alentejo traveling tim leffel

A lot of travel bloggers really don’t need to ever do a year-end summary because they’ve already told you about everything they ate for lunch in each destination and every monument they snapped a photo of. I try to be more evergreen than that, telling stories that are reasonably timeless and giving advice that is useful for more than the next two weeks. So here’s a look back at travels and projects over the past year, including some I didn’t write much about on this Cheapest Destinations Blog.

I kicked the year off right with a newly revised 4th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. It’s been a decade since the first one came out. (For what it’s worth, this was also the 10th anniversary of Vagabonding, which you can now get as an audio book read by Rolf himself.) If you bought or reviewed my new edition, thanks!

After the book came out, I hit the road again.

1) I started out in chilly Salt Lake City checking out new travel gear on the way and then went to Park City for the first time. I skied all three resorts, rode the Olympic bobsled course, and went snowshoeing the backcountry. A story on that trip just came out.

salt church near Bogota2) In February I headed down to Colombia again, visiting Bogota for the first time (check out this crazy cathedral in a salt mine nearby) and returning to the Coffee Triangle and Cartagena. If you’re heading to South America sometime, this is a great place to start. Not the cheapest, but great music, beautiful things to see, fun nightlife…

3) During spring break my family returned to our old hip home of Nashville, Tennessee to see old friends. Mostly we did that, partied, and ate well. Here are some tips on eating local food in Nashville.

4) Panama I’ve been here several times now, but on this trip I explored some different areas for a Global Traveler magazine article I was researching on adventure travel there. I did some hiking, ziplining, and coffee farm exploration around Boquette, then explored Coiba Island and a few islets from a base on the mainland.

5) The great company Bike Tours Direct invited me to try out one of their tours in Portugal, in conjunction with local operator Turaventur in the Alentejo region. I cashed in some miles gained through smart travel hacking and took my wife along. We slept in a castle and this palace that are a surprisingly good value, drank great wine for under $10 a bottle, and worked off a lot of flab cycling through the countryside. I wrote a story about it: Wildflowers and Wine: Biking Through Castle Country in Portugal.

6) On the way back we stopped in Madrid. But our flight got changed and we missed the Tapas tour we were going to do with Viator. Bummer. But do they have a cool looking airport or what? This is not a sci-fi movie set. It’s baggage claim.

Madrid's baggage claim

7) I went to Miami to cover a luxury travel conference for another publication and hang with the beautiful people, staying at the cool National Hotel. (Hint to aspiring travel writers: those covering luxury tend to stay in better digs than those writing about budget travel.)

8) Right after that I went up to Toronto to speak at the TBEX bloggers conference. Then I traveled down the lake to Kingston, Ontario and wrote a story about Canada’s first capital.

Leffel Guanajuato house

9) After two years in Tampa, Florida, I carried an embarrassing amount of luggage up to the check-in counter and boarded a plane to my new home—for the second time—Guanajuato, Mexico. I own a house there now, with this view above, on a hill above the main locals’ market, a short walk from the center. Unfortunately it was completely empty and needed a new kitchen, so my lack of rent to pay has been offset by having to lay out a lot of dough for “stuff.” Short term pain, long term gain. If you’re heading my way, sign up for one of my Mexican street food tours.

10) I hit Veracruz, Mexico for the first time and got a taste of the adventure travel options in that area. One of the best whitewater rafting trips of my life.

national park near Cuenca

11) Ecuador called my name again, with a bit of time in Quito and then more time in and around Cuenca. It’s an interesting city and I really liked the gorgeous countryside around it, but I feel like there’s a bit of a bandwagon effect going on with all the retirees. As a place to live, it looks better on paper than in person to me. Though it is certainly one of the cheapest places to live in the world.

12) I returned to the Riviera Maya again for another travel conference, then did a post-trip in the Merida area. Because I was with the top tour company in the area, my group got to visit Chichen Itza after hours and explore that and Uxmal with two archeologists. And then stay in a hacienda hotel. Very cool.

13) The North American Travel Journalists Association asked me to be a panelist (along with Kim Mance and Chris Jay from the 20 X 49 blog) in Shreveport, Lousiana. Then at the last minute keynote speaker Andrew McCarthy got a movie gig, so I filled in his opening speech spot. I ate really well in Shreveport, then Alexandria, then New Orleans. I may have gained five pounds in less than a week from eating my way through Louisiana. But yum!

day of the dead
14) Day of the Dead is a great time to be in Mexico. I got to experience it in Guadalajara (where the above photo was taken) and in Guanajuato. See some more great Katrina and Day of the Dead photos.

15) An assignment for a trade pub gave me an excuse to go to Mexico City again and as always, it was invigorating. It resulted in my most viral post ever (30K+ unique visitors in four weeks) after blogging on here for a decade: Are you avoiding Mexico City for outdated reasons?

canyon near San Miguel

16) The year ended with a bang: horseback riding and pyramid exploring with Coyote Canyon Adventures outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Then Christmas in Guanajuato, who knows what yet for New Year’s Eve.

In all that I only visited two new countries. But that’s okay, because I’m not a country counter. I’d rather visit five new places in countries I’ve been to than to put a check box next to Paraguay.

I won some more travel writing awards this year, which was nice. This blog and Perceptive Travel both got tagged by NATJA and I won two Gold awards there for a piece I wrote on Bulgaria and a Southeast Asia reflection article I did for Lonely Planet. The Perceptive Travel Blog I launched many years ago won best travel blog from the Society of American Travel Writers.

Thanks for reading along and following, whether you discovered this blog 10 years ago or last week.

I’m not sure yet what I’ll bring you in 2014 besides a February trip to Nicaragua already booked and lots of travels within Mexico. My big project is going to be a book I’ve already started working on about cutting your expenses in half by moving abroad. Title T.B.D. – I’m getting input on that and some parts of the content from the people on this newsletter list: Live Abroad for Less. Sign up!