Waves of gauzy clouds corkscrewed around lush peaks at dawn atop Machu Picchu. I was at the tail end of a strenuous five-day trek through mountain pampas and thick jungle, but the fast-changing panoramic before me rewarded my utter exhaustion. Posted next to a lethargic llama more than 7,000 feet above sea level, I was treated to a truly breathtaking view of the 15th-century Incan city. One of life’s rare moments I’ll never forget. —Nate Storey, editorial assistant
My favorite travel moment this year was meeting my now-boyfriend on a visit to Cape Town in April, which led to my second favorite travel moment: when I went back to visit him in August, he insisted on taking me to hike Lion’s Head mountain, something he does at least once a month and swears is the best hike in the world. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am royally unathletic and not particularly active, so I surprised myself by agreeing to go. The views over Cape Town and Table Mountain were as spectacular as promised, and we watched the sun set and a blue moon rise. Though it’s considered an easy hike, I wasn’t able to make it to the top that time, but I’m eager to give it another shot on my next visit! —Sarah Khan, senior copy editor
Sand. Sea. Sky. Wind. Waves. This was my early morning view from a beach bed at Maroma Resort & Spa on the Riviera Maya during my most relaxing four days this year on an extended weekend getaway with my husband. Add in a good book, a walk, a yummy lunch (ceviche and tacos from Freddy’s bar), a nap, and repeat. Beach bliss. —Jennifer Barr, executive editor/content strategist
When planning a family trip out to Wyoming and Montana this summer, my non-travel-editor husband insisted that we not book a room every single night in advance. My practical side worried about the summer crowds in Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole, but he wanted to leave a few nights of our trip open to chance. The morning before one of the bed-free nights, I stopped at the front desk of the Canyon Lodge at Yellowstone to see if there were room cancellations anywhere in the park. The clerk checked and then looked up, surprised. One of the historic rooms at the Old Faithful Inn, right off the soaring lobby, had just opened up—were we interested? We spent the evening up on the deck of the glorious old hotel, watching the geysers erupt and the Milky Way shimmer into view. (But I was still right.) —Ann Shields, senior digital editor
5:45 a.m.: Uluru, Australia. The remotest, most isolated place I’ve ever been, some 11,000 miles from home. As daybreak crept over the bush, and the rock shifted from black to burgundy to bronze, all I could hear was the sound of my own breath. I’ve never felt so alone, and I’ve never felt so alive. —Lindsey Olander, editorial assistant
We stayed at the La Loma Jungle Lodge and Chocolate Farm on Isla Bastimentos, Panama, in rustic yet luxurious cabins high on a hill. The cabins were entirely open air, and we went to sleep under mosquito netting hearing monkeys and birds calling in the jungle and the wind in the trees. A particular highlight was hiking eight miles through the rain forest with our machete-carrying guide, through deep mud in parts and past curious monkeys swinging in the trees, until we reached a gorgeous private beach for a swim. —Tracy Ziemer, senior production manager
One of my favorite memories from this year was going to the top of Masada, the ancient mountain fortress in the Israeli desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. The views are extraordinary and the history of the place—which King Herod used as a pleasure palace and where, later, a band of renegade Jews made a famous last stand against the Romans—is fascinating. More significant for me, personally, is that I had my bar mitzvah on top of Masada 30 years ago. Back then, we took the tram up; this time, I climbed by foot. I guess I’m in better shape now! —Peter J. Frank, director, editorial product development
On our Italian honeymoon, my husband and I met up with chef Massimo Bottura and his wife for a foodie’s tour of Modena, sampling Parmeggiano Reggiano at their favorite dairy and tasting their family’s vinegar fresh out of the barrels at the Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale. That night, we decamped to Antica Corte Pallavicina Relais, a high-end agriturismo outside of Parma—the most perfect Italian agriturismo either one of us could dream up, with the sound of peacocks and smell of oven-warm brioche to wake us in the morning. —Nikki Ekstein, editorial assistant
Travel confession: I’d never been to D.C. until this year. And I kind of got peer pressured into a trip after a few friends found out I’d never gone and proceeded to sing D.C.’s praises. So I threw together a weekend getaway this fall, and wish I’d done it sooner! I turned into a kid again at the Air and Space Museum; I could spend all day doing those flight simulators. My husband and I hit the jackpot with our high-low dining strategy (I dream of the crispy tofu napoleon at Proof and loved the chocolate-chip pancakes at the cheesy/weird Lincoln’s Waffle Shop). We completely wore ourselves out traipsing all over the National Mall. The view from the Lincoln Memorial back to the Washington Monument is something I should have seen way before now. The whole trip was the perfect reminder that I should hop on the train more often and go explore the great spots close to home that I’ve never quite gotten around to seeing. —Skye Senterfeit, assistant photo editor
