At The Lily, July was for adventures. We are not a group of women to shy from using our vacation time.
Now, we take you along on our favorite trips. Choosing just one adventure was tough, but we gave it a shot.
Favorite adventure:The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 110-mile, 10-day trek that circles Mont Blanc and passes through France, Switzerland and Italy. This was the first time my partner and I went on a trek for a vacation, and this was a good one to start with. Though the days were tough, filled with constant ascent and switchbacks, each one ended with wine, chocolate, a lovely meal, a charming chalet and some interesting company.
Along the way, we hiked through fields of flowers and fog. We waited to continue as cows grazed on the trail, their idyllic bells ringing. We trekked through snow-filled passes and up mountains in the hot Alpine sun. We made friends and tried caviar. We said things like “my feet hurt” and “I never want to go on a normal vacation again.” We slept hard. We fell in love with the mountains.
The one thing you’d recommend most from this adventure:All of the accommodations along the trek are special, butAuberge La Boerne is a particularly magical place filled with flowers and happy people. We stayed in the only 2-person room — with a low ceiling, it was more like a hobbit hole, and in it I had the most satisfying nap I can remember. This was followed by a hearty meal and a strange, somewhat rowdy game of cards with a group of Dubliners who made sure we were full of bread, cheese and wine.
Where you want to go next: This year, I’m heading to Patagonia for the W Trek. In the future, I’m interested in Nepal’s Annapurna circuit.
Favorite adventure: I’ve always wanted to visit the ruined temples of Angkor. Somehow, the UNESCO World Heritage site exceeded my expectations. Angkor Wat is the crown jewel of the ancient city, but the smaller temples stand out in their own right, and are where I have the fondest memories of exploring.
Waking up for sunrise has never been so easy as in Siem Reap, where hopping in a tuk-tuk while it’s still dark out is standard practice. After watching the sun rise over the temples, we would grab breakfast from a street vendor with a side of fresh coconut water to fuel us for the rest of the morning. And don’t overlook the town of Siem Reap itself. It’s more than just a place to rest up while taking breaks from exploring Angkor. The busy streets of this river town are full of gardens where you can indulge in Khmer cuisine (Chamkar House was our favorite) and markets where you can bargain to your heart’s content.
The one thing you’d recommend most from this adventure:Taking a tuk-tuk out to the temples over one of the many bus tours. This allows you to take your time at each temple instead of being on someone else’s schedule. Plus, the tuk-tuks can navigate areas that buses can’t even dream of entering.
Something you learned: It’s hard to find relief from the sun at most of the temples, so it’s extra important to hydrate.
Where you want to go next: Croatia
Favorite adventure:I spent 10 days in Istanbul several months after the Gezi Park protests in 2013. My Airbnb had a gas mask hanging on the wall, a pet lizard and one of the most beautiful views of the city’s skyline. Being there at that time piqued my interest in the country that straddles two continents, and I looked through tons of old maps at shops showing how it changed throughout the Ottoman Empire. Some sites date back hundreds of years. Today, modern architecture fills in the gaps.
The one thing you’d recommend most from this adventure: Stay on the Asian side of Istanbul for at least half the time you’re there. It’s much cheaper, and it’s easy to get to the European side by taking the ferry. I spent a few days at the Hush Hostel Lounge and would highly recommend it.
Something you learned: Write down addresses when you travel. I spent Thanksgiving at a no-name home-cooking restaurant but there was no sign. I plan on going back someday and wandering around long enough to find it.
Where you want to go next: Japan
Favorite adventure: I was looking for a “real adventure,” which to me, means a trek to a faraway place, seeing one of the seven wonders of the world or experiencing an unfamiliar culture for an extended length of time. Machu Picchu has always been at the top of my list and it checks all three boxes. Luckily for me, my friend Adrienne was also down for such an adventure. We would trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
This turned out to be hands down, the best and worst trip of my life. A few days before we left, I self-diagnosed myself with a stress fracture in my foot but decided there was no way I was going to miss this trip.