When I booked a last-minute trip to San Juan in June, I decided not to do any research or planning in advance. I was staying with friends, and my only itinerary request was to see San Juan like a local, not a tourist. We decided to take a day trip outside the city, and after a few detours for fresh coconuts and roadside tostones, we ended up in a small town called Manatí. After walking along a dirt path covered with arching palm trees and lush ferns, we emerged onto a hilltop that overlooked a hidden beach, La Poza de las Mujeres. We spent the rest of the day swimming in the calm, turquoise inlet and trying (unsuccessfully) to balance on a giant log, flailing about and crashing into the water like cartoon characters. —Kristina Ensminger, research assistant
I took my son to his first rodeo, in Eagle, Colorado. First up: the bareback bronc competition. His eyes almost bugged out of his head. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get him on a horse now. —Amy Farley, news editor
Some people think visiting a place called Iceland in winter is nuts. But February, when I went, means more affordable air and hotels, as well as the opportunity to ride snowmobiles on a glacier. The highlight, though, was Kerid Crater, a dramatic red volcanic-rock caldera peppered with snow and offering a great short hike through the stark Icelandic winter landscape. —Rich Beattie, executive digital editor
Having been warned that the Badaling section of the Great Wall swarms with tourists (9–10 million annually), I looked elsewhere and splurged on an excursion to more remote Jinshanling. A picnic was included, but I didn’t appreciate how almost absurdly fabulous it would be until my husband and I climbed up a series of stairs, turned a corner of the Wall, and saw a folded-out table-for-two, stools, and a gourmet spread. We did a toast and then got walking. With green jagged peaks stretching in every direction, the setting couldn’t have been more different from the supersized, smoggy city of Beijing we’d left a few hours behind us. The August sun beat down, and we paused with our guide at one of the watchtowers. There, a local self-appointed guard was sprawled, shoes off, listening to an old Chinese folktale on the radio. —Kate Appleton, senior digital editor
While in New Mexico on vacation this past summer, a friend and I visited the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary in Santa Fe, up on Upper Canyon Road past all of the bustle of the galleries. We walked the grounds and felt our senses come alive on the hiking trails where we got our exercise for the day, and while standing still, we collected ourselves among the smells of pine, apple, and apricot. I loved watching the flurry of hummingbirds as they fluttered to their drinking spots. Pure serenity. —Elizabeth Boyle, photo editor
There are so many ways to experience Queenstown, New Zealand, and I opted to see it from the ultimate perspective: jumping out of a plane 15,000 feet above Lake Wakatipu and the snowcapped Remarkables. My brain could barely register anything beyond the fog of adrenaline and lack of oxygen, but by 10,000 feet, I was already planning my next jump. —Lindsey Olander, editorial assistant
In June, I took a cycling trip to Germany’s Mosel Valley with Austin-Lehman Adventures. On the first day of cycling, we rode along the Sûre River in Luxembourg. When the group came to the bridge crossing over the river into Germany, just as I was thinking it was about time for a break, we found our guides waiting with a beautiful apricot tart and real plates and forks, and it was then we knew that we were really going to be well taken care of. —Kathy Roberson, copy chief
This past summer, three friends and I capped off a two-month journey around Southeast Asia with a week in Myanmar. (It took some doing: the documents needed to obtain a visa changed week to week, and we had to prepare crisp U.S. dollars beforehand for exchange as there were no ATMs or stores using credit cards in the entire country.) We flew from the capital, Yangon, to Bagan—an ancient city with more than 2,000 temples and pagodas. The most unique experience was climbing up these deserted temples with literally no one in sight, and standing on the tops looking out at miles of the most spectacular structures. With no noise. And no distractions. It’s an image that I will never forget. —David Kukin, assistant online photo editor
My favorite trip this year was to Snowbird. Even though the 2011–12 season was generally lousy for most mountains, I just happened to be at Snowbird for a big powder dump in February. I’d never experienced snow like that before in my life! My brother-in-law and I had a blast; we’d ride and tumble and come up laughing so hard. —Laura Teusink, managing editor
My roommate and I took a springtime road trip from Austin back to New York. We made our way through the Louisiana swampland, munching on pork cracklings, and pulled into New Orleans for the night. As luck would have it, the Navy had moored nine large ships in the harbor, as part of the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and so the Big Easy made quite a first impression on me: music in the warm spring air, streets crowded with celebration, and jovial sailors (male and female alike) stumbling out of bars, hooting, hollering, and trying to chat up locals. After a hefty dinner of gumbo and more than a few Sazeracs, the night ended at the Spotted Cat Music Club, with a performance by local jazz sextet Meshiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, led by the bold-voiced and gloriously tattooed singer Meshiya Lake. The band's set of breezy jazz tunes and bittersweet blues songs about forlorn love cemented my one night in New Orleans as one of the greatest travel experiences I've ever had. —Sebastian Girner, researcher
Taiwan takes its food so seriously that the smell of fresh-baked bread even wafts through subway stations. Spurred by my insatiable family, I blew through pillowy gua bao (braised pork in a steamed bun) and a fat oyster omelette at the Ningxia Road Night Market (Datong District, Taipei); squid-ink fried rice, prickly seaweed salad, and charred cuttlefish at Sea Park Live Seafood Restaurant (245 Bítóu Rd., Ruifang District, New Taipei City; 0224911687.ok99.tw); a flaky red-bean loaf at Wu Pao Chun (No. 19, Siwei Third Rd., Kaohsiung City; wupaochun.com); and rich but clean-tasting beef noodle soup at Shi Ji (No. 60, Section 2, Mínshēng E. Rd., Taipei). —Jessica Su, senior online producer
On the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic’s sinking, I was on the Titanic Memorial Cruise directly over the wreck site and decked out in a tuxedo. We hovered there with the engines off for several hours—the same amount of time it took the Titanic to sink—for a memorial service and quiet reflection. At 2:20 a.m., the ship restarted its engines and continued the journey towards New York that the Titanic never finished. —Peter Schlesinger, editorial intern
Just a few hours after arriving in Panama City, we got up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the one daily flight to the remote San Blas Islands, where we were to stay in rustic huts on a small island native to the indigenous Kuna Indians. Dreamy stuff for my 40th birthday! After we boarded a tiny jet and were in the air for 30 minutes, one of the pilots pulled back the curtain, said something in Spanish, and the airplane banked hard to the left. We weren’t sure what was happening but soon found ourselves back in Panama City. Bad weather had delayed us, and after 12 very long hours spent in a small domestic airport, the flight was ultimately canceled. It wasn’t my dream birthday, certainly, but the next day we successfully flew out and reveled in the paradise of this remote archipelago. —Tracy Ziemer, senior production manager
The night I checked into the Park Hyatt Tokyo it was raining and the city was cloaked in fog, so I couldn’t see five feet from my window on the skyscraper’s 47th floor. I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, still jet-lagged, and peeked through the curtains. I was so flabbergasted by this epic view of the metropolis that I accidentally woke up my friend with a shocked, “Holy $&*#!” —Lyndsey Matthews, assistant digital editor
In Aguas Calientes, Peru, we awoke one morning at three to make the trek up to Machu Picchu in order to be there when the gates first opened. The hike itself was exhilarating (albeit challenging—there must have been 500 steps climbing 2,500 feet), but the real highlight was walking under the jet-black sky filled with more stars than I’d ever seen. You don’t get that kind of view in New York City. —Brooke Porter, associate editor
My brother and sister had both traveled to Berlin while abroad in Europe, and each recommended the free walking tour by Sandemans. The 3.5-hour tour was so much more than I expected: our young guide, Grace, was superb. In particular, she shined at the Peter Eisenman–designed Holocaust Memorial, which I was familiar with because we've covered it in the magazine. But Grace recommended that we explore it alone, so we could get lost in the maze and feel the drama of the landmark. I couldn't have been prepared for the anxious emotions I felt walking through the thousands of columns as raindrops fell from a steel-gray sky. It was so powerful that I returned to the memorial the following day. —Sarah Spagnolo, digital projects editor
If I could have the #3 Breakfast Burrito with Beans at Blake’s Lotaburger each day, as I did in Albuquerque this summer, I’d be a happier person. Who can argue with delicious eggs, hash browns, cheese, beans, and green sauce with a side of juice for well under $5? No wonder they’ve been around for 60 years! —Elizabeth Boyle, photo editor
Abu Dhabi has some of the most grandiose hotels in the world, and I got to see some of the top ones during a photo shoot for T+L’s June 2012 hotels issue. Notably, the Park Hyatt on Saadiyat Island. —Mimi Lombardo, fashion director
I measure the beauty of a place by the energy of its people—and Bogotá, Colombia, has some of the loveliest souls I’ve met. The brass band I’m in—the Hungry March Band—was honored with an invitation to perform for two weeks at the Ibero-American Theatre Festival, one of the largest performing arts festivals in the world held every other year. At home in New York City, audiences are open-minded, which is wonderful, but in Colombia they are open-hearted. I'm smitten. —Libby Sentz, copy editor
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