The four days of the trek were the most challenging and rewarding days of my life so far. Some lowlights: hiking almost the entire trek alone at the back of the pack, crying numerous times from pain and thinking there was no way I could do this. But there were also highlights: the views, the ruins, the rainbows, the vastness of the Andes, the three-course meals (Peru Treks did it right) and doing it all with my best friend.
The one thing you’d recommend most from this adventure: Hike the Inca Trail. Don’t skip and take a bus to Machu Picchu. It’s worth it. In fact, when we actually got to Machu Picchu, it was underwhelming. Even though Machu Picchu was the destination, it was the trek that made the trip worth it. (I’m rolling my eyes as I write this).
We chose Peru Treks as our tour operator. I can’t say enough good things about them and our tour guide, Manny. Trekking with a large group was a great way to meet people from so many different countries and become fast friends.
Something you learned: Just when you think you don’t have anything left, you find out you do. After doing something so challenging physically and mentally, I really feel like I can do anything. Also, no matter how much planning you do, your trip will never go according to plan so roll with the punches.
Where you want to go next: I’m craving a good old road trip around the U.S.
Favorite adventure: After a scenic drive from San Francisco, we left our packs inside a Half Dome Village tent cabin and immediately began our three-mile trek to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. No time to waste. When you go in early summer, Yosemite’s a natural beauty. Inside this California national park is a concentration of everything you love about the great outdoors. Waterfalls gush with steam, and the grass is greener than it is in Disney movies. There are mountains, creeks, meadows, and gaggles of international tourists taking photos in prom-like dresses. In two days, we experienced two hikes, three epic waterfalls, and indelible peace.
The one thing you’d recommend most from this adventure: Book early and stay in Half Dome Village’s tent cabins, if you like saving money. It’s fairly central and easy to get to several popular hiking trails from there. Also, bring sleeping bags if you stay in an unheated one. They can also be used for stargazing, which is a must.
Something you learned: Before you start your day, visit the info booths and ask which trails you should do. The day we went, the Four Mile Trail was closed, so we were glad we asked. They’ll give you the best up-to-date advice. It’s better than the Internet.
Where you want to go next: New Zealand
Favorite adventure: I saw this really cool thing on Instagram today. It’s this farm in Virginia with these giant President’s heads,” I told my mom over the phone. A few weeks later, she booked a flight from Indianapolis to D.C. and we were planning a spring road trip, just the two of us.
We snagged a rental car and a cute AirBnb and drove to the home of the giant presidents — a small farm about 45 minutes southeast of Richmond. As we walked back to the field, the sun was unkindly beating down on us, but I was so excited to see the tops of the crumbling busts that were once part of a monument in Williamsburg. My mom and I walked through the rows, admiring the details of each statue and taking lots of photos. It’s a contemplative sight to see these once powerful (and a few currently powerful) men, depicted in stone and crumbling in the middle of an overgrown field. And it was definitely worth the drive.
We spent the rest of the weekend exploring Richmond’s Carytown. It didn’t disappoint with it’s thriving art scene (so many murals), quaint shopping (vintage clothes and antiques, yes please) and abundant dining options (our favorite was Coppola’s, an Italian deli). Plus, our AirBnb was across the street from The Byrd Theatre, a National Historic landmark built in the 1920s.
It wasn’t an overseas excursion, but it was the refreshing break I needed from several hectic months at work. And I always love seeing my family, so sharing the trip with my mom made it that much better.
The one thing you’d recommend most from this adventure:If you wind up at the farm, wanting to see the presidents, know that they’re technically on private property. Make sure you knock and request permission to wander the land and take photos.
Something you learned:Scour social media for hidden gems that are close to home, because even if work is crazy or you can’t afford to take a trip out of the country, you can still have an adventure.
Where you want to go next:I’m on a domestic travel kick, and I want to see more of the U.S. Next on the list is New Orleans.